How to Have a 36 Hour Day (Revised Edition)
(Note: I originally wrote this post a little over five years ago and posted it to a blog on a site that has since been shut down. A few people have asked me for it so I decided I would resurrect it. I’ve posted it in its original form but have added a bit of commentary as my views on some of these things have changed. Some of what I wrote seems downright stupid in hindsight. It is fun though to see how some of these things have changed quite a bit and five years and others are still pretty similar.
I hope you enjoy it and that you find a few extra hours or even a few extra minutes in your day!)
How many times do you hear someone say “I wish there were more hours in the day” or something along those lines? The fact is that all of us are only given 24 hours. Having said that, how we spend those 24 hours varies radically from person to person. It’s become a bit of a cliche by now but the 24 hours we have is the same 24 hours that Thomas Edison and Mother Theresa had and that Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates currently have. As the old song goes “It’s in the way that you use it.”
But what if we had more than 24 hours in a day?
Not possible? I disagree. While we can never have more than 24 hours of chronological time I think it’s very possible to have many more hours of functional time. In fact, I think it’s probably possible to get up to 36 hours of functional time in your day if you do a few relatiively simple things. So without further ado, here is my prescription for the 36 hour day.
It’s a list of ways to save time that you may or may not have thought of. Implement a few of them and you’ll likely open up a couple of hours each day that you didn’t previously have . Implement all of of them and you just might find yourself with too much time on your hands. File that under “Good Problem to Have” right?
So here are 10 ways that you can radically change your life and free up the time you didn’t know that you could.
36 Hour Day Strategy #1: Optimize Your Sleep
Some of us can get by just fine on 3-5 hours a sleep a night (I’m jealous of you!) while others “need” 9+ hours to feel rested. Certainly a good portion of this is genetic and perhaps environmental. Having said that I tihnk that there are ways that all of us can sleep less and at the same time feel more rested. Here are a few suggestions:
Wake up at the same time every morning – I first came across this through Steve Pavlina’s excellent blog. I’ve been trying it for a little while and totally dig it. It’s a simple concept. Just set your alarm clock for the same time each morning, wake up when it goes off and then go to bed at night when you feel tired and not before. Steve claims it can free up 10-15 hours a week. I think he’s totally right.
Make your room a quiet, dark cave – For too many people the bedroom is a source of activity, light and noise. Do your best to minimize the amount of sound in your bed room (consider buying an air cleaner or white noise generator if you live in noisy apartment building or neighborhood). Take steps to eliminate or reduce the light that comes into your bedroom while you sleep (heavy curtains or dark room material on the windows work well here). And do your darnedest to remove stimulus from your bedroom (e.g., TV, lots of clutter, etc.)
Experiment with polyphasic sleep – Polyphasic sleep is a sleeping pattern that proposes to reduce sleep down to 2-5 hours a day. I haven’t tried it yet so I can’t speak to its validity but you back to Steve’s blog again for some great information on this unusual but potentially effective sleeping method.
Time Savings from Optimizing Your Sleep = Approximately 1.5 Hours
2011 Revision: I still think sleep is incredibly important but I’m not waking up at the same time every day and certainly am not practicing polyphasic sleep. Mostly these days I practice free running sleep and I do love having a white noise generator playing while I sleep.
36 Hour Day Strategy #2: Optimize Your Diet
The human body spends more of its energy on digestion and elimination than anything else . What you put into your body in the form of food and drink will definitely have an impact on your energy levels as well the amount of sleep you’ll need. A few years back I was pretty heavy into weightlifting and was eating a ton of calories and lots of protein every day. The result? I need to sleep a *ton* to feel rested. Sometimes 10-11 hours a night (the hard workouts didn’t help either).
Now my diet has done a 180 and I’m eating a much better (but far from perfect) mix of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats and oils. The difference in energy is dramatic and I sleep a lot less than I previously needed to. My diet still needs improvement but these changes have literally added hours to my days.
I’d recommend a few resources for people looking to save time by improving their diet. The first is Tony Robbins’ Living Health course. Tony has more energy that any person I’ve ever seen and that’s a great testament to his health and fitness regimen. He has based a lot of his information on the work of Dr. Robert Young and thus I would recommend Dr. Young’s book The pH Miracle as well.
