A friend who knows that I love checking out new organizing apps and time management tips recently sent me a demo made by someone who created an organizing system using an application I like.
I went through the demo and watched while the guy rolled out his system, showing us his to-dos, his current projects, his future projects, how he connects the three, where they interlink. He managed to automate some of it so that certain emails trigger a to-do item and where the item moves when it is partially done or done, and then how it all connects to items that he constantly adds on.
He also had a list of must-read books, his bucket list of places to visit, and activities to try, people to call, fun things to do. I felt tired just looking at it. My friend asked me if I will use the system?
“I am just not that busy,” I said.
In fact, thankfully, I was never was that busy.
Given that I tend to choose the easy way (which was both my curse and my blessing in life), I have never gotten myself to the point of being that busy.
Now, I am not saying that the guy really doesn’t have that much on his plate, but it is not a good way to live your young life.
Doing many things doesn’t mean you’re getting anything meaningful done. As we all know, probably from experience, busy does not equal productive.
Don’t Do It If It Doesn’t Have to Be Done
This will forever be my guiding quote.
When I first read it, in my busy twenties (with a full-time job, a full-time social life, a boyfriend, and my university studies), I stopped and gasped for air.
I felt so embarrassed because even off the top of my head, I knew that I did many things and did them well, even though I did not have to do them at all. And we are not talking just about social and other commitments that did not add any value to my life, but procrastinating by, for example, copy-pasting interesting things on the Internet to a Word Document (this was in the times of dialup Internet and no Evernote) instead of studying for my exams.
I have been examining my life that way for decades now – does it need to be done at all?
If it doesn’t, out it goes.
How to Live on 24 Hours a Day (Time Management Tips)
Some time ago, I gave a small presentation/training on time management at work titled How to Live on 24 Hours a Day. (it is a name of a beautiful small book written in 1908)
You know the adage: we all get the same 24 hours.
But in my experience, the only way to remain completely in control of your time and where you spend it is to examine it constantly. There is no way around it.
Examine and then simplify it, instead of creating a complicated (if well thought out, time management system)
In my presentation, I focused on five main aspects of taking control of your busyness.
1. Examine the way you spend your time
Track your social media/internet usage (potentially, the greatest time suck for most of us)
Track the way you spend each hour of your day for a while and see where the time is going.
Ask yourself some important questions and answer them truthfully.
These questions are on my desktop’s sticky note, so that I can often (and easily) refer to them.
- Why am I doing this?
- Is this the best use of my energy?
- Is the way I am doing this the best approach, can there be a better (read easier) way to do this?
- Is it essential? What happens if I don’t do this?
- Does this align with my values/purpose?
- Am I saying YES only to the things that truly matter to me?
But I want to point out that if you do track your time and find out that there are activities that you truly enjoy (even though they don’t bring you closer to your goals, monetary, career, or otherwise) — do them.
Really, what else is life for? Don’t wait for retirement to do what you love. Carve out that time for it!
Make it non-negotiable, like you would take your child to a music lesson.
2. Focus and simplify
It is easy for me to simplify what I do, but I struggle with committing to one project and staying with it. I tend to be interested in (too) many different topics and I jump around from one new thing to the next.
But by examining my time and being aware of my pitfalls, I can usually go back on track when I veer off track.
Therefore I strive to narrow down the people, activities, and even the diet I follow.
We have to be ok with not having to try everything.
3. Think in 168 Hours
I read 168 Hours a long time ago, and it stuck with me. I have been planning in 168 hours since then. Always a week ahead, it is the cycle of weeks we live in anyway.
Use the tools available to show you how much time you actually have.
Here is a handy time calculator that will help you calculate if you have time to devote to a new project, for example. By doing this, back then, I calculated that with a full-time job, family commitments, sleep, and some leisure activities, I still had about 40 hours a week to devote to anything else. That is another full-time job, people. If I wanted one!
That is exactly what Arnold Bennet is talking about in How to live on 24 Hours a Day. It amazes me that he recognized this in 1908, just look at this quote from the book. (courtesy of Readwise, I can have all my Kindle Highlights presented this way)
What Bennett means and goes on to discuss at length is not to look at the working hours as your main part of the day, because they aren’t. You have time before it and time after it and that time needs to be used wisely!
Live all the hours of your life!
4. Just do it
Do you have a list of things you want to do, perhaps a bucket list of activities (if not travel) Maybe you are waiting for some free time sometime in the future to do them?
Don’t wait. Do/try whatever you can right now, in whatever hours you have in your 168 hours.
- Sign up for that course you think you will love.
- Try tai chi in the gardens.
- Join that pottery class.
I learned this years ago when I had a list of things I wanted to do so long it could fill a whole notebook.
I read an awesome book called Refuse to Choose and one of the pieces of advice for people like me was to try it out, even if for a short time. (see my post on this topic)
The chances are, you will either love it so much that you will find a way to do it and commit to it long term because
“If you’re saying something is important in your life, but you aren’t spending time on it, then you need to change either what you say your values are or the way you spend your time.”
-Dorothy Lehmkuhl, author of Organizing for the Creative Person
Or you will realize that it isn’t so interesting as it was in your head, and you will cross it off your list and won’t feel like you are missing out.
For me, I mostly find the latter to be true.
I dive into it, get what I need out of it and move on (that is why I am both a Yoga trainer (200 hours) and a Feng Shui consultant, but I neither teach yoga (although I practice regularly) or consult on feng shui as a profession))
But I can and will Feng Shui your home if you want me to 🙂
5. Your Energy Levels
Because you can’t do much if you are exhausted and tired and overwhelmed.
My favorite thing to do when I feel that way is to go to bed early. Just leave everything, take your book (Kindle or real book, not your phone!), unplug and read a little, and then go to sleep.
It really comes down to three (actually four) main habits:
- Healthy (and simple!) diet.
I have to add the fourth that needs a blog post all on it’s own:
- Uplifting relationships
We do not need a system more complicated than this to run our days.
We all are running from pillar to post and don’t realize when a burnout strikes us. I guess we all have our good and bad days. These are great trips to unwind and take time out for ourselves. Thank you so much for this fantastic post!
There’s definitely good busy and bad busy – the type that energizes and inspires you and the one that drains you because the tasks are meaningless. I like the idea of just doing things instead of putting them on endless lists, and have been trying to implement this in the last few years.
This is great advice. I know that I have gone through phases in life where I was DEFINITELY unnecessarily busy. Personally, I had to struggle with hitting the point of burnout before I was able to acknowledge the areas in life where I was putting energy unnecessarily. I was falling into that trap again when COVID hit and forced me to slow down and focus on just a few important priorities in life. I am very thankful for that.
I am so glad this resonated with you. Definitely, it is really something that we have to constantly work on in this time of high distraction.
I think system is driving people nuts, I have few hours of me time and I prefer to go off and have my energy back.
I need to really focus on unplugging before I go to bed, especially right now. I’m only sleeping about six hours and then I’m wide awake. Doesn’t matter what time I go to bed either. I wake up at a certain time, despite not having nearly enough sleep. I have been feeling exhausted constantly. There are often more productive ways to spend my time. I’ll also be looking into the 168 Hours book and give it a read myself. Love new book recommendations!
Me too, always on the lookout for new books! And yes, I think we are especially susceptible in the blogging world, with all the distractions coming our way. I now make sure I leave my phone be as much as possible.
It seems like everyone is busy these days, always rushing from one activity to the next. I don’t like to plan too far ahead but I’ve become good at saying no to invitations that I’m not that interested in so that I can relax on the weekends.