How many of you have a goal or dream that feels impossible to achieve because of time constraints? Most of us have probably felt this way before, I know I have. The lack of time to pursue other interests and build the life I wanted was the single biggest reason why I walked away from a career that was extremely rewarding in of itself.
It takes time to realize our goals and build the life we want for ourselves. Yet one of the greatest obstacles we face is time a paucity of time. We all have 24 hours in the day. Within those 24 hours, we have certain commitments, many of which are non-negotiable. Between our job, our commute, family time, leisure, eating, sleep, and more we can easily find ourselves neglecting to reserve time to invest in our own improvement – in something that brings us, joy, satisfaction, meaning, or happiness.
When I find myself being pulled in multiple directions by various needs, wants, and responsibilities, I often think of a quote that an old coach of mine was fond of saying, which I know I have shared on this blog at least once. “If something is important you find a way. If it isn’t, you find an excuse.”
Understand that many excuses are valid. I am not going to be one of those people who shames people for whatever duties they have that may present an obstacle towards progress and goal reaching. I have to remind myself to be empathetic in my understanding that many people have far greater responsibilities and or limitations than I do from my privileged position of working from home and having ample time to pursue passions like this blog. Many of you have stricter and more pressing needs like those who work in healthcare or healthcare supporting roles who are required to be onsite for 10-12 hours, the working single-parent who works 16 hours a day to provide for their family, the person who cares for their sick parent. These are but a few examples of very real and very valid reasons why certain people may be pressed for time. But if you are unsatisfied with the quality of your life, and I am not saying there is any reason you should be – as one of both Buddhism’s and Stoicism’s major beliefs is learning to be content, but if you are, then you must master your ability to manage time such that you are left with enough to live your best life on your own terms.
Those of you who know me personally, especially those of you who have known me for more than a decade, will probably laugh at the concept of me trying to teach people about time management. For most of my life I have been a notorious procrastinator, easily wiling away entire evenings or weekends scrolling through social media or binge-watching tv. I still do those things on occasion but with a few differences: overall I have gotten much better (far from perfect but much improved) at my time management skills which has allowed me to make progress towards my personal, career, and general goals, plus – when I do have those epic binge tv sessions or what my girlfriend and I jokingly call bed days, it is usually planned as programmed down time (bed day is not perverted, it’s just when we watch tv in bed all day and usually order food which we may or may not also eat in bed).
I am far from an expert at time management and am still working on improving my skills in this area, as well as many other aspects of my life. But, I can tell you from personal experience that once I became more conscious of my time, and started making an effort to manage and schedule (within reason), I noticed significant progress in my mood, quality of life, and in my pursuit of my goals.
The key to successful time management is organization and prioritization. I am overall rather fortunate and blessed with an abundance of time on most days, but on my busiest days where I have a lot of work to do or need to help out around the house, I like to make a list of everything I need to do and everything I want to do. Certain things must be done at certain times and last for a set duration, such as kids soccer practice, school, or your time at work. Start with putting those essential and non-negotiable items on the list and see what you have left to work with. Next, think about your goals, and what work must be done on that specific day to bring you closer to achieving this goal. Think about what you need to do, how long it will take, when would be the best time to do it, and when it CAN be done. Write yourself either a literal note or remind yourself that from 8-9pm for example, once the kids are asleep, you are going to work on studying for that certification exam you’ve been promising yourself you’d take or whatever it is that you want to work for. Make sure that that time becomes sacred to you, that barring any emergency or truly urgent need you hold yourself accountable to the allotted task at that particular time.
Sounds simple right? It is. Except when it isn’t. The day I just wrote only briefly alluded to the fact that sometimes things fall apart and prevent us from doing what we had set out to do. What do we do in certain situations? We have to remain flexible, adaptable, and often times we have to make sacrifices. Being adaptable will allow you to mix and match items on your schedule such that if something unexpected occurs, we are able to still accomplish what we set out to do that day, although perhaps at a different time. The next thing we must be willing and able to do is make sacrifices. If we are lucky, these sacrifices will not be difficult. In my case, all I really had to do was take stock of how I was spending my day. I quickly realized that I was spending an inordinate amount of time essentially doing nothing playing on my phone. It isn’t that I no longer play games or scroll through my social media posts, but that by making myself aware of how I spend my time, and holding myself accountable to certain action items each day, I was less likely to spend AS MUCH time meaninglessly wasting time.
This barely represents a sacrifice compared to others but many of you, like myself, will realize that the “sacrifices” you need to make are not that great but simply require more effective uses of your time. For others, you will be much more challenged. It may be that you have to devote less time than you may like to your goal. If this is the case I applaud you for making the effort in spite of your circumstances. What matters most is that you are doing SOMETHING to work towards your happiness and dreams. Your direction and consistent commitment will pay off, have faith in that. Others may have to choose to sleep just a tad less. I wouldn’t recommend getting any less than 6 hours but if you can healthily and effectively function on less than maybe sleep is the most logical sacrifice you can make. Some of you may even need to manage your time so that you actually have time to get enough sleep, if you find yourself feeling unwell and using a great deal of time poorly, then maybe managing your time to ensure a healthy amount of sleep is the right move for you. Personally, I don’t love getting less than 8 hours of sleep but on many days the best way for me to ensure that I am able to get my workout in and stay focused on my fitness and health goals is to wake up early before any of my other responsibilities interfere.
I am not suggesting that any of us perfectly schedule every waking, and sleeping, minute of every day. I think that would produce more stress than it would alleviate and would suck the joy right out of living. I am a huge fan of having a few hours after the workday, entire weekends, or sometimes on vacation entire weeks where nothing is scheduled or managed. I just like to spend quality time with my girlfriend, family, friends, or dog and see what happens. Many of my best and most relaxing memories are from such times. However, if you want to make progress in your life, and you are struggling to do so presently, I highly recommend a deep review of how you spend your time, and how you might manage your time more efficiently to ensure that you find a way to build the life you want to live.