By Dave Smith
I'm supposed to be the expert.
After all, my life's work is built around helping people become mindful of their decisions. I teach others how to become aware of what they eat, what they do, and where they invest their time and energy.
But here I was, feeling overworked, burnt out, and with no rational explanation as to why.
I Lied About My Time
I knew something was wrong for several months. I felt like I was putting so much effort into each day but still wasn't getting anything done. My work was uninspired. I was exercising daily but my typical passion wasn't there. And, I wasn't investing in the things that I consider to be most purposeful in life.
Then, while talking to my mom on the phone, I caught myself telling a huge lie:
"I just need more time to fit all this stuff in."
When's the last time you said something like this? Like me, do you believe that having more time would actually make your life easier?
Do you really think that having an extra hour or two each day would allow you to do the exercise, meditation, socializing, reading, cooking or whatever else it is that you aren't doing right now?
For me, this statement was a big fat lie. I didn't need more time - I needed to use my time much more wisely.
5 Steps to Gain All the Time You'll Ever Really Need
The following 5 steps aren't about finding more time because, well, there isn't more time to be had. Instead, this process is all about taking control of the seconds, minutes, and hours you have each day so that you can live the life you want to live.
You have all the time you need to do the things that really matter in life. I know this might sound hard to believe, especially if you're going through a very busy time, but give this a try and see for yourself...
Step 1. Be Real With Yourself
When I told my mom that I needed more time to get everything done, I was really saying, "I don't want to give anything up. I just want to be able to add more."
In reality, I needed to examine what I activities in life I value most. How you spend your time reflects what you value in life. This is true for everyone.
I like making lists, so I made a list of the things that I value most. These should be the things that I want to invest my time in (in no particular order):
- Being productive with my work
- Getting quality sleep
- Developing my relationship with God
- Building strong family and friend relationships
- Giving back to my community
- Moving my body
- Eating well
- Learning new things
- Having fun
Without going a step further, I can already tell that some of my time spent is not reflective of what I say I value most.
If the same is true for you, be encouraged! If you are using time on activities that you don't really value, that means you can reclaim it for the things that you do value. We're getting somewhere!
Questions to Consider
What's on your priority list?
And, maybe more importantly, what's not on your list?
Does you current use of time reflect your priority list?
Step 2. Observe Your Reality
When I help clients lose weight, we often begin with a food journal. Once they see what they're actually eating, it often becomes quite obvious as to what needs to change.
In fact, most people dramatically clean up their diet as soon as they begin tracking it. After all, who wants to turn in a food journal full of fast food and take out meals, right?
I wanted a reality check like this. How do I currently spend my time?
For one week, I tracked every minute of my time, knowing that I would either see where my time was being wasted OR, better yet, simply going through this process would motivate me to more use time on the things I really value.
There are a ton of apps out there that will help you track your time, but after testing a few, I fell in love with one called Toggl. Here's how I used it:
Watch this video to see how I approached this experiment and what I wanted to achieve
What method of time tracking will work best for you? It might not be using Toggl - how will you observe your reality?
Questions to Consider
What time-tracking method would work best for you?
Is there any reason why you can't begin tracking today?
Step 3. Examine Your Truth
Now for the fun (or scary) part...
After tracking my time for a week (well, 8 days actually), it's time to examine the truth about what activities "deserved" some of my precious time. Here are a few highlights:
- I slept for 7.5 hours per day
- I reduced my work time to 5.8 hours each day
- I spent 2.5 hours in movement (watch the video above to understand this one)
- 2.2 hours were devoted to time with God or volunteering in my community
- I got 1.1 hours of social time in each day
- I whittled down my "screen time" to just 0.6 hours per day
By no means is this a reflection of how I normally spend my time (although I wish it was!) My week is normally a little chaotic, not nearly as productive, and is certainly filled with many, many time wasters that didn't show up here.
The tracking process motivated me to "clean up" how I was using my time. I constantly found myself asking, "Is this what I want to show up in my report at the end of the week?"
To some people, this might sound like a bit of a drag. "I don't want to have to think that much about how I spend every minute of my day."
This process is not going to be for everyone. But, I found it so liberating and rewarding. It feels amazing to know that I do have lots of available time when I really focus on using it in areas that matter most.
What do you think you'l discover when you examine the truth about where you spend your time? How do you think you'll feel after completing the process?
Questions to Consider
What do you think you'll discover during this process?
How do you think you'll feel when you see how you actually spend your time?
Step 4. Change Your Path
While this was a neat experiment, I want it to be more than that. I want it to actually change my life (and yours too if you decide to take up this challenge).
So, what key lessons can be taken away from all of this?
1. Start with the most important things - If you want to make something happen in your weekly routine, schedule it in.
Below is a snapshot of my calendar for this week. Yellow slots are for movement, green slots are for social or volunteer time. Those get programmed in first, then my blue slots (work) fit in afterwards.
Yes, I realize that your work schedule may not be flexible, but that doesn't mean you can't program in your most important activities to start each week.
2. Combine more activities - Here's a rule I used during my time-tracking process: Record the main intent of an activity when there are several activities built into one.
For example, when I go for a walk with a friend, I consider that social time because that's the main intent behind it. The same goes for working at the soup kitchen - I consider it volunteering even though many of my friends are there and we have a great time.
3. Be patient - While my one-week experiment was a success, I know that I haven't re-written my time management skills. I am still going to spend time on things that I don't really value, and I'm still going to shortchange some things that I really want to invest in.
The same will be true for you, and that's okay. Just be consistent in your efforts to improve, and be patient with the results. Baby steps.
Questions to Consider
What non-negotiable activities are you going to put in your calendar first?
How can you multitask to combine multiple important activities into one?
Step 5. Get Accountable
Making any changes to the way you live your life is hard, if not impossible, when you try to do it on your own. That's why I asked my good friend and fellow fitness coach, Johnny Fukumoto, to keep me accountable as I try to change.
Johnny is a tough dude (as you can tell from this epic picture!), but more importantly, I respect him and know that he will hold me accountable to reach my goals
Now, you might be thinking, "Dave, you always talk about accountability. Get a new line!"
And, if that's what you're thinking, you're right. I love accountability. I believe that you will always get better results when you ask others to walk your journey with you.
I told Johnny about my list of life values and will be sharing my results from the time-tracking experiment. I want to feel a bit of pressure. I need to know that these changes are real, not just something I say would be nice to do.
Questions to Consider
Are you really "too busy" or do you just need to tweak your time management?
If you're serious about making changes, why not ask someone to be your accountability partner? Who can you ask?
I don't want to oversimplify things. Yes, there are still going to be weeks when you don't have time to fit everything in, even once you're focusing on just the most important things in life.
I also realize that you may have obligations in life that I don't have. None of us live by the same schedule. It's easy (and sometimes honest) to point out how challenging your time management might be compared to someone else's.
We are all different. That's okay.
Still, this experiment does show that we can all dramatically improve how we invest our time. There is a tremendous opportunity to take more control over your seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, and your entire life. The only question is: Do you really want to do it?
There are no more hours to be found in the day. Taking control might mean giving things up that are comfortable. Is it worth the sacrifice?
If you have questions or need help getting started, leave a comment below. This experiment was so useful to me so I'd love to help you do the same!