Do you know that feeling when you wake up, jump out of bed to start your day, and suddenly have zero time left? Not a spare moment to spend? Not even a second?
It’s devestating to have that realization that your day is done. Another 24 hour cycle has come to an end, and you’ve got nothing. You can’t even point to a positive outcome.
This is what happens when you don’t use your time mindfully. When you don’t have a clear hold on what is going on throughout the day, from the actions you take to the ones you don’t take.
I think that when you use your time mindfully, you can drag yourself away from desperate waste of time and that lack of conscious recognition of where you’re spending — and I do mean spending — your seconds.
Here’s what I want to do right now. I want you to take 5 minutes to read this, and if you can promise me that time, I can promise you something else — you’ll get real, serious actions that you can take to use your time mindfully.
But if you don’t want to read the whole post, read this quote. It’s incredibly important to my world view, and I’ve based a lot of my life and time management ideas around it:
You can put a dent in the universe. In fact, you can put a dent in anything you want.
But you’re not going to do that if your time is wasted, cast aside and spent in vain. You really do have a limited time to spend on this earth, which means that every single second is a zero sum game.
Every second you spend watching Desperate Housewives instead of working on that lean canvas for that business idea that you can’t stop dreaming about is a second that you will never have another chance at.
Anything is possible. Everything is possible. I’ve given away 45 hours of my time in the past month to give free coaching calls to entrepreneurs and creative people and dreamers across the globe.
I’ve heard from people trying to build small community businesses that will transform their villages and software companies that will shake up social order.
It’s all proven to me that the collective power of human ambition cannot be stopped and it cannot be contained by anything except the limitations of our own time.
So managing that time? Possibly the most important activity of your life.
Here’s the 5 elements of mindful time management:
- You need to question every single moment
- You need to keep notes on what you do, when you do it, and how long it takes
- You need to explain to another human being how you spend your time
- You need to tweak, improve and repeat the process
- Finally, and crucially, you need to set aside time to suck at managing your time
This is meant to help you become more aware of the ticking clock, but in a pro-active way. Not in a pressure, panic, freak out way. That kind of behavior isn’t important.
You need to question every single moment
Every moment is an absolute. So questioning it matters. You have to ask yourself, does the way I’m choosing to spend this moment align with what I really want, or is it based purely on my impulses or wants?
I have trained myself to stop at the end of every single hour, close my eyes and breathe for 5 minutes. It breaks me out of the time sequence, and it lets me question the moments I’ve just spent. I take a quick pause and I look at where that time has gone.
If I’ve wasted that time on TV, on my phone, on scrounging for junk food in my cupboard, I’ll be painfully aware of that.
I use a Mac app called Timing that definitely helps with that. Here’s a snapshot of what that looks like:
You need to keep notes on what you do, when you do it, and how long it takes.
This is really about diarizing your time. And you don’t need to do it in excessive detail. It doesn’t need to be perfect down to the last second. I tend to do my diarizing in a notes app like Bear or Evernote.
You can see it’s not about trying to catalogue everything I did and how long I did it for. That’s getting too deep, and you’re highly likely to wind up losing more time diarizing than you’ll ever save through it.
This isn’t about the quantified self. This is about stopping yourself, and causing you to consider and think about your time. When you do this regularly, you’ll begin questioning your time while you’re in the moment, while you’re actually spending it.
You need to explain to another human being how you spend your time.
I swear by accountability partners. They keep you honest, but more importantly, they ask that one vital question.
At the end of each day, I have a conversation with my own accountability partner, one of my closest friends. I explain to her what I spent most of my day doing, according to how often each activity shows up in my notes. I explain why I decided to do certain things, why other things didn’t happen.
She asks that Why over and over again, and when I have to pause and actually explain myself, I realize how often I bullshit myself into believing that I’m spending my time correctly.
If you want to follow this idea, you can start by finding someone who will ask you just 5 questions at the end of your day:
– What was the first thing you did?
– What was the last thing you did?
– Where did you get distracted?
– How did you get back on track?
– Why do you feel you spent your time positively or negatively today?
I can’t take credit for this. It’s something that MJ Fitzpatrick and I have talked about.
You need to tweak, improve and repeat the process.
This is where you identify the problems. Your accountability conversations are going to help with this. You identify the parts that aren’t working, you make choices about how to solve those time management issues, and you try them out. It’s trial and error.
For me, one of the things that came up in my accountability conversations was that I kept on watching TV when I stopped working to eat lunch. And that half hour of TV over lunch was consistently turning into over an hour, because I’d get engrossed.
I wound up taking my lunch outside to eat, in the park down the street. It solved that issue remarkably well.
Over time, you start to streamline everything you do, and cut out the waste. This gives you a unique edge — it stops being a matter of hoping that you can get enough done to accomplish what you want to do. It starts being a matter of knowing that you will have enough time, because you have carefully and calmly carved it out.
Having this edge makes a difference. Most people don’t. Most of the world doesn’t. Your advantage is going to be that there’s not going to be any element of luck in how your time is spent.
Bonus Round: The people who changed the world? They knew how to manage their time.
Here’s some thoughts from some of the people that I admire:
Steve Jobs: “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
- Why is this important to me? Because it’s really about the fact that the limit that we all have on our time is a great equalizer. We all have the same amount, no matter who we are. We can’t take it back. We aren’t given more.
Richard Branson: “The best advice I could give anyone is to spend your time working on whatever you are passionate about in life.”
- Why is this important to me? Because when you only have a limited amount of time, you really don’t have a choice or an option. Logically, you must spend it on the projects that matter. Because it’s about setting boundaries, doing the work now to make sure you can manage your time in the future. When I think about this process above, I know that it’s a lot of work that has to be done in the now in order to improve my time management in the future. And that time management will allow me to dedicate myself to my passions.
This piece originally appeared on Medium.
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