One way to think about your life is that it is nothing more than blocks of time. How you use that time ultimately decides your happiness both in the present and in the long term. It also decides how much of that time your get to spend on self-actualization and pursuing your best self, and how much gets taken for other tasks.
“No person would give up even an inch of their estate, and the slightest dispute with a neighbor can mean hell to pay; yet we easily let others encroach on our lives—worse, we often pave the way for those who will take it over. No person hands out their money to passers-by, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.” -Seneca
You could simply skip the step of thinking about managing your own time, but this only means that someone else is going to do it for you-an employer, spouse, friends, etc. For the great majority of the population, happiness doesn’t come from their 9-5 job. A good job can fuel your dreams and limit your stress, but it’s not usually the dream itself. So what can I do about it? Before you can start to think about where you want to allocate your time, you need to get honest about what makes you the happiest, and what could make you even happier. For me this meant building a project, connecting with a loved one over some good conversation, working out (Yes some people enjoy that time), and sometimes it just meant being outdoors.
All of these things are activities that are too easy to put off by just saying “I’m too busy right now. I’ll do it when I have more time.”-That’s exactly the point-you can literally make more time, within reason, if you simply start to add some intelligent structure to your routine. Tell Tasks how long they are going to take, instead of casually trying to complete them.
One of the biggest ah-ha moments I had when learning to better manage my time was the concept of defining how long a task should take-essentially telling them how long they had instead of the other way around. An example might be something like doing the dishes. If you just start doing the dishes it might take 20 or 30 minutes, maybe you like to spend this time to bond with family over some good conversation. If you do, there’s nothing wrong with taking your time, but if you don’t and this is just one more task in the way of you getting to something that really engages you, then set a limit for how long that task is allowed to take and stick to it. Once I started doing this, I found that I had been telling myself a lot of little white lies about how long activities take. Dishes that use to take 20 minutes, magically began taking only 10 minutes when that was how long I told myself it would take. Home oil changes suddenly only took 20 minutes, instead of the hour I had been dramatically accounting for in the past to justify procrastinating it. Mowing the lawn dropped from 25 minutes down to 7 minutes (I’ve got a small lawn and most of that time is getting the mower out), and working out began to take dramatically less time because I stopped resting and taking so many breaks, which actually made the workout better.
Find out where your time is going today It all starts with figuring out where your hours and minutes are going today and asking “could I improve this”? Sit down with a piece of paper and really figure out how much time per week you spend doing which tasks. If you’re like most people, you’re going to find that there are big chunks where you’re watching TV 8 hours a week, commuting, running errands, and just surfing the internet. Identify these habits honestly and change the ones that you can give up or bend to your benefit. Spending 20 minutes every morning and evening on Facebook before bed? Set a limit of 5 minutes and stick to it. Bam! You just got 30 minutes back in your day. Are you cooking meals 6 days a week? Could you cook one big dish in the crock pot, put it in Tupperware and freeze it for the week? Is there a part of your weekday or weekend when you retreat inside the house because it’s too hot or cold to go outside? Might this be a smart time to do tasks like running errands? Can you grocery shop, run and errands, or get a haircut on your lunch break so that you’re high value weekend time is more freed up? You get the idea. It takes time but all you have to do is start looking for better ways to allocate the time in your life and you’ll start to find opportunity.
So what’s the payoff to all this effort? You can spend more time doing whatever it is that you like to do; things that you think are real memories and add real value to your existence instead of getting bogged down in a time scarce lifestyle and believing that you have no control over it, later looking back to realize that your spend the majority of your time here just treading emotional water instead of swimming toward land.