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How to Make Time

by David Yates

How much can you get done in a day?

Sometimes it can feel that there’s just not enough hours in the day.

Other times we don’t feel much like doing anything.

And how many times have you heard someone say they “just don’t have time” to work on something?

The reality is, we all have the exact same amount of time and you only have to look into the world of professional athletes, authors, musicians and celebrities in general to see that there is most definitely a way of using your time more effectively. There is always an improvement to be made, somewhere.

Without going on a lengthy diatribe about the wonders of planning, or waxing lyrical about how to make best use of your time, I thought it would be a good idea to just lay out how I try to use my time best, from a purely pragmatic point of view.

I’m not saying my approach is the best, it’s probably far from it - but what I can definitely attest to is that by implementing some of the methods in this article I have most definitely seen an uptick in productivity, a reduction in anxiety and far less occurrences of burnout which once plagued both my personal and professional lives.

My routine here likely isn’t anything special, and is probably very typical of any busy family person who likes to keep active and has a busy professional life.

There is always an improvement to be made, somewhere.

I’ve written this article purely out of notes I’ve taken over the years, and information I keep across my various systems, I hope you maybe gain some ideas about structuring your day merely by having a peek into mine.

Now, I’m a fairly busy guy, I have a large family and, it seems, countless projects, big and small, on the go at one time.

So without discounting all the things i think I can’t do, I instead like to take the more positive outlook of assessing the things I want to do. Remember, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Here’s some of the daily goals I want to get done, to keep me on track to hitting my long term goals:

I want to train twice a day quite regularly, sometimes three. I like to run, train martial arts, lift weights and walk hills.

I’m a software developer, and alongside my day job I write this blog. So alongside that I want to find time for 3D printing, art, music production, learning the guitar and various coding projects.

I also like gaming, so I try and shoot for a couple of hours in the evening to play something with my boys.

With everything on the go all at once, how do you start trying to fit all that in?

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.


!I’ll cut to the chase. The trick is in routines, or more specifically, automating routines.

I make sure every day I am automating as much as I can. I try to make sure my day follows the same structure as best as I can. Of course life gets in the way, but I try to make sure I’m putting aside enough time each day to get things done in the main four areas of my life: Health, Family, Work and Creativity (Fun).

It’s taken many years, and it’s still nowhere near perfect.

If I become ill, or if something unexpected creeps in then it will invariably knock out my schedule such that I’m playing catchup. Even in these cases though, it’s important to remember to practice mindfulness and remind myself that things not going to plan, is still part of the plan.

Here’s roughly what I attempt to hit most days:

Morning Routine

My Morning Routine changes quite a bit. Sometimes I need more recovery due my training. If I’m working toward a particular goal, like a running plan, then I will use my time here to get that time in.

I’ve started BJJ in the last year so this time now is mostly used for just making sure my day is set up correctly.

I have a checklist in Things that keeps me somewhat on track with my morning routine but it usually consists of something like:

I’m planning a whole article on the “art” of waking up early but for now just know I need at least 20-30 mins to “come at” in the morning, so this will usually mean grabbing my phone and doing a quick puzzle or something. Getting dressed into the clothes I laid out the night before, grabbing a coffee from my machine and then off out the door.

Your morning routine needs to be geared to set you up for the day. “Wake up & Coffee” isn’t really a morning routine, What things do you need to put into place to make sure you’re primed for the day ahead? For some people it might be journalling. Others might need a long cold shower to get them going first thing. Find out what works for you. But remember not to do too much. I’ve certainly had periods of my life where i’ve tried to pack in everything I could into my morning routine - workouts, yoga, work tasks. Try not to have it too hectic or you will burn yourself out Planning My Day

This is the main focus of my morning routine tbh. I’ll use the morning walk / cardio / weights or whatever to brainstorm the things I need to get done for the day. By the time I actually sit at my desk I’m usually raring to go with ideas for the day.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last few years getting “good at being productive”. It’s taken some time to refine and probably warrants an article in itself. My planning stack involves these apps:

And that’s it, it’s basically how I run my life!

Work blocks

My work can vary massively, so instead of trying to add to my calendar every task I have to do, I use time blocking to instead just block out portions of my day to focus on solely work tasks. This includes everything related my day job, but also anything I have to deal with relating to finances and also personal development. If I have to do some documentation reading, for example, it all goes into a work block.

My workflow here looks like this:

By breaking my tasks into half hour blocks, that means I have a chance at ticking off 6 work tasks before lunch, and 7 tasks in the afternoon. Ish.

Now that might be a bit of a pipe dream, especially when I’m working on a big ticket for my job which will span over multiple days. In those cases I make sure its the only work task on my list.

By breaking up my schedule like this it lets me not get too overwhelmed with everything I have on, but also provides me the flexibility to adapt to the days demands.

