How Do You Find the Time?

  • April 20, 2011 by Corbett Barr
  • 62 Comments

Here’s a question I don’t ask anymore: “how do you find the time?”

I used to ask people I admire that question a lot, but I eventually I figured out the answer is pretty much the same for everybody.

We don’t find time, we decide how to use the time we already have.

Here’s something else I learned: not many people feel particularly productive, not even the people you think get more done than everyone else. This became abundantly clear when people started asking me how I find the time.

Me? You’re asking because you think I get a lot done every day?” That was my initial reaction to the question. I almost had to laugh.

I’m lucky if I get two creative things done a day. On average I probably get less than one creative thing done each day. By “creative thing” I mean producing content, like writing, shooting videos, interviewing someone, etc.

When people started asking me how I “found the time” I realized that I must appear productive from the outside, just like those people I look up to did to me in the beginning.

Everyone struggles with using time effectively. Those people who seem really productive aren’t really that much more productive than you are. We all have the same number of hours in a day (actually some of you early risers have more hours than someone like me who tends to sleep about 9 hours a night).

People who appear extra productive simply have two things that you do not:

  1. A clear direction
  2. A consistent history of moving towards that goal

When you don’t have a clear direction, most of your time is consumed by trying to figure out your goals. Your productive time is spent learning and planning. You are spending the same amount of time as anyone else every day, but that time is consumed with thinking instead of doing.

Once you have a direction, it’s all about execution. That’s when you start appearing to be productive to an outside observer. There is visible evidence of the time you spend on your business or project. Instead of thinking and planning all day, you create and produce.

It’s remarkable how much you can get done over the course of a month or year when you commit to moving towards your goal every day.

But first you have to gain clarity of direction.

When I used to ask how someone got so much accomplished every week, I was really looking for the answer to a different question altogether. I really wanted to know how that person was so clear in his direction and determined to achieve it.

Think about what you’re feeling unproductive about at the moment. Are you really sure you want to do that thing? Have you decided 110% that you’re going to accomplish that goal? Or do you still have some reservations, some doubts about whether it’s the right direction for you?

Don’t beat yourself up about not getting enough done. If you’re not as productive as you want to be, it’s probably more about direction and desire than your ability to produce.

Once you figure out what you really want to do and start working towards it, people will start asking how you find the time.

A decided person is a productive person.

Have you ever asked someone how he or she gets so much done? Looking back, do you think that person simply felt strongly about what he was working toward? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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Caleb Galaraga April 20, 2011 at 5:21 pm

I couldn’t agree with this more!!

“When you don’t have a clear direction, most of your time is consumed by trying to figure out your goals. Your productive time is spent learning and planning. You are spending the same amount of time as anyone else every day, but that time is consumed with thinking instead of doing.”

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 11:02 am

Thanks Caleb :)

Denise April 20, 2011 at 5:30 pm

I think desire and time are linked. I find that when I have to actively carve out time to work on something it becomes a chore, something I just need to get done. But when I am passionate about something, I will wake up at 3, 4, 5am and start working on it without any thought to time and spend hours. Time is found without me actively seeking it because the desire propels me. That being said, I think we still should have some form of direction or plan. If we go on passion and desire alone, we can never “train” ourselves to push through the passionless times and will end up quitting before we need to because we feel less passioned. Great post Corbett, keep them coming!

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 11:04 am

Great point about the distinction between passion and direction, Denise. You’re right that it is important to realize and work through the difference.

Kristi Hines April 20, 2011 at 5:30 pm

A LOT of people ask me how I get so much done between working full time and both of my blogs that need daily content and focus.

Generally if I really want to get something done, I just find the time. When I needed additional time in the day for my new blog, I just started getting up earlier and watching less TV (now down to maybe an hour a day if there is live tennis on). And it feels really easy because I love both of my projects and have great plans for them!

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 11:05 am

Maybe that’s what it comes down to, Kristi. It’s all about finding a direction you feel more compelled to pursue than you feel like watching tv ;)

Richard @ Lifestyle Design Unleashed April 20, 2011 at 5:34 pm

I feel somewhat fortunate that I tend to be the person who gets asked that question quite a bit. While I’m certainly no efficiency guru, your opinions do resonate with me. I had a discussion recently with someone who complained they don’t have time to lose weight and that I was so lucky to have the time to go to the gym. Of course they just prioritize other things instead. Will be interesting to see if our chat makes any difference at all…

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 11:07 am

It kills me when someone says they “don’t have the time.” We all make choices…

TheUglyKoala April 20, 2011 at 5:57 pm

This is totally what I’m doing just now, reading way too much stuff. Thinking that I somehow need to have a blog as some kind of way to to market my site. When part of me thinks if I just stop thinking and spend 18 months trying to get more interviews, like the one you did for me.Then I would end up with a decent site.

