3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before the New Year

It’s the time of year again. The time when we naturally reflect on the past year and plan for the year ahead. One of the things that many of us will ask ourselves is, “How do I want to spend my time differently in the New Year?”

Well, this is exactly what I do for a living. I help women make changes to how they invest their time. One of the funny things that I’ve observed in my work is that women will painstakingly manage their money (and other aspects of their lives), but they often don’t think about their time in the same way.

In my opinion, time is a far more precious commodity than money — and it’s time that we start treating it that way. Just like money, we need to think about how we want to invest, spend, and save our time.

So these are the 3 critical questions to ask yourself before the New Year:

1) WHERE DO YOU WANT TO INVEST YOUR TIME?

Like financial investments, these are the areas of your life that will have long-term payoffs. They are investments for the future that will have payoffs in terms of your health, happiness, and well-being.

These tend to be things like investing in your health, your relationships, your purpose in life (having meaningful work or contributions to the world in some way), your self (personal development, travel, hobbies, leisure), and the world around you.

These tend to be the things that, on your death bed, you will never regret having invested time in. These are the deeply meaningful things in life. These are also the things that people want to make time for, but often have trouble doing.

This means thinking of your daily workout an investment in your long-term health. This means thinking of date nights with your spouse as an investment in your partnership. This means thinking of an adult education class on painting/photography/a new language as an investment in your long-term growth and development.

These are the things that are hard to make time for, but you will never regret doing. They lead to nothing but good things for your health, happiness, and fulfillment.

2) WHERE DO YOU WANT TO SPEND YOUR TIME?

Yes, I am distinguishing between investing your time and spending your time. Here’s the difference. In my opinion, you invest your time in things that have long-term returns. You spend your time on things that are part of life that need to get done that you either want to do, are important for you to do, or are important to someone else for you to do.

For example, you invest time spending high-quality one-on-one time with your children…you spend time packing their lunches for school. You invest time in date night with your husband…you spend time doing laundry, cleaning the house, or commuting to work.

An hour of invested time is different than an hour of spent time.

The trick to figuring out which things fall in this category is asking yourself the question: Of all of the things that have to get done in life, which ones do I really enjoy doing? Which ones are important for me to do myself? Those are the things that you should spend time on.

For me, I have consciously decided to spend time cooking for my family (it has to get done one way or another, I really enjoy it, and it’s meaningful to them), taking my children to their activities, putting them to bed at night, organizing our house, and so on. Are these things as meaningful as when I invest high quality one-on-one time with them? No. But they have to get done one way or another and it’s important to me that I do them.

Lots of other “things that have to get done” that I enjoy less (like, ahem, laundry) or don’t mind if someone else helps with (errands), get bumped down to the SAVE time category below.

3) WHERE CAN YOU SAVE TIME (to re-invest it in what matters more)?

This is my favorite step. It’s especially cathartic at New Year’s when many of us are interested in simplifying and paring things down to focus on what matters most.

This is the part where you ask yourself how you can save time in your life. This isn’t for the sake of just saving time or getting faster. This is for the purpose of having more time to invest in the things that matter more to you. There are 3 ways to save time:

a) What can you eliminate? These are the things that are of little to no value to your life (e.g., that committee you agreed to be on at your kid’s school that takes up a bunch of time that you could be investing in your children directly). These are the things that you need to learn to say “no” to. These are the bad habits that suck time (staying up an extra hour at night to look at Instagram when you could be sleeping and waking up early to workout). You get the idea.

b) What can you delegate? So you hate to cook. Can you delegate this to someone else? Can you subscribe to a meal-delivery service? You don’t like running errands. Can you get your dry cleaning picked up and delivered? Can you get your groceries delivered? Can you hire someone for a few hours to do the errands for you, freeing up your time to be spent on things that matter more (e.g., working out, a date with your partner, taking your daughter to a museum?).

c) What can you automate? The reality is that this is life. Pardon me, but shit needs to get done and it needs to get done somehow. If you can’t eliminate it, or delegate it, then you are probably going to have to do it.

This is where automation comes in. By automation, I mean getting organized and systematized so that you don’t have to spend so much time on it.

Let me be clear — if you want to spend time on it or it’s important to you in some way, then it goes into your “spend time” plan. If it doesn’t, it gets automated.

This means things like developing standard grocery lists (so you don’t recreate the wheel each week), making lists of things that have to happen at your house every year at a certain time (so you don’t have to say, “Ugh! I forgot to turn those water pipes off again and now they are frozen!”), getting a system to put things on your calendar to share with your husband (so you don’t miss that school play again), getting your house organized so that you know where to find things, and so on. (You get it).

In the end, we all have the same 24 hours in a day. To be happy and fulfilled we have to be super conscious about how we use our time. If you get really clear on these 3 categories of your time, then it’s more likely you’ll be spending less time on what’s least important and more time on what really matters in this New Year.

Put differently, “Never let the things that matter most be at the mercy of the things that matter least.” — Goethe

Happy Holidays and New Year :)