Five ways to find more time for the things that matter
Starting out the new year full of energy and enthusiasm? Ready for change? Focus? Action?
You already know you have to learn to use the time you have. Here are five ways to recapture some time that’s just going to waste so you can use it for something you really care about.
(Now: Picture a film in reverse where the Kool-Aid is magically pouring back into the pitcher…)
- Don’t waste time solving problems you don’t have.
How many posts have you read this year about “the cult of busy”? How many about moms beating themselves up for being human? How many about parents who are addicted to their iPhones?
Are these major problems of yours? Are you really struggling with these issues? If you are, fine, but if not…
Why do we waste time reading about, talking about, and thinking about problems we don’t really have?
Maybe because we crave that elusive sense of accomplishment.
If I apply myself to a “problem” that I already feel pretty confident about (I either don’t have it or I have the mildest case ever recorded), I can add it to my mental to-do list and then check it off before I even put the virtual pen down. #winning
Just reading about those problems we don’t actually have can give us a tiny boost of “Here (at last!) is something we’re pretty good at! Yay us!” We’re using other people’s problems to feel good about ourselves — because at least we don’t have that problem. Or at least we’re not that bad. It’s like the really flattering mirror that makes you look thinner and taller. Who doesn’t want to gaze into that all day?!
Whatever it is that really matters to you, you’ll have more time to work on it if you stop window-shopping all the things that don’t really concern you.
That includes interests you don’t really have as well as problems. If you spend a lot of time scanning food pins on Pinterest and you don’t cook…
Not genuinely your problem? Then not your priority. Move on. Use that time to move the peanut on something you really care about.
- Substitute specific for random.
Sometimes the thing that someone else has made is exactly what you need. In that case, it’s a big win to join the community, adopt the mission, and make it your own.
Just be careful that you don’t opt in to someone else’s project because it’s right there, ready to go, and it sounds fun — I mean, at least you’ll be doing something, right?
This is what you want to avoid: Generic activities for generic people.
When you shrink from the anxiety and challenge of building your own thing and just jump into someone else’s thing out of fear/nervousness/avoidance, you’re choosing what’s easy instead of what’s hard. And the path toward your own personal, meaningful work is at some point going to require hard.
Stop and consider: Is this really the thing that connects me with my deepest interests, my nascent talents, and my values?
By taking a pass on some of these easily available pre-made activities and commitments, you can find more time for what really matters to you. The more time you spend on random activities, the less you have for connecting with your meaningful, purpose-filled work.
Prepackaged may mean convenient and time-saving — but make sure it’s not an excuse to put off working on the hard stuff. Specifically your hard stuff.
- Sign up for a class. Quit. Now save that blocked-off time for yourself.
Like a NINJA.
For some reason we’re ultra-focused on meeting commitments we make to other people.
This is true even when we didn’t really choose to get involved in the first place — have you ever gone to the bathroom during a meeting and come back to find out you’re now the chairman of something? Like that.
Or we signed our kids up and blocked off two afternoons a week because all the kids are in soccer or tae kwon do or swim team so we had to pick something.
Yet when it comes to the thing we want to do, we just can’t “find the time.”
We make time for others. Why can’t we make time for what matters most?
Why is it so easy to slip into full commitment mode for other people and so hard to commit to our own goals and protected time?
Maybe we slip into “good girl” mode. “I said I’d do it, so come hell or high water I must be good to my word.” It’s about character. It’s about honor. It’s like a John Wayne movie.
Maybe signing a form or paying a fee triggers a psychological mousetrap. “I paid that swim coach/zumba instructor/piano teacher 80 bucks — I don’t care what happens, we’re getting our money’s worth.”
Adult life is a minefield full of commitment bear traps where one wrong step mires you for weeks if not months doing things that mostly have to do with other people’s needs and other people’s goals.
“Here’s your check — and please enjoy this chunk of my life.”
The fact that we have full FREE access to our own life 24/7 doesn’t seem to light us on fire with possibility. Familiarity breeds contempt?
And if you’re about to say, “But I have no tiiiiiiime,” then where does the time come from that we hand over to others? We make that time. We part the red sea of our schedule and create it. We can do that for ourselves — but we don’t.
Just like prioritizing a savings account, when it comes to prioritizing your personal goals you have to pay yourself first. Take a hard look at the commitments you’re currently juggling and think about which ones you might replace with an open block of time dedicated to what YOU really want to do.
Then protect that time as if it were a puppetry class your third-grader signed up for.
Feel selfish? Remember:
The best way to increase the odds that your child will live a certain way is to live that way yourself. The best way to raise readers is to read. The best way to raise doers is to do.
The best way to raise active, engaged learners is to be an active, engaged learner. — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners
- Drop something (or someone) that’s making you miserable.
