When it comes to our time management, everyone starts with the same amount. We’re all blessed with a perfectly democratic spread of 24 hours per person. So what happens when 34 hours of activities end up in a 24-hour day?
Most of us are busy…so busy that we are overspending our time, and we end up stressed-out, much in the same way that those who overspend money end up in debt and stressed-out. The following tips will help you organize and gain control of your “time budget”:
1. Acknowledge that there are only have 24 hours a day, and there will never be more than that.
When it comes to time, there’s not the option of earning more someday. You have 24 hours, and that’s it. Someday it will end…life is a finite resource. Time management is a must to create the life you truly desire to live.
2. Decide what items are essential
Stephen R. Covey refers to life and time management being like a bowl. You can fill a bowl with sand, but when rocks are put into the bowl, they’re crowded out by the sand. If you fill the same bowl with rocks first, there’s still room for gravel, as well as sand, but the rocks have to go in first.
Likewise, if you make sure there’s room in your life for life-or-death priorities (the “rocks”), there will still be room for other good priorities (some “gravel”), as well as some more enjoyable, if more trivial priorities (the “sand”). My definition of how to look at priorities is as follows:
When a priority counts as a “rock” in my metaphorical bowl of life, it’s a person or activity that is an absolute necessity in my life – without which I will sicken or die physically, mentally or spiritually. In my own bowl, my relationship with my spouse is a “rock”. Being available to my children is a “rock” priority in my life. Exercising is a “rock” priority if I want to keep myself physically functioning.
These priorities often take large chunks of time, or are tied to fixed periods that can’t be moved to other times. Work won’t wait until you’re ready. With some kinds of work, you have to be there and leave at a certain time. This kind of work has to be adapted to, or you will lose the ability to live independently. Thus, this is clearly a “rock” priority in life.
A “gravel” priority is equally as important to life as the rock priorities are, but much more fluid than the rock priorities. Often, the gravel priorities can piggyback with the rock priorities. For example, the commute to work takes time, and has to be done. Commute is a “rock” priority, but that wouldn’t stop you from listening to a book on CD while driving to work, or doing homework for school if you’re taking a class and riding a bus for a commute to work.
You’ll want to be careful with this option, and not overdo multi-tasking. Spreading yourself too thin leads to additional stress. Lack of attention to an important rock activity may undercut your effectiveness.
A sand activity may be enjoyable, or even urgent, but it’s not as important as the rock or even the gravel activities. Before scheduling an activity such as this, be very sure there is room in your life for other activities. Spending too much time on “sand” priorities will leave a person feeling busy, but unfulfilled in their life. If you feel that way, step back and consider whether or not important priorities are being neglected.
3. Take a look at everything in your time budget.
If you’re overspending time, clear your schedule as soon as possible and try to break away from your normal life as much as possible for a time. Take a look at every area you’re spending time on. With each activity or person in your life that needs maintaining, ask yourself: Is this a rock priority? Gravel? Sand?
Then ask how much maintenance is needed with each item, relationship or activity to keep it at the level you desire it to be in your life. Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly? Sleep is a big one – about 7-8 hours, in order to maintain health. Work is often a very large rock, taking 8 hours or more daily. How much time is left for other priorities? You can’t exceed that amount. Lack of sleep will create other problems later.
4. Be prepared to drop some very good activities, and it may hurt.
If you’re overspending time, there’s no way to avoid it. Some lower priorities will have to go. Some activities, such as addictions, are obviously no good and will be removed to the great benefit of everyone. Other activities are good, but less important. Those activities will need to be minimized to a practical level or removed entirely.
5. Remember that other good or bad activities will try to move in and fill the void.
If you’ve made the admirable and courageous step of cutting out good priorities that are taking too much time, beware. Life is an abundant place, and there are lots of good and worthwhile activities that will try to muscle in on your consciousness and time. Resist the desire to fill your life with attractive, time-sucking fluff. Focus on your most important priorities, and make sure you’re spending enough time on them to strengthen them and their impact in your life.
6. Learn to say no…at least for now.
I love to take classes and learn, but there came a point in my life where I had to make an obvious but painful choice…continue moving forward in earning my degree, or allow myself the time to be at home with my children. Even though it hurt, I chose the latter, more important “rock” priority, with the thought that I can’t put my childrens’ lives on hold, while I’m finishing my degree. I can go to college at any time in my life, but my children will only be little once. I plan on finishing my degree when they’re grown, and learning on my own through self-study in the meantime.
You may feel differently or be in a different situation than I am. You may need to finish your degree so you can have a job that will adequately provide for your children. Only you can choose the level of any priority in your life. We can have lots of good in our lives…the problem is, we can’t have all the good, all at once. When “rock” priorities conflict, keep that point in mind, and aim to create a life as close to your ideal as you possibly can.
7. Remember the difference between weekdays and weekends.
For many, work takes up an incredible amount of time during the weekday, leaving little time for ourselves or other priorities. On the weekend and holidays, our time is freed up quite a bit. Be sure to plan how you want to spend your time on those precious days, and not squander that time on too many “sand” activities while “rock” activities are neglected.
8. Allow time to change habits.
When we’re used to spending our time on “sand”, it can be hard to change our ways. Prepare for these new patterns of time use to be difficult for a little while. Once we’re consistently doing them, however, things will begin to change, and spending more time on our “rock” priorities will become second-nature.
9. Leave a certain amount of empty time.
Don’t ever feel like you have to pack your schedule full, even with good priorities. This isn’t actually healthy. Would you be comfortable spending all the money in your bank account to zero every month? Chances are, if this is your financial practice, you’ll end up overspending somewhere. Better to keep a cushion of money in the bank to deal with the unexpected expenses.
The same concept holds true with time. Build yourself in a “time cushion” to handle those emergencies that always seem to happen from time to time. You’ll be saving yourself a world of stress if you can do this, and feel happier and more able to respond to life as it happens.
10. Make room for yourself.
Remember that you are a resource that needs maintenance. How much maintenance do you need? What activities do you need to have in your life to keep yourself spiritually, mentally, physically and socially functioning optimally? Those are “rock” activities, and should be planned for accordingly.
Time is a great resource, and once it’s spent, you can never get it back. Don’t spend your time on things, people or activities that aren’t adding value to your life. Take control of your time budget and spending and create the meaningful life you desire.