Wish you had more free time?

Imagine how much more relaxed you'd be if you had more time to read. All the breakthrough ideas you'd have if you could just loaf around aimlessly like Einstein.

You do have that time. Remember, you have the same number of hours in the day as Barbara Corcoran.

It's how you choose to spend your time that matters.

Time management expert Laura Vanderkam believes we're all too obsessed with saving time. She thinks we have plenty of it. "We don't build the lives we want by saving time," Vanderkam said in her TedWomen talk in 2016. "We build the lives we want, and then time saves itself."

In her latest book, "Off the Clock," Vanderkam shares strategies for better managing your time so you can be more productive. She uses the stories of busy people to illustrate these strategies in practice -- like a CEO who heads to Waffle House every morning to do focused work, freeing him up to put out wildfires throughout his day.

Here are a few strategies Vanderkam uses to manage her own time, which she recently shared with The M Dash, the digital magazine of fashion startup MM.LaFleur.

Track your time

For one week, write down what you're doing every 30 minutes. Keeping a time log might feel like one more thing to add to your to-do list, but the results can be enlightening. You might be surprised to discover where your time is going.

The first year Vanderkam did this, she realized she had spent 327 hours reading -- almost an hour a day. But most of it had been spent reading online articles and magazines. So Vanderkam stopped making excuses about not having time to read books. The next year, she allocated those 327 reading hours to books, and was able to scale up her reading time.

Take non-smoke breaks

After working or focusing for long stretches of time, we all need breaks. You probably already take them. You check in on Facebook here, scroll through Instagram there. Or a phone notification pops up that leads you down a rabbit hole of text-scroll-comment-etc.

The problem with these unconscious breaks, Vanderkam says, is that we don't feel rejuvenated by them. They aren't real breaks. She's not against social media breaks, but says you need to plan them and keep them to 10-15 minutes.

"You should monitor your energy throughout the day and proactively figure out when you'll need zone-out time," Vanderkam recommends. As an alternative to social media, try heading outside for 10-15 minutes. It's like taking a smoking break, minus the smoking part.

Keep your to-do list super short

A too-long to-do list is just setting yourself up to fail. Set yourself up for success. Keep it short enough that you can reasonably accomplish what's on that list.

And your to-do list shouldn't just be tasks you need to accomplish at work. Personal time should also be a priority.

In her TED talk, Vanderkam shares the story of a business owner who was unavailable to meet her for an interview. The woman leads a 12-person team and has six kids. But that's not why she was too busy for the interview. She had gone for a hike that morning. When she and Vanderkam were finally able to connect, she emphasized this fact: Every minute you spend your time is your own choice.

As a mother of four herself, Vanderkam doesn't buy into the idea that mothers have no time for themselves. "I find it frustrating when people are wedded to their story of being a crazed, harried, put-upon woman, and look for evidence to support that story," she says.

No one cares if the toys are put away. It doesn't matter if you reply to every email. It's your time. You can't make more time. But you can make more intentional decisions about how you spend it.

Published on: Jun 26, 2018