How to Use the 'Stealing Time' Technique to Finally Work on What Really Matters to You

I was listening to Michael Silverblatt's Bookworm, my favorite podcast about books, when his guest, Jim Gauer, the poet, venture capitalist and author of Novel Explosives, said something about getting up in the early hours of the morning to work on his book that caught my attention. "A kindred spirit," I thought, as I too had written my book Design the Life You Love by getting up 4:30-5am everyday, while my family was still asleep.

"The novel, so that everyone knows, due to mistakes that I made along the way, took 7 days a week, 365 days a year, 7 years to write. I made a terrible mistake late in the book, had to rip out a year's worth of work and it took a year and a half to replace it. But it was a daily, getting up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning to write."

Listening to Gauer, I realized that getting up early was a way of "stealing time".

Stealing time is creating precious time out of an already packed schedule to do something that is important to you. For me this was the hours before my kids got up and my work day started. To steal time, I trained myself to get up early.

NYTimes' Sketch Guy, Carl Richards, recently wrote about an epiphany he had about where time goes after his wife called out his habit of 'half-working'. He installed a program called Rescue Time that monitored everything he did on his computer. After tracking his activities for a month, he found that his wife wasn't so wrong after all (no surprise there).

"I spent 45 hours and 38 minutes on things I'd labeled unproductive. After I carefully reviewed all the inputs for errors and found none, I pulled out my trusty calculator and did some painful math: It was two and a half hours per working day in May."

Try Richards' technique and find your lost time-where it goes and how much. Once you do, you might want to heed to Beth Comstock's advice about making room for discovery. Comstock, the Vice Chair at GE, reserves 10% of her time for curiosity--to learn new things by going to conferences, taking time to ideate and to talk to people.

"Can I spend 10% of my time a week reading, going to sites like Singularity, TED, talking to people, going to industry events, asking people: What trends are you seeing? What are you nervous about? What are you excited about?"

There are other ways to "steal time" and here are a few:

- Simplify your life to save time. Minimizing choice helps recuperate time lost on decision making.

- Delegate work to others. Note to parents and myself, this includes delegating house work to your kids.

- Stay focused on one task at a time as switching from one task to another is a big time and energy drain. I use the Pomodoro app to focus my time on one thing at a time.

But if you'd like to see something really ingenious, check out this new product that my graduate student Jingting He designed in my class at SVA (School of Visual Arts). Called the Time Thief Clock, her timepiece comes with an app that steals 1 minute out of each hour, which disappears right in front of your eyes at exactly the 59th minute of each hour, and gives it back to you as 24 minutes at the end of each 24 hour cycle. Now that is a chunk of time you can do so much with.

How do you "steal" time and what do you do with it? I would love to hear from you.

Design the life and work you love!