Not sure how anyone would find out about the site though, thus the mostly unproductive reading. Don’t really have any edge to start blogging. Could write some things about how neuroscience, trading and speculation principles could be applied to it. But its such a crowded area.

Any thoughts? Do you think I should just do day in the life interviews or do I need to do some kind of blogging so that I can do guest posts etc.

Sorry I know this comment is a bit me,me,me but did think it was a real example of someone thinking about what they should do rather than actually doing something.

From all the reading I’ve been doing apparently you are not allowed to say “good post” because it doesn’t “Add value”. This internet stuff is weird. Good post dude

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 11:13 am

First off, you’re right that it’s better to leave an insightful comment than just saying “good post.” That’s especially true if you’re commenting in hopes of getting people to know who you are.

Now about your position. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go through these periods of learning. They’re critical to your success. I’m just saying that if you feel like other people are getting more done than you, it’s not because they’re more productive, they’re just more decided on what they’re doing.

You’ll get there too, but you can’t short-circuit the learning process. There’s a delicate balance between learning and doing. Some people get stuck in the learning phase forever and never move on to the “doing.” If I had to error in one direction, I’d do more doing than learning.

For your site in particular, you need to think about the value you’re bringing to your readers. Why should someone care? Why should someone read your site vs. the 1000s of other sites in existence? What problem, need or desire are you addressing? How is your site different from what is already out there?

Have you checked out my “business plan workbook for bloggers” (at Think Traffic)? I know it’s labeled for bloggers, but there are some questions in there that would really help you as well. You’re producing content on a website, which is essentially what blogging is.

Ellen Berg April 20, 2011 at 6:22 pm

“A decided person is a productive person.”

Before I committed to starting my blog, I dreamed about it a lot. I wanted to do it, but as I have a full time teaching job, I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to find the time.

I reached a point where I had absolutely clarity of vision coupled with the desire, and that led to committing to DO it. I *decided*, and once I reached that point, time was no longer a factor. I am more productive with my time now than I ever was before, and all of it stems from taking action and deciding.

Thanks for articulating what I experienced so well.

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 11:14 am

Thanks for providing the perfect corroborating example ;)

James Schipper April 20, 2011 at 6:33 pm

I used to wonder about people who seemed to get so much done too. Until I stopped worrying about everyone else and took honest stock of what I was doing dicking around with my time.

I can’t say I feel like I’m as productive as I could be, but adding the direction you write about here suddenly seems to make entirely new days added to my schedule of available time, compared to what I used to do.

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 11:15 am

And like I mentioned in the post, NONE of us feel as productive as we could be, at least no one I’ve talked to. I think the unproductive times are just as important as the productive ones in some ways.

Caleb Wojcik April 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm

“Are you really sure you want to do that thing? Have you decided 110% that you’re going to accomplish that goal?”

This has really been my issue the past few weeks. Too much time spent trying to decide what to work on, researching for projects and determining a path to take.

Instead, I just need to spend more time creating.

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 11:15 am

I get stuck in that loop sometimes myself. Planning is important, but not when it becomes your primary activity.

Ross Collicutt April 20, 2011 at 7:18 pm

The decision to move towards a goal and making a huge effort to consistently move toward that goal is the biggest way I’ve found to actually be productive. Sometimes it’s just a feeling too. Some days, you feel like you got a lot done but it was about the same as the other day when you felt like you got nothing done. When you start accomplishing goals that you have then it really feels like you’re getting things done.

Make those decisions and make them fast and you can get lots done in a day!

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 11:17 am

Sometimes it is just a feeling (being productive/unproductive). Sometimes we’re too hard on ourselves about daily progress that will really take years to make.

Vivek Mayasandra April 20, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Productivity is one of those things that really can’t have a true measure reflective of the genuine progress being made. Sure, you can measure the number of things you get done per day/week/etc, but there will ALWAYS be MORE that you can DO.

That said, I’m glad you brought up the thinking/planning aspect Corbett. Those are what allow you to gain the direction to start doing things. BUT, planning is a continual process that’ll always play somewhat of a role in your work, even after a direction is gained (albeit a smaller role). So if you’re using “number of things accomplished” as a metric for productivity, then you’ll always feel like you’re falling short of this arbitrary optimum you’re seeking.