Finally, consider going on a cleanse. I recently went on a four-day cleanse as outlined in the pH Miracle book and I’ve had a lot more energy in the week and a half since I went off it. The book Juice Fasting and Detoxification also helped me through a pretty intense (both physically and emotionally) four days and I’d recommend that one as well.
Time Savings from Optimizing Your Diet = Approximately 1.5 Hours
2011 Revision: Turned that I couldn’t find much evidence for the benefits of an alkaline diet so I’ve largely shifted away from that. A lot of the people whose views on health I respect were doing some variation of the Paleo Diet so that’s mostly what I’ve gravitated to with modifications and more than a few cheats…
36 Hour Day Strategy #3: Multi Task
OK, this is a given right. If you do two things at the same time you will be able to do more during your day. But isn’t multitasking bad? The lady driving down the highway with her cell glued to her ear is probably not the best model for multitasking. The guy you had lunch with yesterday who checked his Blackberry 17 times before they brought the main course out isn’t doing anyone any favors with his technology-enabled form of ADD.
But I’d argue that multi-tasking, when done right, is one of the best ways to save time throughout your day. Combining talking on the phone and “brain dead activities” is a great way to multitask. For most people, doing laundry or washing the dishes is an activity that takes no thought. Why not use that time to make a few phone calls and kill two birds with one stone? But remember, checking e-mail or watching TV are not brain dead activities. And nothing is more annoying than having a phone conversation with someone who is not fully present.
Another great way to multi task is to incorporate exercise into your activities. Need to get together with a friend to catch up? Meet them for a jog and get caught up while you knock out your daily workout. I’ll often stretch (it’s good for you!) while I’m reading or at my computer (I’ve got one those exercise balls that allows we to stretch while I’m checking e-mail…kinda geeky but it works for me!).
Something else I do is to do a series of exercises created by a gentleman named Pete Egoscue. These exercises are designed to improve flexibility and range of motion and prevent injury. And many of them can be done while reading, on the phone, etc. I’d highly recommend Pete’s book Pain Free for anyone interested in these.
There are a ton of ways that you can incorporate exercise into your daily routines without taking any extra time out of your day. It’s really a great way to free up your schedule and keep your body in tip-top shape.
Time Savings from Multi Tasking = Approximately 2.0 Hours
2011 Revision: Still a big fan of combining activities. Reading articles I’ve saved using Instapaper while walking around (low-traffic) parts of the neighborhood. Listening to audiobooks while doing household chores. I do talk on the phone a lot in the car these days but always with a hands-free headset of course!
36 Hour Day Strategy #4: Get Organized
You really owe it to yourself to get organized because it will save you both time and stress. There are a number of different ways and strategies for getting organized. One of the best that I’ve found (and use personally) is David Allen‘s Getting Things Done methodology. GTD, as it is more commonly referred to, is a system for capturing and managing the things that you need to do and remember. It’s remarkably effective in that it gets all of the little things out of your head which frees up your “psychic RAM” for more productive thoughts and results in increased creativity.
David Allen’s system isn’t the only one out there. A lot of people will use Franklin-Covey, Tony Robbins’ life management system or any of a number of other planning systems. I’m not convinced that there’s one best system out there but I think it’s important for all of us to use some sort of a system so that “Remember to buy toothpaste” isn’t consuming even an ounce of our mental energy.
There’s a ton of info about GTD online for free and the investment you’ll make in learning one of these systems will pay off in spades. Not only will you be more productive but you’ll also feel less stressed which will result in more energy and once again will add hours to your days.
Time Savings from Getting Organized = Approximately 1.0 Hours
2011 Revision: I’m not sure whether I currently practice GTD as it’s been so long that I’ve been working with the principles that it just seems like a part of my natural life. I’d highly recommend that anyone who hasn’t read Getting Things Done immediately does that. You don’t need to practice GTD religiously but I guarantee you’ll pick up at least a couple of things that will make you more organized and effective.
36 Hour Day Strategy #5: Improve Your Typing Speed
In this computer age, the keyboard is often our primary form of communication with many people. This is a wild ass guess but I’d say that the average person probably spends about 1-2 hours a day typing. This could be e-mails, IMs, memos, reports, etc . Certainly for some people this number is much higher and for others it is low. So let’s just say an average of 1.5 hours per person for now.