If it’s really making you miserable, then it’s not just killing the time it fills, it’s also killing a lot of the surrounding time:
- The time you spend dreading it/them beforehand.
- The time you spend gnashing teeth/recovering afterward.
- The time you spend lying awake at night staring into the void wondering what you should do about it.
- The time you spend staring blearily into your coffee in the morning because you didn’t get enough sleep.
And so on.
If you’re in a misery spiral then maybe the best thing to do is take a break.
Just set it aside. I already hear you saying you can’t set it aside. But I bet you can. I don’t care whether it’s your mother-in-law or your digital scale or your frenemy on Facebook or your floundering Etsy shop. If you’re stuck and you can’t go forward or backward, just take a break and get some much needed space between you and your personal whirlpool of despair.
“Everything I’ve ever taught in terms of self-help boils down to this — I cannot believe people keep paying me to say this — if something feels really good for you, you might want to do it. And if it feels really horrible, you might want to consider not doing it. Thank you, give me my $150.” — Martha Beck
There are things we do because we think we have to, things we do because we think we’re supposed to, and things we do because we’re terrified of the guilt/consequence storm that will roll in if we say no.
There are people who suck the very life force out of us every time we see them. That may not be entirely their fault. Maybe with a little needed distance you can crank the door on your heart shut so they can’t scoop you out like a melon the next time you run into them.
A break doesn’t mean forever. It just means you realize that you’re going to have to set it down for awhile. Give yourself some space, some rest, and something good to focus on and see how you feel about it later. The point is: If what you’re doing isn’t working, why are you still doing it?
This applies to everything, including (stay with me here) the process of quitting itself. If you’re trying in vain to quit something you do compulsively, like overspending or smoking or macramé, try quitting the effort to quit. As therapists like to say, “What we resist, persists,” and this is especially true of bad habits. Imagine trying not to eat one sinfully delicious chocolate truffle. Got it? Okay, now imagine trying to eat 10,000 truffles at one sitting. For most of us, the thought of not-quitting in this enormous way — indulging ourselves beyond desire — actually dampens the appetite. It’s a counterintuitive method, but if the “I will abstain from…” resolutions you make each year are utter, depressing failures, you might quit quitting and see what happens. When my clients stop unsuccessful efforts to quit, they often experience such a sense of relief and empowerment that quitting becomes easier — it’s paradoxical but true. — Knowing When to Quit
- Stop listening to people whose opinions don't matter.
Did someone just leap to mind? Yeah, I know.
You know what you want to do. Maybe you’re still struggling a little with owning it. Maybe you’re not feeling completely rock-solid yet. But listen — you already did your due diligence. You figured out what you want. You’ve decided to do the work. You don’t have to explain it to other people, even if you love them.
You don’t have to defend what you love. You don’t have to defend what you need. And you don’t have to defend wanting something more from life. As far as I’m concerned, your purpose here is to find your purpose. The meaning in life is making it meaningful. So I’m on your side.
Who’s working against you? Who’s making you peddle so hard just to stay stay in one place?
Is it a family member who’s “just concerned about you” and “wants what’s best for you”?
Is it a friend who oh-so-gently urges you to give it up and stay where you are (because that’s where they are)?
Is it a frenemy who simultaneously tells you “you can do it!” and then explains in great detail why you can’t, why you shouldn’t, or why you should at least wait a while?
Is it a blog written by someone who seems to subtly rub your nose in the fact that they have something you desperately want?
Is it a blog written by someone who seems to subtly suck you down lower and lower into “Who gives a !*(&*@?! People who care are stupid!”?
Bless ’em. Everyone is fighting a hard battle, apparently. That’s what I hear.
But you need to learn to let some people’s words and opinions roll right off you like water off a “been there, done that” duck.
You don’t have to tell everyone what you’re doing or why or how it’s going. You’re allowed to keep it to yourself.
You don’t have to belly up to the bar for another round of “let us explain to you why your dreams are ridiculous.”
You can just skip it. Just change the subject. Close the tab. Invent an excuse to avoid meeting up for a drink.
If you listen to people whose opinions don’t matter, you are gathering data you will never use. And you are increasing the chances that you will quit.
Trust me: When you reach success, some of these people will suddenly change their tune and start saying they always knew you’d do it. Some of them will just quietly disappear. They’re not always working against you for nefarious reasons. It’s usually more about them than you. But the salient point remains: Their opinions don’t matter. And time spent listening to them is time you could be using on something a lot more productive.
Your opinion matters. No one knows better than you what you want out of life and what you’re willing to do to get it. Absolutely no one knows what you’re capable of, including you — but you’re the only one with the ability to find out.
Take back a little of that squandered time. Press it together in your two hands like a snowball and create a chunk of minutes for yourself. Use them. Quick, before they melt. Do what you want to do. Learn. Share. Work on it. I have every faith in you.