What do you think?

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 11:20 am

Yeah Vivek, I agree that the “number of things accomplished” metric is probably a losing game (unless your job is to accomplish a number of repetitive tasks every day). With creative work, it’s hard (and perhaps dangerous) to quantify things so concretely.

Cameron Plommer April 20, 2011 at 9:27 pm

This is something I think and write about quite a bit.

More and more I’m coming to the conclusion that it all starts with caring (dare I say obsessing) over something. The equation for getting things done is basically this:

Care=> Priorities=> What gets done

The most productive people are the ones that know what they care about. Thus their priorities are obvious and they do lots of work.

So the key is finding what you care about, then the rest will be clear.

Felicia S. April 21, 2011 at 12:50 am

Amen, brother.

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 11:21 am

I’m the same way. If I care about what I’m working on I can accomplish 1,000% more than I can on stuff I don’t give a shit about.

Onno Knuvers April 21, 2011 at 12:00 am

How do I find the time? I normally look at the clock on the wall.

Lol. But seriously folks just do the stuff that is important first. Also don’t have an In Tray, just do it straight away.

Also stop watch tv, surfing the net and commenting blogs, you will be surprised how much you actually have in a day.

Also make it a game. I normally pretend that finishing a project or task is a crucial step in saving the galaxy from an evil alien invader.

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 11:22 am

I know a few people who use the “do the important stuff first every day” method, and I think that works very well for some. Great point.

Jaemin Yi April 21, 2011 at 1:09 am

Damn Corbett, were you reading my mind??

I’ve been obsessing about this topic lately (moreso than usual at least) and right after having a rare completely badass productive day, I decided to allow myself to do a little surfing before bed…and I saw this article.

I think you’re absolutely, 100% right on. I’m learning more and more each day that being productive is less about doing a ton and more about having a clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish. This post just solidified a bunch of ideas that were swimming in my head. Amazing.

Oh and if anyone else is struggling with trying to do everything, you might want to check out the book “Do It Tomorrow”. I’m making my way through it right now and it’s full of gold.

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Hey Jaemin, thanks for the book recommendation. I love that title.

It’s true, if you don’t know what you’re doing, how will you ever know if you accomplished what you were supposed to? Thanks for stopping by here before bed.

Helen Ryde April 21, 2011 at 3:32 am

“When you don’t have a clear direction, most of your time is consumed by trying to figure out your goals. Your productive time is spent learning and planning. You are spending the same amount of time as anyone else every day, but that time is consumed with thinking instead of doing.”
That is me… I am not sure whether to feel encouraged or dismayed! I’ll go with encouraged – I AM spending a lot of time learning and planning, it is not wasted time. However, at some point, I have to jump out of the viewing gallery and into the fray… maybe that day is today? Will I hit Publish?!
Thanks Corbett – this was learning that I needed today, and definitely productive!

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 1:59 pm

There’s a balance for sure Helen, but learning and planning are important too. Don’t beat yourself up about it, just set a goal for setting a goal, if you know what I mean.

The Doctor April 21, 2011 at 5:38 am

It is easy to ‘find the time’ to get things done. First, get rid of the distractions. Turn off the TV, stop the net.radio stream, close the Youtube tabs. Then get everyone you know to leave you alone for a while: turn off the IM client, put your phone on silent, get out of the house if you have to. Then tell yourself that you’re going to work on your project for ten minutes at a stretch, with no interruptions. Once you have it conveniently forgetting to stop soon follows.

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Absolutely, distractions can be a big part of this equation as well. I think I was getting at the philosophy of productivity, and you’re getting at the mechanics. Both are important.

Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing April 21, 2011 at 10:03 am

Love this post — people are always asking me to share my productivity secrets…and I feel so disorganized most of the time!

But I do have goals, and an inner drive to sit down and get it done — I think that latter is a real key factor. People used to working in corporate America have to adjust to the idea that a little voice inside your head that says “get to it” is your ‘boss’ now.

One factor that drives me is a saying from the Kabbalah that really stuck with me:

Never say you’re ‘just killing time.’

We don’t ever kill time. Time kills us.

If you’re always bearing in mind how finite (and indeterminate in length) our time on earth is, I think it helps you prioritize and get to what’s important.

The Doctor April 21, 2011 at 10:10 am

David Mack once wrote, “When you kill time, you’re injuring eternity.”

