How to Free 1-Hour Daily in a Chaotic Life

Creating room for health, nutrition and exercise

David DiPaola
In Fitness And In Health

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Busyness of Time Square Often Resembles Our Life — Photograph by Florian Wehde
Busyness of Time Square Often Resembles Our Chaotic Life — Photograph by Florian Wehde/Unsplash

The number one reason people give me for not properly caring for their health is lack of time. I would like to challenge this conclusion and provide methods to free 1-hour of time each day centered on health, nutrition and exercise. Please hear me out.

As an entrepreneur with two businesses, husband, father of two young kids in remote learning and a beloved dog, caring for elderly parents, and owning a home in need of maintenance, I understand time is scarce. Each day I must juggle priorities to make a living, care for my family and create time for myself. Using honed time management techniques, I have made time in my own life for health and I want to share them with you in hopes they will help you on your personal journey.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey discusses two habits I would like to touch on briefly and expound upon to create an effective plan for time management:

  • Being proactive and taking responsibility for your actions, responses and attitudes
  • Putting first things first

Being Proactive and Taking Responsibility

Let’s face it, we all have a past marred with bad experiences and life giving us a raw deal. The pain of these experiences often holds us back from reaching our full potential. I was born with a speech impediment, both stuttering and being unable to properly pronounce the letter “r.” As a child, I faced constant ridicule. However, it was most hurtful when a teacher, I respected before this event, mimicked my stutter and laughed.

It was my choice at a very young age to work with a speech therapist at school and improve; my parents encouraged me but didn’t force my hand. I still remember I didn’t make progress until I bought into the idea in 4th grade and made an effort. With significant hard work over two years, I made dramatic improvements before graduating to middle school, but the stutter still lingers as an adult. Most people do not notice my stutter, as I have many workarounds. However, I am acutely aware of it and it causes me extreme embarrassment when I cannot state my name. The sting from one such event remains raw.

I was touring a lab with the owner of a company. He introduced me to a colleague and I tried to say my name. My tongue froze. Panic filled my mind as I witnessed concern on their face. I tried again multiple times and despite my lips moving, I could say nothing. Then eventually, after mumbling a series of ahs and ums, I stated my name. It was the longest twelve seconds of my life. Afterwards, I apologized, explained that I sometimes stutter, and we went on with the tour.

Each day I must not let my emotions win the mental tug-of-war with stuttering. I could blame others or let their words and actions control me. Sometimes my stutter makes me want to crawl into a corner of my house and never use my talents. As a business owner, it is a constant choice to overcome my sweaty palms from human interactions to fulfill my purpose.

Similar to how I choose courage, not allowing my stutter to hold me back, you own the tough choices regarding how you spend your time. As with all decisions, we should base this on principles and values. Successful time management starts with taking responsibility and choosing wisely.

Understanding Where you Spend Your Time

If you don’t measure something, you do not understand the progress or lack thereof you are making. Below is a time management matrix, defined by Stephen R. Covey, in the discussion of habit, putting first things first. He suggests we spend our time in four different ways; important / urgent, important / not urgent, not important / urgent and not important / not urgent. I have tailored the matrix content to some concerns of today.

Time Management Matrix, Steven R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

How are you managing and organizing your time? Mr. Covey suggests most people spend their time in quadrants 1 and 3 while occasionally escaping for survival to quadrant 4. We all know firefighting in quadrant 1 is both expensive and time-consuming. Yet sometimes deadlines are needed to keep us on track. Personally, I like to accomplish goals that are important, but not urgent. The urgency creates unneeded stress as I am innately highly motivated. ­Having too many important things on my to do list, I want to minimize the time I spend on not important tasks.

Do an exercise where you track your activities for one day in 15 minutes increments (this is how I track my time as a consultant). Use a blank sheet of paper and recreate the matrix, but this time list where you spend your time over the course of a day. Then define some actions you can immediately take to maximize your time in quadrant 2.

The Keys to Spending Time in Quadrant 2

Proper planning, empowerment, relationship building, and preventative maintenance are the keys to spending more time in quadrant two.

Proper Planning: The Beautiful Wooden Bridge to No Where

I was recently kayaking in the Outer Banks with family, and we came upon a beautiful wooden bridge to nowhere. The guide explained how the contractor started the construction project without getting the proper permits. To complicate matters, there were issues with the plans that prevented their approval without significant changes. Dogged down in legal issues and fines, the contractor eventually abandoned the project. It was a colossal waste of time and money. Proper planning would have been a better choice.