Health / Lunch

I usually grab something I meal prepped earlier to save me some time. My meal prep usually takes me about 20 minutes, twice a week.

Eating usually takes me 10 minutes or so which then gives some time either for a nap or to see to some chores or errands that need doing.

The astute of you will have noticed that I’m only sleeping 5 hours. I find I operate best between 5-7 hours of sleep. Any more than 8 hours and I tend to feel groggy through my day. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve for waking up on time though, as I do still struggle with getting up in the morning, especially if I’ve been training hard. I’ll do a separate article on exactly how I do this in the future.

Now, how to deal with tiredness. The key lies in the power nap. In fact Jocko Willink has an excellent section on this in his book Discipline Equals Freedom. The whole book is amazing. Go listen to it.

I’ll aim to get in a power nap over my lunch most days. I’ve strung a hammock up in the garden for this exact purpose. I’ll put on some noise cancelling headphones and set my phone using the exact same method I use to get up early in the morning.

After years of working night shifts in my twenties I find that blocking light out is key to sleeping in the day so I’ll use something over my eyes to get rid of any ambient light. Then I’ll use the navy seals technique to get to sleep as fast as I can.

Sometimes my morning coffee will interfere with this, but for the most part I’m asleep after 3 or 4 minutes.

Some days I skip this, sometimes I’m in there a whole hour - just depends on how much I’ve been doing. Ultimately, you find the energy to move if you’ve got something to move for.

I’ll also have mornings where I struggle dragging myself out of bed - or I’ll spend a morning on the weekend “catching up” on missed sleep. The important thing is not to focus too much on how strictly you can adhere to a schedule but more that you are keeping the gist of your routine, and the momentum going. Work wind down

I used to really struggle with winding down from work and transitioning back into “family” mode. The nI was working out f an office I’d use my daily commute to throw on an audiobook, or do something that eased back into a family mindset. I’ve been working remotely for quite a few years now though so I just had to find a way to help me ease into my evening.

Previously I would just be constantly irritated as I’d be thinking about my work constantly. So now I make sure I block out a specific amount of time for book ending my work day. This involves a bit of journalling, using Obsidian to organise my daily notes. Any last minute emails, and a bit of a look ahead to tomorrow. I don’t feel any shame at all for selecting anything I didn’t get done and handing it off to tomorrow in Things 3.

Health / Family Time

I didn’t get into my eating habits in this article, as I’m planning a write up on that, and how to mostly automate it. If I have a BJJ class on I’ll get some food in immediately after finishing work.

On rest days or days where I’ve got something planned with my family I’ll be a bit more relaxed and aim to have dinner with them (yeah, we eat separate diets, my kids hate fish and lentils who’d have guessed).

Either way this a training block, or some down time for doing something with my family and catching up on their day. Creative Time

Once I’ve either wrapped up my training, or my kids are off doing their own thing, I’ll make sure to get some “me time” in. Next to my morning workout this is probably the part of the day I mostly struggle with as I have to kind of “force” myself into relaxing a little bit and to not feel too guilty about “not being productive”, a good quote about this is to remember that:

“The time you enjoy wasting, is not wasted time” - John Lennon

Not particularly a fan of the guy, but very very good advice.

So, it’s either just switching off with a bit of gaming, or trying my hand at something creative for an hour or two. Over weekends this time will be a lot more extended, as I have more free time! Plan out tomorrow

Here’s where I’ll grab my iPad and head to bed.

After laying out my clothes ready for tomorrow I’ll use the iPad to recap on the day and have a look ahead to tomorrow.

After that, I’ll read until I fall asleep.

The important thing is not to focus too much on how strictly you can adhere to a schedule but more that you are keeping the gist of your routine, and the momentum going.


Here’s some takeaways.

So that’s it. That’s my daily routine. Now don’t get me wrong, I realise we aren’t robots, and I realise there’ll be days where I completely miss the mark on every single point in that list, and that’s ok. It’s ok to have good days and bad days. It’s ok to sometimes be unproductive. What’s not ok is getting absolutely mired in life, spinning your wheels and feeling completely burnt out.

To get over this, I had to devise a plan. A plan that works for me. Ask me how I got to this plan specifically and it’s hard to give a definitive answer. There’s been a lot of trial and error over the years and I’m still learning. Different life circumstances have dictated changes of pace, different day jobs, different interests and hobbies.

I have plenty of bad days. But if I’m hitting 80% of the plans I make then that’s still getting 100% more done than I would without a plan in the first place. So if you’re struggling to get out of bed early, or you are beginning to feel burnt out for whatever reason, maybe you need to redefine your plan, your approach. And to devise a plan you need to have goals, but that’s an article for another time.

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