Now let’s assume that you currently type 40 WPM. If you improved your typing speed to 60 WPM you would save 33% of the time you are currently spending typing. Improve it to 80 WPM and you’ve now saved 50%. That’s probably a half an hour or 45 minutes a day you’ve saved. Over the course of a year or a decade (not to mention a lifetime) this results in a *huge* savings.
It’s amazing that we invest in all of these productivity applications in businesses and yet you have many people who are still hunting and pecking at their keyboard. That’s just crazy to me. The faster you type the better you can communicate plain and simple. The keyboard becomes a natural extension of you vs. some impediment to exchanging information and sharing yourself with the world.
I’d highly recommend investing a little time (even just a few minutes a day) in improving your typing. A program that I use for this is TypingMaster and I love it. It’s easy to use and can even be configured to track your real-world typing so that it can incorporate words you commonly mis-type into its drills. This is definitely a great way to save time on a daily basis.
Time Savings from Improving Your Typing Speed = Approximately 0.75 Hours
2011 Revision: This is an area where I feel like I’ve learned an important lesson: Type fewer words. I used to send emails that were waaaaaay too long and thought “gosh, if I could only type faster.” Five years later I’ve realized that typing those long emails was both wasting my time and that of the recipients. I tend to treat email more like Twitter these days, trying to be as concise as possible. Check out this post and this post for great tips on the topic.
36 Hour Day Strategy #6: Improve Your Reading Speed
Just as with typing, improving your reading speed can make you more productive and save you tons of time. It also varies a lot but I’ll assume that each of us again spends on average between one and two hours a day reading. Whether this is the morning paper, e-mails at works, research for your job or for school or the latest book we all have a need to be continually reading in this day and age.
The fact of the matter is that most of us don’t read all that well. We read slow and we often have to read things multiple times to understand what’s going on. And in the end that either reduces the amount of stuff we end up reading (if you read slow and have trouble comprehending reading just won’t be enjoyable to you) or results in a lot more time invested in reading than necessary.
As with typing there are ways to improve your reading abilities. Here are a few that I’ve incorporated:
Active Reading – One of the reasons why many of us don’t read that well is that we’re entirely passive when reading. The brain engages much more when it is active and the best way to encourage this is to make notes while reading. If you’re reading a book then mark the hell out of it. Underline passages, jot notes, etc. You’ll find that your comprehension will go way up as will your reading speed (even after accounting for the time spent marking up your book). One of the best parts about making notes is that you can return to the material later and review it more quickly and effectively.
EyeQ – Off and on over the last few years I’ve been using a software application called EyeQ to improve my reading speed. I think it’s the fastest and easiest way for a person increase their ability to rapidly process information. It works by getting you to move your eyes more quickly through material. This results in an increased ability to filter out words that are meaningless (a, an, the, etc.) as well as a reduced reliance on subvocalization.
Photoreading – I took a class in Photoreading a few years ago and while I’m still not convinced that it’s 100% legit any system that claims to increase reading speed to 25,000 words per minute or more is definitely worth checking out. For people who have a ton of reading to do (e.g., graduate students, attorneys, etc.) something like Photoreading could possibly revolutionize their lives and free up tons of time.
Time Savings from Improving Your Reading Speed = Approximately 0.75 Hours
2011 Revision: Reading faster is indeed still an important thing. However I thing my major learnings here include the portability of reading (taking articles to go vs. reading them on the laptop), substituting listening to content I want to consume rather than reading it (see the next strategy) and working to have conversations on topics with experts rather than just reading about them. It also helps to be a bit older (and perhaps wiser?!) about what to read.
36 Hour Day Strategy #7: Learn Out Loud
Probably the #1 reason why I started LearnOutLoud.com is that I believe so strongly in the power of audio learning to literally add hours to peoples’ lives and provide increased enjoyment of, and fulfillment during, times which have historically been frustrating and unproductive (e.g., the morning commute).
Audio learning is the perfect multi-tasking activity. Most people who know me know that I’m listening to audio books, podcasts, etc. several hours every day. I’ll do this whenever I’m driving, while exercising, doing stuff around the apartment, etc. I’ve been able to crank through an unbelievable number of books in the last year (including unabridged versions of My Life by Bill Clinton and The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman) that I never would have found the time to sit down and read. Likewise, I’ve been able to virtually “attend” conferences like South by Southwest and the World Economic Forum thanks to the miracle of podcasting.