Empowerment: No, It’s Easier Just to Do It Myself

Empowering others and delegating is challenging because too many times we don’t get the result we desire. Instead, we give up and just do it ourselves. This severely limits what we can accomplish.

Empowerment works best when both parties clearly understand the desired outcome, periodic check-ins occur to make slight adjustments, patience prevails and we let go. Our way is not always the best way.

My wife and I sometimes alternate who does taxes. One year our capital gains tax from stock sales were complex. I showed my wife the process I used in the past. After considering this, she purchased software for $60 to accomplish the task in 5 minutes instead of the three hours it took using my method. They guaranteed the result and would deal with the IRS on our behalf if there was a mistake. When I objectively considered her alternative approach, it was better, and I adopted it the following year.

Relationship Building: That Sounded A Lot Better in my Head

The next example is tough to swallow. I am as guilty as anyone. On multiple occasions, I have tried to be efficient in relationship building only to have it backfire in a poorly thought out statement that added salt to a raw wound. Hours and sometimes days after finally resolving the issue, I wished I wasn’t so hasty in the interaction. Relationships take time and its best to listen empathically and understand fully before seeking to be understood.

Preventative Maintenance: I Cannot Get Anything Done Because I’m Always Firefighting

Does this sound familiar? If so, preventative maintenance is key to minimize firefighting. Working for one of my former employers, the magnitude of firefighting that was required often frustrated me. One thing I learned early in my career was that being proactive with suppliers audits and training can prevent quality spills that took enormous amounts of time and money to solve.

In one particular case, I spent three weeks in the Philippines resolving a quality issue with a supplier. The problem was so large that I had to hand carry $60,000 worth of parts back to the U.S. to restart our production line down for this entire period. The worst part of the trip was being stuck in customs for eight hours because I didn’t have the right paperwork for the electronic goods I was carrying. I still remember the U.S. Customs agent’s face when he said, “do all these large boxes belong to you?”

Tactics to Free 1-hour Each Day for Health, Nutrition and Exercise

Multitask While You Exercise

There is an abundance of information on the internet about optimized workout routines. However, I have found an alternative approach to make exercise sustainable long-term. The approach has two factors: a) do a physical activity that you love and b) do a physical activity in a manner you can accomplish other tasks. Doing what you love is simple. This can be sports, biking, kayaking, etc. Doing other tasks while exercising takes more effort but is highly doable. Here are some examples;

  • When walking, reach out to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while
  • Build relationship while playing an active game with your kids, nieces or nephews
  • Listen to personal development audio books while exercising

Brain Breaks at Good Stopping Points

I have witnessed time and time again where a break in what I was doing enabled a breakthrough, greatly saving time, I simply could not attain in the thick of staring at the problem.

It is also extremely healthy to break up exercise throughout the day and get your body moving. So many times, a brisk walk for 20 minutes made me far more productive in my work than slaving away with no mental break. I also find that I have less need to eat from boredom. If you start to see yourself slowdown in your productivity, take a break and do some physical exercise at a good stopping point. You can likely save 30 minutes per day in productivity improvements by implementing this one technique alone.

Practice Moderation

So often are we on our kids to lower screen time when we are hypocrites ourselves. When you objectively look at your screen time, is it a healthy amount? This includes TV, social media, news, unimportant e-mails, texts and calls. Record how much time is dedicated to this each day and adjust.

I have limited all news, TV and social media to less than 20 minutes per day. Spending time with my wife, daughters and Italian greyhound is more fun. Can you carve out 20 minutes daily with less time reading the news on your favorite social media platform or debating a topic where neither side is open to empathetic listening or change?

Stay Centered on Your Principles and Values

Think little about people who have wronged you. All too often, we let a person who hurt us become the center of our life, consuming our valuable thoughts and energy. This only hurts us, not them.

Forgive people who have wronged you and work to move on. Yes, I understand this takes time. If that person continues to hurt you, look at ways you can remove them from influencing your life. It may mean discontinuing a friendship that is not healthy or making a change at work.

