I used to spend hours upon hours online wasting time, playing video games, or watching television. When I had homework, it would take me triple the time to complete it because I was doing three other tasks at the same time. I would constantly say “Who has the time to ____?” and others would nod sadly in agreement and understanding. It took meeting people who made decisions to prioritize their time and create happiness in their life for me to realize that I was in control of every minute of my day. There was truly nothing holding me from anything except me. And now…well, this is my weekly schedule:
4 days a week, I wake up at 5:50AM. On those days, I make breakfast and get my lunch together and take a 30 minute walk with my husband and dog. I work 8AM to 6:30 PM with a half hour commute both ways. 3 days a week, I go climbing for 3-4 hours at the climbing gym after work or on the weekends. 2 days a week, I do a 30 minute climbing gym workout during my lunch break. The other days, I take a 30 minute walk during lunch. When I get home on the days I’m not climbing, I take a walk or hike and work out with my husband. On the day I have out from work during the week, I wake up at 7:30-8, make and eat breakfast, head out on a 2-3 hour hike with the pup, meet up with my grandma for lunch, head to the climbing gym and boulder, come back home and shower and write a blog post, make dinner, eat dinner, meet up with a friend sometimes, take a hike, and stretch for an hour. On the weekend, typical fare is climbing either at a crag a few hours away for the whole weekend or climbing 4-5 hours one day and taking a small hike or hiking all day for 15-20 miles. Sunday night, we cook our meals for the week. We also make homemade oatmeal a few times a week, which lasts a couple of days each. Rinse, repeat. Somewhere sprinkled in there, I go to 2-3 social events per week, often hosting, and trips out-of-town 2-3 times a month.
I realize my priorities are different from most and that my choices are likely not what you may choose to do and that some people are even more (voluntarily) busy than me. I choose to be busy and very active, and despite that, I still manage to make homemade food most meals of the week, work 40 hours a week, and sleep 7-8 hours a night. I understand I don’t have kids, but I know people with kids who also still find time to climb, make homemade meals, and work too. I even know someone who has three young children and managed a climbing trip to a national park recently with all of them! If that isn’t dedication, I don’t know what is.
The point is that the time is there for you to do those things you keep saying you don’t have time for; your time just needs to be allocated differently, your priorities need to change, and you need to become more efficient with the tasks that need to be done. Here is a good start: the average American watches about 40 hours a week of television. That is like having another full-time job in terms of time allocation! How different would the world be if every person decided to take their TV time and use it for health, for productivity, creativity, and/or charity? Here’s how you can start realizing the benefits of consciously balancing your time:
1) Figure out where your time is going.
Just like a food journal, start a time journal. Draw a line through the middle of a legal pad and on the left side, write down what you are doing with your time every 15 minutes or so and write how much time it took. Include sleep, eating, cooking, driving, and distraction time as well (ex: how much time did you spend checking Facebook instead of working?). Do this for a week or more.
2) Determine what needs to stay and what needs to go.
Look at your time journal and circle the things that were positive or necessary tasks (and make sure they really are necessary!). Highlight (with a dark color) the things you spent time on that were time sinks or unhealthy/negative in your life. Reevaluate things you thought you needed in your life, but may not actually need (and yes, maybe even consider the activities your children are participating in).
3) Make a list of all those things you said you have no time for, but desperately want in your life.
On the same time journal, on the right side, make a list of things you don’t think you have time for but would like to add into your life and put an estimate of how much time you think it would take on a daily or weekly basis to complete. Now take the time from these and compare them to the time of the tasks you highlighted. How much of the time you used on time sinks can now easily be replaced with goal-oriented/productive time?
There is no better time than now. There will always be reasons (excuses) for why now is not a good time, but now is the only time to change. Every time you find yourself drawn to the television or Facebook, ask yourself what you could be doing that would make you feel better about yourself. And then…do it! That is all there is to it.
5) Get more efficient.
Still finding that the time you were using on time sinks is not enough to account for those desired goal times? It’s time to re-evaluate the amount of time you spend on the necessary tasks like work and home chores. Here are some ideas:
Organization first begins with getting rid of things you don’t need (read this for more on that). After you’ve narrowed things down (multiple times), you are ready to make it clutter-free. Organization is difficult to teach to someone who is not naturally gifted (or cursed) with the type A personality. It is also highly individual. Binders and tabbed folders work wonders for some people, and some would rather stack things in a methodical way. As long as you can find what you need to without searching through everything you own, you are on the right path. 🙂 The key to organization is that it needs to be an automatic reflex, not something you deal with every week or month. When you get a piece of paper, it needs to be an automatic decision- Can it be thrown away or recycled? Do I need it? If I need it, where does it need to go in order to be with like items? It is also important that you have milestones of when you will get rid of things or things will pile up no matter how organized they are. Milestones should be based on how long certain documents or items are important to keep. Tax documents, for instance, should be kept for 3 years and in some cases seven years. Extremely important documents like marriage certificates, titles to cars or houses, etc. should have a special place in your house not easily accessible by others. Organization also, of course, needs to be applied to other items besides paper, but paper (and electronic files) are what tends to be applicable to work and necessary tasks.
There are things that require focus and attention and there are things that just don’t. Cleaning, in my opinion, does not. Cooking also does not (if you’re following a recipe or making a staple item you’ve made many times before). Therefore, do multiple things at once. For example, while the water is boiling for some pasta, clean the counters or the dishes. Or make three dishes at once (just don’t get confused!) to limit the amount of cooking and cleaning to an hour or two for the week. Alternatively, cook or clean while doing something you enjoy that doesn’t require an extra modality such as listening to music or the radio or podcasts. Stretch while you watch television. The options are limitless! 🙂
It may sound like focus is the opposite of multitasking, but I’ve found that focus is actually the key to multitasking effectively. In order to get anything done multitasking, you need to focus on each task at hand as though you aren’t also doing other tasks while keeping in mind in the background that other things are indeed happening. You just need to break every task up as a very small item. Let’s take the example I used above. If the water is not boiling yet, put that out of your mind in the moment and focus on cleaning (knowing in the back of your mind that it will begin boiling in a few minutes). The important thing is that your focus only remains on something for a short time, so it must be a short task that will fill the time. Water boiling takes about 10-15 minutes (depending on altitude), so in that time, you may be able to wipe the countertops down. While a meal is cooking for 20-30 minutes, you have time to wash the pots that were being used while sauteing vegetables for the soup and set the table. This is just an example of course, but using your time in this way will allow you to be done cleaning and cooking at the same time so you can just sit down and enjoy it. Same goes for any other tasks that require waiting before something is complete—fill the waiting with other tasks that need to be done and you’ll be productive like no one’s business!
– Reward yourself for being focused.
In the day and age where so many people are being diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, I wonder how many people are honestly just bogged down in overstimulation. If you’re watching television while listening to music and doing homework and at the same texting your friend, are you really focusing on anything? Our brains are not evolved for doing similar tasks at once and moreover truly focusing on more than one item at a time. Because our jobs and our world now encourages if not requires us to be scattered in our work and our life, our brains have become scattered too. In order to re-program the brain to enjoy and be effective at focusing again, provide it with rewards. Give yourself half an hour to accomplish a task that usually takes an hour, but really focus. If you really focused, I bet you completed the task in half the time. Give yourself a reward- a half an hour to stretch or meditate, a 10-minute break to look at the news or take a walking break. The more your brain learns that focusing accomplishes more with less time and allows you to have the best of both worlds (productivity and rest), the more it will want to focus and the more productive you become. Don’t forget, the less you want to accomplish something, the bigger the reward for completing it efficiently.