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 2:02 pm

I’m learning that a lot of people have a hard time motivating themselves, especially when a “boss” has been telling them what to do for decades. That’s why figuring out what you really care about is so important. It takes time though, so I tell people not to rush too much. A six-month sabbatical is what it took for me.

Matt Cheuvront April 21, 2011 at 11:20 am

Just chatted about this over on my blog. (http://www.lifewithoutpants.com/life/no-time-make-time/)

You don’t “have time” you “make time”. Good points here, Corbett.

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Haha, awesome, I’m sure this is a topic on lots of people’s minds every day. Cool video Matt, nice intro + branding.

Cameron Plommer April 21, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Good video Matt. You got me with that fake work day :)

I found this post on The 99% really good: http://the99percent.com/tips/6945/if-it-wont-fit-on-a-post-it-it-wont-fit-in-your-day

Here are a few more of my thoughts on what being Unproductive really is, and why being a knowledge worker is really difficult:

http://cameronplommer.com/2011/02/how-to-be-unproductive/

http://cameronplommer.com/2011/04/on-the-complexities-knowledge-work/

sal Greco April 21, 2011 at 12:28 pm

It feels so good to hear that even people like you cannot get more then a few things done a day. Sometimes it his hard to shut off that negative voice in my head because I feel that I am not getting enough done…

In reality, as long as every day I do at least SOMETHING…. then I am on my way to my goals…

Rome was not build in a day…

Thanks Corbett

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Exactly, just make some progress every day and don’t worry if it’s the perfect progress or most productive day ever.

marianney April 21, 2011 at 12:54 pm

There are some REALLY good comments here and so many great points in this post too. I find myself very unproductive at times, but then sometimes, when I really get going, I find the time to get so much done! I am one of those people that people ask “how do I find the time?” and I guess it’s just all about priorities.

When you know you want something more than this humdrum, go to work 9-5, day in, day out, always looking forward to Friday, it makes you feel like you HAVE to do something to break free.

But then, sometimes I get going too much that I burn myself out and I don’t feel like working on that project anymore. It takes a lot to get re-motivated again. I wonder how to get over that?

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 5:19 pm

I think the up and down cycle is normal. I go through spurts of hyper-productivity followed by lulls as well. I’ve found that if I tone down the hyperactive time a little (don’t get so obsessed), than I can spread things out more evenly and don’t feel the down time as hard.

Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2 April 21, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Through other people asking Eben Pagan how he got so much done was how I learned.

One of the biggest things Eben showed me was the power of working without interruption. Turn the phone off, shut the email down, and focus on one task to completion.

I think he cited a study Tim Ferriss had come across that found that people who smoked weed right before taking a test, but could have nothing distracting them like a phone, scored better on the test than people who took the same test but were allowed to be distracted with their phone.

The second biggest lesson I learned from Eben on getting stuff done was working in time blocks. I work in s 50 minute spurt now with no distraction and then take a 10 minute break to do anything but work, then I come back and work for another 50 minutes with no distraction and take a 30 minute break and make sure to eat something light and nutritious to keep my blood sugar from crashing.

The blood sugar management along with the freedom to goof off guilt free has been nothing short of amazing for me and I highly recommend it to anyone to test for themselves.

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Cool, great tips Lewis. Eben and Tim obviously know how to get a lot done. I’m guessing they’re pretty decided people as well.

Dane April 22, 2011 at 2:15 pm

great post mang.

it’s so easy to get caught up in planning planning planning. but making it happen is where things actually progress.

Sibyl - alternaview April 30, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Corbett: Great, great, great post. I think everyone on the planet needs to read this. It applies to everyone. 1/2 of the people mistakenly think they are not working hard enough and the other 1/2 half of the people don’t really understand why they aren’t more productive. Everyone can really learn from this post and make some good tweaks in their thinking and what they are doing. I really appreciated what you said about not beating yourself up if you don’t get in all the hours you think you should. Great post.

Jo Boswell May 6, 2011 at 1:47 am

As a full time Virtual Assistant, mother of 2, dog owner, fiance planning a wedding etc!
I find that the only way I can get things done is to have a clear ‘to do list’ I don’t always get everything done on my list on that day, but my list is prioritised, and I try and break it down into time segments, its amazing how many tasks take less than 5 minutes to do, and you can then strike them off of your list, which in itself is motivation to keep going!
If you don’t get everything done, you’ve still done the important tasks, and the rest can wait until tomorrow.

If people don’t have a clear list or direction about what they need to do, they can waste a great deal of time procrastinating about what to do first.