Thanks to the iPod and other portable MP3 players it’s never been easier to learn out loud. One of my favorite things to do is to go for a run with a few podcasts or an audio book queued up. In fact, I recently completed the LA Marathon while simultaneously listening to the first half of John Battelle’s book The Search (read more on that here). It was kind of fun to know that I was getting both a workout for my body and for my mind.
We’ve essentially set up LearnOutLoud as the epicenter for what I truly feel will be an audio learning revolution in upcoming years and decades. People are increasingly pressed for time and the opportunity to listen to the information you need to consume rather than having to read it opens up a lot of doors. It’s a great way to stay on top of all the information and trends that affect your world and that’s why I’m so excited about it.
Time Savings from Learning Out Loud = Approximately 1.5 Hours
2011 Revision: I’m still blown away by how awesome audio learning. As a busy entrepreneur I have nowhere near as much time as I’d like to read. So to be able to crank through a few books on month by listening to them is pretty cool. And now way more than in 2006 there are all sorts of screencasts, tutorials, podcasts, interviews (e.g., Mixergy) to be constantly learning from. It’s truly an autodidact‘s paradise these days.
36 Hour Day Strategy #8: Use Software To Your Advantage
The right software can bring huge time savings to your life. Certainly not all software will save you time. In fact, some applications can actually be huge time sucks. Anyone ever hear of Minesweeper? But there are some programs out there that will add minutes to your days and hours to your weeks and months. Here are some that I’ve stumbled upon:
ActiveWords – ActiveWords is a macro application that allows you to assign hot keys to repetitive tasks. We use this a lot in our business to save time and it could certainly save you time in your personal life as well.
Here’s a simple example of how I use it. Let’s say that someone is coming by the office for lunch. I want to give them fairly detailed directions via e-mail. One option would be to type up directions each time. That’s really a waste as I’m writing the same thing everytime. Another option would be to type up the directions and put them in a text file and then cut and paste them into my e-mail each time I needed them. That does save time but I still have to find the text file on my system each time and do the cut and paste. What ActiveWords allows me to do is to assign a hot key or phrase to my directions. Now all I have to do is type “officedirections” and hit F8 and the directions will automatically be inserted into my e-mail. Cool huh?
There are a ton of ways to use this nifty little application and I feel that I’m just scratching the surface of its usefulness.
Cloudmark Spamblocker (or other anti-spam software) – If you’re manually processing and deleting spam you’re just wasting your time. The investment in a good spam blocker is well worth it. I’ve been using Cloudmark’s product for several years and I really like it. Almost all my spam gets blocked and rarely does a legitimate message end up in my spam folder.
Another solution is to use GMail (or another web-based app) for your e-mail. These systems end up doing a pretty good job of filtering spam as well. And now a lot of these services have advanced functionality so you can use them and have the e-mails still appear to be coming from your domain (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org rather than email@example.com).
Bloglines (or other RSS aggregation software) – I follow 50+ blogs on a number of subjects including technology, new media, audio books, podcasting, U2 and of course Dilbert. There’s no way I’d be able to stay on top of all of this stuff without the help
of a piece of software that puts all these blogs in one place and shows me what new updates have been made to each of them. I use Bloglines and I love it. Not only can I read blogs when I’m at the computer but there’s even a mobile version of Bloglines so I can read blogs from my Blackberry.
Blogs are increasingly becoming the best way to consume information online and so if you haven’t set up an aggregator yet I’d definitely recommend it. There are dozens of aggregators out there and while Bloglines does the trick for me you may want to look at the other apps to find one that works well for you.
Time Savings from Using Software To Your Advantage = Approximately 0.5 Hours
2011 Revision: The names have changed (TypeIt4Me vs. ActiveWords, GMail vs. Cloudmark, Twitter/Hacker News vs. Bloglines) but the strategy is still sound. Investing in learning software to help with productivity remains one of the best investments I’ve personally made. I strongly recommend taking the time to get really good at the software you use the most.
