9 Ways to Get the Most Out of Every Day

"I don't have time."

If you're like most people, you probably say (or think) those words quite often. It's easy for lack of time to become a catch-all excuse for not doing something that you know you should—like exercising, preparing a healthy meal or just slowing down, breathing and taking a few moments for yourself.

Between work, family needs, school and the endless deadlines and demands crowding the to-do lists, it can be tough to find a spare minute to return an email, much less to meditate, meal prep or make it to the gym. It may seem like if you just had one extra hour in the day, you would finally be able to fit in all...the…things.

But the truth is, no one has an unfair advantage in the time department. We are all given the same 1,440 minutes each day and it's up to us how we choose to use them. Of course, there are certain non-negotiables that simply must get done, like working and bathing and caring for children. With some thoughtful planning and foresight—and maybe a few clever tricks—you can boost your day-to-day productivity, though, and maybe even find some extra pockets of time to squeeze in what's been eluding you.

1.  If you can't do a lot, do a little.

It's easy to become paralyzed by the prospect of a large, time-consuming project or long-term lifestyle change, whether that's organizing an entire garage, swearing off all sugar or exercising for 90 minutes every day. When you hold yourself to sky-high standards and then miss the mark, it's common to fall victim to the "all-or-nothing" mentality, which sounds something like this: "I missed spinning class, so what’s the point of even going to the gym?" or "I've already gone past my daily calorie allotment, so might as well have this pint of ice cream."

Instead of overwhelming yourself and setting yourself up for failure, look for small ways to chip away at your goals, such as de-cluttering a single drawer, walking for 15 minutes or making room on your dinner plate for broccoli even though you gave into the pancakes for breakfast.

2.  Eat the frog first.

There's an old adage—one which many believe was originally coined by Mark Twain—that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, you can rest assured that nothing worse will happen to you over the course of the day. Obviously, we're not suggesting that you add reptiles to your meal plan, but we do like the idea of tackling the most challenging or insufferable tasks before you have a chance to talk yourself out of them. Hate going to the gym? Schedule a sunrise boot camp class to get it out of the way. Dreading the dentist? Request a morning appointment so it’s not looming over you. The early accomplishment will also give you a boost of confidence and motivation to carry you through the rest of the day.

3. Schedule "you time."

We know, you've heard this one before, but that's because it's worth repeating. And before you object that you can't carve out a whole extra hour for yourself, recognize that you can start with just 15 minutes. Put it on your calendar and treat it like a real appointment, just as you would a work meeting or a doctor's visit. Maybe it's right when you wake up, at the latter part of your lunch hour or in the space between dinner and bedtime, but make sure that it's on your calendar along with your other tasks. During that stolen quarter of an hour, do something that brings you joy, relaxation or enlightenment. Maybe that's reading a few pages of a novel, writing in your journal or blog, or just connecting with supportive SparkPeople members. As this starts to become a habit, try to gradually add a little more time until you've worked up to the full hour per day that you deserve.

4. Exercise.

It turns out that hitting the gym (or the sidewalk or even just the living room floor) delivers benefits that go far beyond a slim, strong physique. Studies have shown that regular physical activity during the workday can also boost productivity and reduce stress levels. Participants reported that they had better time management, mental focus and interpersonal performance on exercise days as compared to non-exercise days. So in theory, by sacrificing just 30 minutes to take a walk, you could improve the quality of your output for the remainder of the day.

5. Ask for help (or hire it).

It's natural to want to maintain control over all aspects of your life, but you can only have so many balls in the air before they start hitting the ground. Sometimes, delegating tasks to others is the only way to ensure that they get done. No, you can't hire someone to run three miles for you—but if you can afford to hire a service to clean your house or mow your lawn, or ask family members to pitch in to help with running errands or walking the dog, it could free up some valuable time to focus on your own health, fitness and wellness.

6. Eliminate unnecessary activities.

While everything on your plate might seem essential at first glance, there are likely some superfluous things that can be trimmed. For a few days, track your activities just as you would track your food or exercise, then review the list. If you spot any items that aren't absolutely necessary and aren’t moving you toward your goals—such as scrolling through Facebook or watching that extra Netflix show before bed—give them the boot. You'll likely be surprised by how much extra time emerges.

7. Learn to say no.

This can be a difficult one, especially if you're a "people pleaser" who has trouble turning down requests or invitations, but it's key to reclaiming control of your time and making room for the things that are important to you. Whether it's a high-calorie restaurant dinner, a time-consuming project or a social event with people who don't make you feel your best, passing on an invite or request can actually be a fulfilling (and thrilling) experience.

Some quick tips for politely and effectively saying no: Start out by thanking the person for thinking of you, be honest about why you're declining and make it clear that you're rejecting the request and not the person who's making it. It might seem difficult at first—especially if you've earned something of a reputation for being a "yes" person—but with a little practice and some pushback, it will start to get easier. And with every no, you'll be saying yes to something that serves you better.   

8. Take meaningful breaks.

If you don't build periods of mental and physical rest into your day, you'll find yourself taking unintentional (and potentially detrimental) ones. For instance, you might schedule two or three 15-minute walks throughout the day, giving your mind and body an opportunity to recharge while also sneaking in some mini calorie-burning sessions. Or you could plan to reconnect with an old friend during a coffee break. Without these planned time-outs, though, you're more likely to succumb to mindless activities that offer little to no benefits, such as gossiping with co-workers, grazing on unhealthy snacks or spending too much time on social media.

9. Sleep your way to productivity.

While it might seem like more waking hours is conducive to getting more out of your day, the time you save by shortening your snooze time will likely mean sacrificing some of your energy, focus and creativity. Resist the urge to burn the midnight oil, choosing instead to rest and recharge so you can hit the ground running and be functioning at your highest level the next day.

Each morning when you wake up, you have a new opportunity to use your time more wisely and get more out of it—not just more productivity, but also more enjoyment, relaxation, enrichment, connection or whatever defines a successful day for you. By being a little more thoughtful about how you utilize the hours in each day, you can dramatically increase how much you’re getting out of them.