There are many tools and a variety of software to help save a little bit of time, the delights of having a smart phone means I check my emails/forums when I first get up in the morning, whilst I’m waiting for the kettle to boil allowing me to deal with urgent tasks if I need to.

I can also schedule the time to work with out any distractions, and also something very important – time to relax!

To get work done efficiently and effectively you need to schedule breaks into your day – luckily (depending how you look at it!) having 2 Springer Spaniels means that I can get out of the house, and go for a walk / run and come back feeling motivated and enthusiastic and the dogs then sleep and let me work without distraction.

Philipp Knoll May 6, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Hey Corbett,

I asked myself exactly that question over and over again – how do they do that. Then I noticed that all those “heros” of mine are not that different, they are simply more organized, focused and – to put in in your words – more goal oriented.

Then I learned that two things help me a lot:

1) I need to acknowledge that I only have a certain amount of hours a day and a limited capacity of stuff that I can take care of myself each day. That instantly helped me to set more realistic goals. Before I used to pac my daily ToDo lists with 10, 20 or 30 tasks. Needless to say that I not once got to finish all of them leaving me with the feeling of being unproductive.

2) In order to keep focus on my goals but also get daily stuff done I need to split up my ToDo list in two part. I keep one part of the list for about 2-4 tasks that I need to complete that day. The other half of the list is for 1 perhaps 2 tasks bringing me closer to my goals.

So I might have a list of 4 things to complete for my clients and then a list of 1 or 2 items max. of my own stuff like writing an article etc.

From time to time I need to remind myself to keep that routine up. Even though it helped me a lot I tend to forget about it too fast.

Oh, and just today there was another thing I re-learned: Say NO to tasks or offers that don’t fit into your plans. Don’t let others dictate the use of your own time.

Corbett, I loved the reminder! I’m off to create my lists now!

- Philipp

Corbett May 8, 2011 at 11:29 pm

Awesome tips, Philipp! I’ve come to many of the same realizations myself, mostly through trial and error. Lately I have just 5 or 6 tasks on my list to accomplish per week. Any more than that and I’m bound to fail. These are bigger tasks, like producing an hour of content, and I like to focus on bigger chunks like that.

The thing I like most about your comment here is the part about not letting others dictate your time. That’s a hard one to learn to handle, because it feels like we should help other people out as much as possible. When you’re online, that can quickly eat up all of your productive time for the week though. You have to learn to politely say “no thanks” to lots of requests if you really want to get closer to your own goals. Or, consider helping people in a way that brings you closer to your goals, like turning an email request into a product or piece of content that other people will benefit from.

Thanks again for sharing!

Anna Gogoman May 9, 2011 at 12:30 pm

What helps me a lot in organizing myself and having the feeling that I was productive is indeed to start my day with the thing that is most important to me. And currently it happens to be writing. All the e-mails, phone calls, facebook updates etc. simply have to wait till I am done with my writing.

Ana | Traffic Generation May 11, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I use this strategy and have to agree that with a clear direction, it is much easier to get through your to-do list. What I most like is your post, is how you find clarity of direction, as that is often the stumbling block for most people. They want to do something, but they are unsure why they want to do it, or whether they actually want / need to do it. Excellent post!

Wade Backlinking Xpert May 11, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Very thought provoking post. we all have enough time in a day to achieve what we wish to achieve. I think many people get themselves distracted with non income producing activities and that can quietly steal a lot of one’s time. Making some changes in this area would be a good start to getting more important tasks done.

Kenny Rose July 11, 2011 at 5:21 am

Corbett,

Most people are struggling with defining their direction in most areas of their life. The daily call on our time and energy either negative or positive in relationships, commitments and responsibilities create a perception of a lack of time.

At the core is understanding these triggers and defining a direction for sure. Self evaluation and awareness combined with knowledge and learning helps us define, specifically our direction of travel.

As entrepreneurs we cannot afford not to define a clear direction for our business in particular. You are absolutely right Corbett once we have a clear direction everything falls into place and we reach that state of flow that makes us look extremely productive when we find something we love to do. Creating and producing becomes second nature.

Thanks for sharing your insight and intelligence. Always a pleasure to read your content.

Have a great week.

marianney | A Life Set Free April 21, 2011 at 12:50 pm

TheUglyKoala, definitely download Corbett’s business plan workbook for bloggers. The questions are amazing and really make you think about the direction you want to go in. AND it’s free, what could be better than that? ;)

Corbett April 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Awesome quote!

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