At various times in my life, I have been treated unfairly, and the result has been the person becoming the center of my life for days. Instead of using this precious time to focus on growing my business and being with family, I focused my energy on how this person was so shortsighted and revenge. Choose the higher road, forgive quickly, and let go.

Consider listening to this story. The song, Forgiveness, by Matthew West changed my life before I knew the story behind the song. Now its even more powerful. It was inspired by a woman who lost two daughters when a drunk driver hit their car. Eventually she forgave the man who killed her daughters and her family followed her lead and also forgave him. Together they helped get his sentence reduced. He now joins her on tours educating youth on the dangers of drunk driving and the power of forgiveness.

Say No Respectfully

Say no to requests from others that do not align with your planned journey, values and principles. This can be extremely difficult as our nature is to help people. Here are a few strategies that may be useful.

  • Friends and family members often ask for your valuable time requiring your core expertise and a significant effort. Things others pay you to do. When someone approaches you like this, Jon Acuff recommends asking this question in response, “What’s your budget?” It automatically sets the tone that you cannot take on this large responsibility without compensation and validates their need is something they are willing to paid for. You can view the video here for other insightful tips.
  • Provide an alternative to enable the person to become self-sufficient instead of requiring your time. As an engineer, a friend once asked me to provide pro bono drawings of a shed for him to build. Instead, I directed him to a website within five minutes where he could download various, preexisting shed plans for $30–50. If he was really interested, he would pay the small fee and get exactly what he needed. I helped him to help himself.
  • Graciously decline. Sometimes we just need to say no. Here is a way to do it so the other person feels respected. Thank you for considering me for this opportunity. It means a lot to me that you regard my work highly. Unfortunately, I have to respectfully pass on the opportunity. I have several projects I am working on and need to focus my attention on them to achieve the outcome both myself and my paying customers' desire. Thank you again.

Preventative Maintenance

Begin preventative maintenance to minimize firefighting. Record the firefights that are consuming your time. Dig deeper to understand the true root cause. What can be done to proactively address the root cause in quadrant 2 versus dealing with it when it is a full-blown crisis in quadrant 1.

Being proactive is far less time and lower cost than firefighting. Let’s consider this in an illustration. A year ago, my dad found himself in the hospital ICU for 10 days fighting for his life. Years of neglecting his health had caught up with him. He was in and out of doctor’s offices constantly, and his physical activity was severely limited because of extreme swelling in his legs and feet. He felt miserable and was given four years to live. He was firefighting daily to survive.

Contrast that to where he is today. With help, he became proactive about his health. He implemented a plan of better nutrition, exercise and losing weight. After losing 26 lbs. and shrinking his waist from a size 38 to a 34, his kidney function has stabilized and he has lowered his blood pressure with less medication. Furthermore, the swelling and fluid retention in his feet and legs has reduced 90%. This was so bad prior to losing weight that bags of skin and fluid draped over his ankles.

He says he feels great and has a new lease on life. He is now better able to enjoy his family and profession at age 79 by being proactive.

Fifteen-minute Meetings

Give fifteen-minute business meetings a try. This forces people to come prepared and only discuss what is truly important. The average length of highly watched TED talks are 18 minutes. It forces you to really know your subject and get to the heart of the issue quickly and efficiently. Yes, some conversations and meetings need to be longer. However, the more you can practice this and become successful at it, the more time you will save.

Another strategy in business is using visual communication. PechaKucha takes this to an extreme showing 20 PowerPoint slides comprising pictures for 20 secs each and limiting presenter commentary to this time frame.

I like to build on this to create visual communications of images and limited text that tell a story. Concise language is a must and necessitates staying exactly on point. I learned this presenting to investors as their attention span is extremely short. Khosla Ventures recommends only 25 words per slide and to choose wisely.

Using a combination of the strategies outlined above, work to free up 20 minutes in a single day. As you become better at implementing the tactics, add 5 minutes every other day or three days per week until you reach the 1-hour mark. If you have a bad day, don’t give up. This is life. Set daily and weekly goals and hold yourself accountable. Once you start seeing the transformation in your life from better health, your newfound motivation and energy will help you achieve the success you desire.

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David DiPaola
In Fitness And In Health

David DiPaola is CEO of Sensibly, Inc. (sensiblyhealth.com), Managing Director of DiPaola Consulting, LLC (dceams.com) and photographer at StoryinArt.com.