Making time for the things that matter, matters.
Are you good at the busy stuff, but not so great at the important stuff?
Don’t feel bad, that’s most of us.
Just because modern-day living has conditioned us to place productivity above self-care, doesn’t mean we have to. I mean, we’re still the boss of us.
Whoever decided output trumps is more important than downtime has never known the pleasure of taking time out to enjoy a sugar cone full of peanut butter gelato.
Rather than buy into their ridiculous notion of what it means to live a good life, let’s instead figure out how to free up our time for the things (and people) that matter to us.
If you’ve been trapped on the busy hamster wheel for some time, getting off might not seem that easy. You may even think it’s not possible. Don’t worry, it’s plenty doable.
It’s about shifting your mindset more than it is changing how you do things. Which is not to say change isn’t required (there’s no escaping it, sorry), it’ll just be easier when your mindset is on the same page.
I’ll use my own life as an example. I used to be a real tightwad. I would much rather do something myself than pay someone else to do it for me. A penny saved and all that.
What I failed to consider while scrubbing the shower floor, was that my miserly ways were costing me precious time. Time I could have spent juggling, doing yoga or eating peanut butter gelato with Sporty.
Once I made the connection —thanks to Jack Canfield’s book The Success Principles— I got smart about how I spend my time. Squandering my hours on underwhelming activities was no longer an option.
Start by Outsourcing the Menial Tasks
Rather than mow his lawn himself or do his own grocery shopping, Ben prefers to spend his time doing the things he enjoys, like performing weird experiments on himself in the name of biohacking.
If you have the means, this approach to mundane tasks frees you up to focus on what’s important. As an added bonus, it also gives someone else the opportunity to earn some money. Win, win.
Dial Back Your Netflix Habit
The average American spends about five hours a day watching TV. That’s 2,100 minutes a week that could have been put to far better use. Aside from being a colossal waste of time, lounging on the couch binge-watching [whatever series] also inspires late-night snacking habits your midriff could do without.
A far better approach to entertainment is to cut the cord on cable (and all broadcast television) and go the pay-per-view route instead. There’s nothing wrong with watching movies —they’re a great way to relax, after all— you just need to be mindful about your consumption.
Decide on a movie night and watch one movie a week, no more. If you’re baulking at the idea, by all means, go ahead and binge-watch your favourite series. But then don’t complain when you don’t have enough hours in the day for the stuff that actually matters.
*Kicks soapbox back under the bed.*
Stop With The Multitasking Already
You may think you’re multitasking, but what you’re really doing is switching back and forth between different things. Some people are faster at it than others, giving the illusion of increased productivity. Don’t fall for it. Humans are wired to be mono-taskers, so let’s embrace that.
Instead of one long, intimidating task list where everything is ‘urgent’ and looking at it makes you wish it was wine-o-clock, break down your days and weeks into specific focus areas.
For example, I’ve earmarked Monday mornings to research and pitch new angles. Tuesday and Thursday are writing days, Wednesdays and Fridays are for editing, and so on.
Take a look at everything you need to get done and lump similar tasks together. For me, it’s content creation and editing, for you it may be recording videos and seeing clients.
If something crops up that has nothing to do with what you’re working on, make a note of it and deal with it later. Knowing you won’t forget about it removes the need to do something about it in the moment.
This is key. When you remove the potential for distraction (doing something that pops into your head so you don’t forget about it), you can complete the task you’re busy with in less time because you were able to work uninterrupted.
As Philip Stanhope said, “There is time enough for everything, in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once; but there is not time enough in the year if you will do two things at a time.”
Change Your Job or Career
Changing jobs or careers isn’t as simple as the other tips I’ve included, I get that. But don’t dismiss it out of hand. It’s still worth considering, especially if your current job has you racking up 60, 70 or even 80-hour workweeks.
Careers are funny things. We base so much of our identity on them that we lose sight of who we are outside of that role. Whether you set out on a certain path by choice or by accident, it’s important to step back every so often to take stock.
You may love the work, for example, but the hours and stressful deadlines are getting you down. If you fell into your line of work by accident, take some time to consider if you’re getting anything out of it besides a paycheque.
Long hours at the office don’t serve anyone. It’s one oif the reasons why Amsterdam-based design studio Heldergroen lifts employees’ desks into the ceiling at 6pm every day. Not everyone is fortunate enough to work for such a forward-thinking company though, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a balanced life.
When you’ve been in the same job for some time, switching careers will seem daunting. Dusting off your CV is always a good starting point. If it’s hopelessly out of date grab a resume template here and start from scratch. Alternatively, employ the services of a career coach to help you highlight your strengths and upskill your weaknesses.
Create a Day-By-Day Shelf System
If you have children your mornings can easily descend into a frenzied hunt for misplaced school books, sports kit, etc. Perhaps you’re the ‘kid’ in the family who keeps losing things? Either way, this time-saving tip from Real Simple will eliminate your ‘late again’ woes for good.
Dedicate baskets or shelves to specific days of the week. When the kids get home they immediately remove items from their bags and place them in the appropriate basket. You could also create an everyday shelf for things like car keys, wallets and whatnot.
According to a survey by Pixie Lost & Found, the average American spends 2.5 days a year looking for lost items. If this is you, imagine what you could do with those 48 hours if you weren’t hunting for your wallet, cell phone, car keys or whatever.
Take Back Control Of Your Free Time
In her TED talk: How to gain control of your free time, Laura Vanderkam reminds us that small moments can have great power. She says we can use our bits of time for bits of joy.
That could be something as simple as choosing to read something wonderful on your work commute or using your mid-morning break at the office to do a short meditation. It’s about looking at the whole of one’s time and seeing where the good stuff can go.
There are plenty of ways to save time and be more productive, but perhaps we’d be better served if we took Laura’s overarching message to heart instead.
When we focus on what matters we can build the lives we want in the time we’ve got. —Laura Vanderkam
If you’d like to learn more from someone who clearly has a handle on time management, take a look at Laura’s book Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done.
This stuff is simple, but it isn’t necessarily easy. changing the way we do things after a lifetime of doing it a certain way takes effort. Things that are good for us are always hard in the moment.
The payoff is worth it though, so keep that in mind as you navigate these changes to eke out more time for the things that matter.
Aim to get just one percent better each day. Over the course of a year these micro improvements —or atomic habits, as James Clear calls them— will yield significant results.