I strongly believe that the ability to learn is the most important skill anyone can have. As such I regularly spend time on thinking about how I can improve in several aspects of my life, learning how to do things better, or how to do new things. Like a lot of people there are a lot of things I want to do or keep on doing in either my career or my free time. But at some point, especially with a demanding job, you inevitably realise that time is limited.
This finally leads to making us think on how we should actually use our time. At the core this is mostly about two aspects: Doing the right things (Prioritisation) and then using the time we have to actually do them (Execution).
The classic example here is exercise. Something a lot of people claim to not have time for but where all of us know that if you want to, you can always make time for 30 minutes of workout somewhere in your day. This usually turns it more in a question of “do you actually want to exercise?” — People often resort to the “no time” exercise because they are afraid to answer this question honestly and feel pressured that everyone expects a Yes from them to this answer. It basically forces you to admit that the reason for your “failure” is only within you and not on a seemingly external factor (meetings, work, duties, …). I will stop shaming you now.
One thing that turned out to be fundamental and runs (although not always specifically mentioned) through a lot of techniques and books like a red thread is Intention.
Written down it sounds pretty easy: If you feel like you don’t have the time to do the stuff you want to do, you either don’t focus on the right things or you don’t follow through on your priorities.
Once people look at their average day from a rational perspective most people will realise that there is actually enough time to do the things they want to do (or at least more of it) but the time gets lost in all those activities that we tend to forget about. Things like scrolling through social media for hours, watching what ever is right now on tv to name some classic examples. In my quest for improving and learning I read a lot of articles and books on the topic and experimented with a lot of things to improve on my work output as well as on finding time for my hobbies.
One thing that turned out to be fundamental and runs (although not always specifically mentioned) through a lot of techniques and books like a red thread is Intention. None of the things that I mentioned before like watching tv, spending time on social media etc. are bad or a waste of time per se, but they become the source of this unproductive feeling when we realise that a week or month is over again and we still didn’t write that article , read that book or went to that arts exhibition. The reason for that is that we tend to do them unintentionally and on default.
The main point here is to actively design your life, and follow through on the priorities you set for yourself, and do the things most meaningful to you with intent, instead of getting caught up with distracting defaults.
We wake up, grab our phone and check our messages. We drink our morning coffee and scroll through instagram. During our commute we check some news pages. And we just do it without thinking about it. Nothing is wrong with doing these things if we actively decide that this is something we want to do and do it intentionally. But if your goal is to read that book about psychology and I bet you are pretty sure about that you want this more than to see what is going on on instagram. You should use this morning coffee time instead to read that book. Not because spending time on social media or other classic procrastination activities are a waste of time but because you are violating your own priorities.
I am by no means an advocate of having 100% of your day dedicated to “productive” (career, personal development) activities as some “extremists“, especially in the startup world, are. If Instagram is a hobby for you that is important and gives you joy, hell yeah, put it on priority #1. We need fun in our lives and trying to be more productive in some areas can be the means to freeing up more time for fun activities. The main point here is to actively design your life, and follow through on the priorities you set for yourself, and do the things most meaningful to you with intent, instead of getting caught up with distracting defaults.
This is obviously easier said than done and requires a bit of training in self awareness to make yourself more conscious about how you spend your time to realise when you resort to a default again. Things that helped me to build that self awareness and ultimately approach my day to day life with more intention are:
Meditation — self awareness and intention are core principles to meditation.
Journaling — reflecting upon your day or week on a regular basis and actually writing down what you did will force you to think about how you spent your time.
Writing — similar to journaling writing forces you to focus on a certain topic and reflect about your experiences around the topic. Thus generally sharpening your perception of things.
Scheduling — scheduling time for the things you want to do in your calendar means you actively block time for them it also makes it much more clear to you when you don’t follow through.
I don’t do all of these things all the time but i tried them all and just spending time with these over a period of time will already raise your self awareness on how you spend your time. Especially in times like these where a pandemic forces us to spend a lot of time inside, it’s easy to default to what is easy und put in front of us, but especially now most of us also have more time to focus on old or new things that are important for us. Make the best out of it.