Twenty four hours never feels like enough. We have our goals, but we never get to them. Our commitments already fill the day. Eight hours for sleep, another eight (or more) for work. The cooking, the cleaning, on and on. How will you fit in time to write, or read, or paint? You can’t imagine squeezing another commitment into your day. If we had a few more hours, we’d finally get everything done.
For all our wishing, there is no more time available. And yet there is always someone else doing more. For every constraint on our time, there is someone else with the same constraint who thrives. What is different about their approach?
There are some tools that are out of reach. We can’t afford cleaners, cooks, nannys, personal assistants or trainers. We have no such luck with the easy wins of the already successful. We have to find other ways of getting more out of same twenty four hours.
But searching for more time will never work. There isn’t any more time to find.
We have to be intentional with how we spend our time.
Your time is zero-sum. The fact that the last seven days passed is evidence of that. You spent all 168 hours, and yet you felt as if you controlled hardly any of them. Intentional or not, you used them all up. The language is holding us back, we search for ‘more’ time but what we need to do is ‘exchange’ time. The unintentional must become intentional.
It sounds obvious, and yet we add to our schedules without thinking about the fixed amount of time we have per day. You add a one hour yoga class, and still expect to do everything you were already doing. There are now twenty five hours of activity. Something’s got to give, and it’s going to be yoga.
To make a change we have to shift some unintentional time back to intentional time. Yet by definition, we don’t notice the unintentional. Without being aware of it, we can’t make a conscious decision to spend it in a more intentional way. Yet once noticed it is easy to change. I’ve noticed a few patterns in my own behaviour, and I see them in others as well.
I fall victim to a pattern I call ‘ramp-on and ramp-off time’. It is the micro-procrastinations you do before and after tasks. They feel like part of the work but they don’t push anything forwards. You learn these mental gymnastics to trick yourself into hard work. Once you needed them, but now you should get rid of them.
- Waiting for a whole number on the clock
- Answering all your emails first
- Making a coffee before you get started to avoid starting
- Reorganising files, folders and over low-importance administration
- Finding the right music or podcast to work to (find what works, and never decide again)
- Answering your emails between tasks
- Checking twitter/facebook/instagram between tasks
- Playing / fiddling with whatever you just finished working on
- Staring at any sort of release metric (likes, downloads, purchases)
- Chatting with colleagues in person or using online chat
Take time-limited intentional breaks. Know when you are taking them, and what you will do in them. Do not get distracted by your phone and decide it was a break afterwards. That is an easy excuse that hides unintentional time spending. A high quality break will enable effective work.
Also be intentional about what time you spend working. Working long hours has diminishing returns that exhausts you in the long run. Exhaustion reduces the quality of all work. This doesn’t only apply to the self employed. Once you have exhausted the 3-5 hours that you can work on intense tasks, switch to low-intensity. When rested what would have taken four hours now takes thirty minutes. The reverse is also true. Don’t waste your high energy hours on tasks of low importance. High output comes from being honest with yourself about when you are effective.
Before spending time, be clear in what time you are spending. Do not allow open-ended tasks to consume your day. Be honest with how much time you can allow for something. It is better to read for thirty minutes every day than to read for two hours once every two weeks. Five minutes of the news will keep you informed, thirty minutes will make you feel anxious. Know what the task is trying to achieve, and spend the least amount of time to achieve it. Don’t expand on the defined goals without stopping to reevaluate the required time.
Get rid of time-fillers that fill the ‘boredom’ moments. Stop pulling out your phone at every pause. Be bored. Boredom is real free time. By avoiding boredom, our time feels full rather than wasted. You realise how much time you have when you don’t fill it with scrolling through twitter.
That isn’t to say that you should avoid leisure. Be intentional about what leisure is for. Leisure provides the relaxation and recovery needed to do meaningful work over long periods. This rejuvenating effect does not come from infinitely scrolling dopamine dispensers. Switch out low-value leisure for high-value leisure. It is the easiest across the board improvement you can make.
Low value leisure
- Most TV shows
- Extended social media use
- Refreshing infinite feeds you’ve already exhausted
- Outrage news & opinion pieces
- Passive use of Reddit & Message Boards
- ‘Infotainment’ channels that provide fun facts but no active learning
- Mobile phone games
- Consuming excessive amounts of intoxicants
High value leisure
- Writing of any kind
- Reading of any kind
- Active engagement in online communities
- Hobbies that involve skill development of any kind
- Documentaries (within reason)
- Time in Nature
- Connecting with family & friends in real-time
- Art & Music
Intentional does not mean ‘efficiency’. Time efficiency is a trap. It focus on vanity metrics that have no value. Like how many tasks you completed today, rather than consistent effort over time. Efficiency makes you busy, not productive. Leave efficiency for machines and factories. The human requires a different set of metrics.
The only sure thing in life is that you aren’t gaining any time. We can’t allow it to slip away from us unnoticed. Be cognisant of the intentionality of the way you spend your time. An intentional life ensures a fulfilled and happy life. Much is left to chance, and the outcome is often out of our hands. Time is the one input that we can have mastery over.
Once you’ve got rid of some of your unintentional time sinks you might even start to feel a little bored.
Now that’s exciting.