Some days it can seem like a time thief has crept in through the back door and stolen our minutes away, leaving us feeling like we’ve missed out on some of our life’s most important moments.
The truth is, we all have the same number of those valued minutes each day.
And the good news is we actually do have control over where our time goes, though most of us don’t slow down long enough to consider how we are using our allotted amount. When was the last time you stopped and thought about where your time was being spent, and even more important, how you felt about it?
It’s a great exercise to tally up our schedules every now and again to see if our hours spent doing these tasks are congruent with our priorities. Include:
- Working hours – true working hours, including commute time, and time spent getting “just a few more items” checked off the to-do list
- Hours spent doing things for others
- Hours of sleep, and ideally hours of sleep you would like to get
- Time doing life tasks – errands, volunteering, exercising, shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc.
Anything left over is where much of your real living gets done, at least the good parts like fun, self-care, and quality time with family and friends. If you’re like many people in our fast-paced world, it’s likely there are days when you get a woefully small amount of time for these precious moments.
So what is a person to do?
Once you get a handle on this, you’ll understand that because your time is so limited, the choices you make become crucial. Are you spending your time wisely according to the way you want to live your life? If not, how can you move closer to that ideal?
This can be a two-step process. First, we must find out where our time is truly being spent. In her book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Laura Vanderkam suggests logging an entire week (broken down by hour) into a spreadsheet – 24 rows in each of 7 columns for the 24 hours in each day. This seems like a lot of work, but if you want to get serious about getting a handle on your time, it will become an invaluable resource.
Next, find a quiet hour (it will be well worth the time spent!) to devote to uncovering your current priorities. Ask yourself:
- At this stage of my life, what needs my attention?
- Is there anything I need to let go of?
Write down what comes to mind without censoring yourself. Take into account different areas of your life such as work, relationships, health, community, family, finances, etc.
Some examples could include:
- Take time to repair a neglected relationship that has been niggling at you
- Outsource that project that has been on your to-do list forever
- Begin to get your health in order
- Organize the garage/basement/junk drawer that has been driving you nuts
- Work on improving your finances
- Unleash your creativity (join an art class, learn to knit, write a story)
- Doing a home repair/renovation project you’ve been putting off
After you’re finished, go through the list and ask yourself what your top five items for the next three to six months are and write them down in order of priority. Keep this list close by, ideally where you’ll see it often. You could put a reminder on your phone to go off once or twice a day, make it your computer screen saver, or post sticky notes around the house.
Seeing the list often will remind you of what you want to focus on and will encourage you to say no to things that don’t move one of the items forward in some way.
In particular, try to challenge yourself to say no when someone asks you to do something that you’d rather not. It may not always be possible, of course, but keep in mind that doing things out of guilt and obligation rarely serves anyone’s interests.
Being able to say no with kindness and simplicity—such as a short “thank you for thinking of me, but I’m afraid I’m not available”—is the most important ingredient in regaining control of your own time.
And remember, it is your time.
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