A few months before the start of #Project20nine I found myself afflicted by a constant worry. It had crept up on me and settled in like a shadow in the night. I was worrying that I’ve been wasting my time and that no matter how hard I tried to stop the sands of time slipping through my fingers I just couldn’t.
Face it, T, no one can.
But the worst bit? The bit that really compounded the problem? Reflecting on the worry meant that I was so focussed on watching those grains fall that I’d lost sight of the grains that were in my hands.
We’ve all got time but it’s in front of us, not behind.
‘Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.’
The fear of wasted time is not uncommon and it’s a slippery path once we’re on it. That path spirals downwards if we don’t make a foothold and step up off of it.
So, I asked myself: how do I stop feeling like this way? How can I be confident that I am not wasting my time? Why is enough never enough? How do I achieve more?
These questions began to infect me the more I understood the root of my anxieties. I dug deeper and found the answers within a new line of thought.
There were 3 questions that I realised helped me to focus and become more proactive in claiming back my sense of making time work for me.
3 Questions That Help
- Where does my concept of wasted time come from?
- Do I compare myself to others too much?
- Is there value to this?
- Who, in particular, have I been comparing myself to? Why?
- Do I consistently benefit from the results of the way I spend my time?
- If results are not being seen, what is being seen?
- How am I gauging ‘results’?
- What is preventing me from seeing the results that I want to?
The answers will be enlightening. Questions 2 and 3 are closed questions but many open questions spring from them (some of which I’ve identified) and once we begin engaging with this thought pattern, a proactive response will be inevitable.
My Tips to Help Use Time Most Effectively
Assess where your time is going
Are you a procrastinator? A perfectionist? Super lazy or just not quite sure where to start so you twiddle your thumbs as you go round in circles? Do you simply try to do too much and end up chasing your tail? Nail this down and you’ll have an acute awareness of your own time-spending weaknesses.
One of the most immediate, and most likely places, that your time is going is your phone. Download a screen-time tracker like Momentum or utilise a built in function to highlight, in horrifyingly specific detail, just how much time you spend texting, tweeting, grammin’ and Facebooking.
Prioritise and task set (be uber specific)
When you find yourself saying ‘I don’t have time for XX‘, really try to address whether it’s actually the simple case of not having your priorities in right and proper order. For example, if your task list has 15+ items on it consider how many of them are necessary. If they all are, how can you group them? Which task will contribute to the accomplishment of others if done first?
Pareto’s 80:20 Principle states that roughly 80% of our results come from 20% of our actions. That’s a lot of results from very little input.
Cap the day with a morning and an evening routine to give yourself a sense of completion and to retain a bit of sanity if you’re always on the go.
To establish your new routine(s):
- Make them the focus: create a cycle of accomplishing a structure and this mentality will seep into your cycle of accomplishment. Period.
- Incorporate a sense of reward into them: morning routines might include a post-morning workout latte or the evening routine might include a bit of yoga.
- Track results: did the new routine, after being established, contribute to greater accomplishment/better well-being/ other opportunities?
Schedule Your Time
Don’t seek to be busy, seek to be productive. Identify your primary goals for the next day by spending no more than 30 minutes, the night before, outlining them.
With these in place, block your time, allocate goals and break down actions into the most efficient tasks. This includes contingency planning for distractions and unexpected turns of events.
By extension, establish cold zones: periods of the day where using mobiles, social media and answering emails is prohibited.
Ideally these periods should form the majority of your time. Allocating specific tech-time will significantly contribute to better time management and focus.
By allocating specific times for emails you will refrain from dipping into the inbox every 20 minutes. Checking and replying at after the first major task has been accomplished and then again towards the middle of the afternoon will also help keep your focus sharp.
Don’t fear saying ‘No’
Saying ‘no’ is a skill. It’s not easy to do it but it’s a fundamental ability to nurture. Your time is yours and saying ‘no’ is an affirmation that you value it enough to keep for yourself. That’s not to say giving your time to others should be avoided, but it’s a serious consideration when you are asked to give it away.
Here’s a simple rule
Say ‘yes’ to things you:
- have to do
- should do
- want to do
But of course the tricky thing is discerning between the three…
This is one to really emphasise: the TV/Facebook/Instagram/mobile phone isn’t going anywhere. Let these time-thieves disappear from your consideration – the harder you hold on to them the harder it is to relinquish them. Rip ’em off like a band-aid and watch what happens.
Understand your physical and physiological needs
Take care of yourself! Move, drink, sleep, eat. Your brain and body will respond to these basics in kind. They will get sharper, feel more energised and ultimately serve you better.
Be patient but don’t accept waiting
Patience is a virtue but inserting ‘waiting time’ into the day is a long way from being practical. If you find yourself having to wait (for a meeting, a dentist appointment etc.) then use that time well!
Do you have smaller tasks that can be accomplished in this time? If not, how can you make that time work for you, rather than let it dissipate into the ether without a valuable result? Perhaps it’s time you can spend recharging with a tea or reading a few pages of a book.
Good organisation eliminates reorganisation
…and reorganisation is the mother of all time wasters. Keep it in order, keep it clean and you’ll save yourself the hassle of doing bigger jobs more frequently. It’s the magic of little and often.
Remember: you only have so many hours in a day
Trying to do too much, all the time, is not only bad for your health, it can affect relationships, finances and, paradoxically, other goals. Accept that a to do list is not a matter of life and death and that time for living, for relaxing and for non-work related activities is allowed.
Here’s another thought: being too busy, too often, is proof that we’re not good enough at saying no.
Be good at saying no.
This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. Today the author doesn’t feel a day older than he should. In fact, if you asked him how he does feel, he’d probably tell you he feels no different to the way he felt at the beginning of being a 20-something. He would also tell you how much he enjoys being however old he is at any given moment and that he feels hungry. But then again, he’s always hungry