36 Hour Day Strategy #9: Cut Your TV Time in Half
Depending on what study you look at you’ll find that the average person watches something like four hours of TV a day. That boggles my mind. We’re incredibly busy and yet we somehow find a way to spend four or more hours a day watching television?!!! Crazy…
Now I’m not one to say that all television is bad or that mindless entertainment is never a good thing. There are definitely some TV shows and there’s of course a time and a place for turning the brain off for a bit. I have no beef with that but what disturbs me is when people give huge chunks of their life to an activity that doesn’t really provide any meaningful benefit in most cases.
A year and a half ago I turned off my cable service and I haven’t missed it at all. I’ve got a Netflix subscription so I can have a few movies handy for times when I want to watch them. And if there’s a big game on (like last night’s incredible UCLA win…Go Bruins!) then I can typically find a place to watch it with some friends. What I have noticed is that the activity of sitting down “just to see what’s on” has become entirely foreign to me. And I think that’s a very good thing.
So I’m not saying you have to go to the extreme and shut your TV off. Just be conscious of what you’re watching and why. And see if you can’t reduce the amount of time you spend watching TV by 50%. If you currently watch four hours a day you almost assuredly can get by watching two hours a day. I mean there are some good shows on but not that many good shows…
Time Savings from Cutting Your TV Time in Half = Approximately 2.0 Hours
2011 Revision: TV is pretty much the devil when it comes to productivity. I still watch some but I really try to limit my TV time, especially when I’m at a busy point in life. This is probably the #1 place people could find extra hours if they really wanted to.
36 Hour Day Strategy #10: Get Help from Others
The final way to have a 36 Hour Day is to look for opportunities to have other people help you out with stuff. A lot of this definitely depends on factors like what your job is and how much money you have. If you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company you can probably find people to do a lot of stuff for you and will have no probably paying them to do so. But what about the rest of us?
First of all, don’t discount people’s interest in helping you out for free. Let’s say you are moving in a few weeks. Why not ask several friends to help you out? It certainly makes the load a lot easier and saves you time.
Another possibility is trading things you are good at for things you need help with. For instance, let’s say you need help with housecleaning. Perhaps you can find someone whose English skills aren’t that good and offer to tutor them in English in exchange for help with cleaning. You’ll save time and they’ll benefit from your help resulting in a win-win for both of you.
There are tons of opportunities like this if you just keep your eyes open for them. Of course asking someone to help you out means being willing to help if you’re asked to. But with all this time you’re saving this shouldn’t be a problem right?
P.S. There’s another great way to save time when you’re researching something or looking for information. There are a number of services online that will help you for free or a nominal charge. For instance, when I have a tech problem I’ll often post it to Experts Exchange and I’ll usually get back an answer within hours or even minutes. For non-techie questions I’ll use a service like Google Answers. There’s a small fee associated with getting questions answered but you can set the amount and it’s almost always worth it in terms of the amount of time you save by getting someone to help you out with the research.
In addition to services like this there are thousands of message boards on the Internet staffed with volunteers who can help you answer many questions. Back in the day I started one of these message boards at CertTutor.net and it has helped thousands of people get their technology certification questions answered. It’s just one of many like it out there in just about every subject you can imagine.
Time Savings from Getting Help from Others = Approximately 0.5 Hours
2011 Revision: This is still a big part of my life and it’s often to see that with stuff like Quora and Twitter this is getting better all the time. I’ve also gotten better at leveraging virtual assistants for tasks and learning how to reach out to others in my social graph. For people who achieve at the highest levels of society, this is probably the area where they find the most leverage and an area that all of us probably have room to improve. So often I find myself asking the question “Am I the best person to be doing this?” and that guides me as to whether I should find someone to help out.
So as we add these up we find that there’s the potential here to say 12 hours of time each day. Wow. Certainly your mileage with vary with the strategies but hopefully you can implement some of them in your daily life. Time is the most precious commodity on the planet and by saving time in some areas you’ll have more time for doing the things that are truly the most important to you and for pursuing your goals and following your bliss. And if we all do that…well, I think that will change the world.
2011 Revision: OK, I still agree with this. I think most people overvalue their money and undervalue their time. Time is indeed the scarce resource and I’d love to see everyone (myself included!) adopt more of that mindset. There’s a lot of work still to be done in this world! I hope you’ve enjoyed this and please feel free to share additional time-saving tips in the comments.