“Busy, successful people do several things differently,”
says Ronni Eisenberg, an organization expert in Connecticut and author of 10 books about getting organized. “Above all else: They plan ahead and schedule things very well.” Laura Vanderkam, a time management expert and author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, agrees. “If you’re talking roughly 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., five hours after work is a lot of time,” she says. “You’d never just sit there for five hours during the day where you haven’t thought about what you were going to do with that time.” Here’s what they do.
They compartmentalize their work.
If you have a demanding job it’s unrealistic not to bring it home, but successful people carve out part of the evening to be with their families and are careful to split work into shifts instead of trying to do all at once. A good break may boost your productivity as a bonus. “You enjoy your family time, and when you return back to your work, you may have a fresh perspective on how to get things done,” says Vanderkam.
They don’t fall into the “24-hour trap.”
“Things do not have to happen every single day at the same time in order to be part of your life,” Vanderkam emphasizes. “People will say things like, ‘I can’t exercise in the evening because I have a family,’ but you probably could manage it one night a week.” Just because you might eat dinner as a family only a couple of nights a week, or see friends only one evening a month doesn’t mean it’s not worth scheduling it when you can.
They don’t watch TV.
Nothing inherently wrong with TV, but it's often a mindless default and we consume more than we’d like. Eisenberg notes that she’s seeing more clients tossing out the TV: “They’ve just decided it’s a waste of time, or they’ll put strict rules about how much they—kids and grownups—can watch,” she says. Cutting back (only watching a specific show, no aimless channel surfing) frees you up for other goals you want to accomplish.
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While working on a current project about the lives of successful women with families, Vanderkam observed that the majority of those she studied did at least some exercise. “Here we have people who are busier than the average American by a long shot, and are still finding the time to do it,” she says. “No one gets to escape the reality that exercise is necessary for health.” Successful people who exercise in the evenings plan it in advance; they don’t assume they’ll just happen to be in the mood for and have time to go to the gym. For those with families, Eisenberg notes, people often exercise after they leave work and before they head home so they’re less likely to get distracted.
They plan for fun.
Vanderkam notes that successful people emphasize quality—not quantity—time with their families. “It sounds counterintuitive for a time-strapped family, but try having a goal of at least one enjoyable group activity so it’s not just a death march to dinner, then homework, then baths and bedtime,” she suggests. Even though it’s an “extra” event, it will encourage organization and brighten everyone’s mood. You don't need to plan so far in advance: On your commute home, think about a neighborhood walk after dinner, a trip to the ice-cream store, or a board game.
They date their partners.
Successful people make sure to nourish their romantic relationships—even when time is in short supply. If you can swing a standing date, great. But if that’s not practical, Vanderkam recommends choosing one night a week to carve out a mini-date in the house. “Maybe once a week you have dessert together—at the table, not in front of the TV—and just talk for 45 minutes,” she suggests.
They make time for friends.
“Social connections are one of the most enjoyable parts of life, but friends tend to get the short shrift when people get busy,” says Vanderkam. One strategy she sees busy people use: make a standing calendar date. “If you have a group that you plan to meet with on the first Monday of every month, those meetings happen. If you have to schedule a date every single time, then it becomes harder.”
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They use online services.
Successful, busy people delegate to get things done, says Eisenberg. You might not have a personal assistant or accountant on call, but you can avoid a run to the drugstore for toilet paper if you sign up for a recurring delivery service, or to the bank for account information with free online or text alerts. You can also find hundreds of other tools and products to help get what you need, with one click.
They have a pre-bedtime routine.
A routine at night means better time management, says Eisenberg. If your kids know that homework's done by 7, then baths, then TV, then in bed by 9, the evening is smoother and less stressful for everyone. (It also makes it easier for working parents to hop back online after the kids are in bed, too.) Eisenberg says many people just don’t think about getting things organized for the coming day, which should be part of the ritual too. Pick out clothes, pack backpacks and suitcases, and prepare lunches as you can.
They prioritize sleep.
Debating whether to hit the hay or burn the midnight oil? In one of Vanderkam’s studies of high-earning women with kids, the vast majority got within the recommended 7 to 9 hours of nightly sleep over the course of a week. “Most people who say they get by on only 4 hours a night are probably lying,” she says. Successful people know they think better and make smarter decisions after getting enough sleep, she says.