It's easy to feel overwhelmed when you have a to-do list that would take days to get through but you only have hours available. However, with some time-optimization, you can still accomplish those goals and more.

I went searching for easy habits that would give me back some time in the day, so I could focus on what I really wanted to do. Here are six habits that saved me over two hours every week:

1. Explore passive reading.

If you're looking to gain new professional skills and maybe even become a better leader for your team, you should add passive reading to your life. This is an easy way to make the most of your time and is simple to incorporate into your day. 

I listen to audiobooks while playing with my dog, commuting, or doing any mindless task like washing dishes. It helps me make the most of my time. Moreover, recent research shows listening to audiobooks is pretty close to traditional reading with respect to absorbing and retaining information. 

Passive reading helps me get closer to gaining the knowledge to reach any professional goal I've set. I save up to an hour a week by not having to carve time out of my already busy days just for reading.

2. Incorporate a weekly review and plan the week ahead.

If you want to stop wasting time, try evaluating the previous workweek and planning for the next one over the weekend. This will not take a lot of time, but it will help you gain valuable insights into what you can tweak to optimize your work (and non-work) hours. 

Think back a few days. Were there meetings that were completely unnecessary or unproductive? How can you improve or avoid similar situations so you can eliminate inefficiency from your day? I've gotten into the habit of spending just five to 10 minutes on a Sunday writing down the answers to these questions.

Trial, error, evaluation, and the resulting "correction" are your friends. With a little patience, you'll optimize your work routines and processes better, which may end up saving hours a week, depending on where your inefficiencies lie.

3. Watch classes online instead of attending traditional ones.

Maybe you want to learn new skills that will give you a professional edge that you can't get from books alone, but don't have the time to attend classes. 

Instead, try learning something new every week by watching online videos during downtime. 

Pick videos under a specific topic or category that you've been interested in learning more about --like coding, confidence for public speaking, effective management, etc.-- and instead of watching Netflix, use this screen time to learn.

4. Adopt the uniform approach to clothing.

Many successful people throughout history have worn self-imposed uniforms, including Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs.

You can pick a work uniform for life if you feel so inclined, or if you want more freedom, choose your weekly work outfits over the weekend. I prefer to avoid the monochromatic look that certain CEOs go for each day, so I lay out five different shirts I've been wanting to wear, as well as certain pants or other accessories.

This is an easy exercise that will take only a few minutes each week, but can save you precious energy and time every morning.

5. Don't procrastinate replying to emails.

Answer simple emails immediately after reading them. There is no point in opening an email without replying if you know what you need to say and it won't take more than a minute. Save some mental energy by dealing with them immediately.

This leads me to my second recommendation, which is to primarily check emails only at predetermined times. Turn off your notifications so you can concentrate on the task at hand, and leave your email alone in between those scheduled check-ins. Almost every professional I know who cares about saving time and mental energy does this. It taxes your brain significantly to constantly switch between two entirely different tasks.

6. Prioritize your to-do list.

Always organize your to-do list in order of priority and in the order you plan to get things done. This seems like a small thing, but it will save you precious minutes that can add up. I keep a notepad next to me and add to it when I know I have a new assignment or task that I don't want to forget. If you try this, you'll waste less time thinking "what's next?" whenever you move from one task to the next.

Published on: Nov 18, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.