There are few moments so gratifying in the life of a parent as to when your kids admit you were right about something.
It’s not that I take pleasure in being able to say ‘I told you so’, although I think we all enjoy that a little bit. It’s reaffirming that something I believe in and which I passed on has proven true for someone else.
My eldest daughter is nearly 20 and in her second year at university. She’s had her wobbles of confidence and the expected ups and downs as she’s adapted to her new-found freedom. She’s learning to handle the challenges of keeping body and soul together in daily life. Most significantly, she’s doing a really good job of being a student and working hard.
When she first set off for university, I wanted to pass on a few distilled pointers that she could refer to if she needed them. Like most parents in this scenario, I worried that I hadn’t made clear all the fundamental life-lessons that would see her through her first foray into the outside world.
To remedy this, I put together a document with around 15 pointers that I felt might serve her well. You can read more about this in its entirety should you wish:
15 Things to remember in the bad times (and the good)
Some rules for life, shared by a parent with their teenage child
As she’s settled into university life, she’s learned the challenges that we face as adults in managing the time we have available to us. We have our work (or our studies), the need to keep body and soul together, shopping, cooking, cleaning and looking after ourselves and our homes. We also have to try and fit in some fun and enjoyment along the way.
In a recent conversation that gave me cause to feel smug self-satisfaction, she admitted to me that the thoughts I’d shared with her about time were absolutely correct. Flushed with success, I thought I’d share them here in case others can benefit too.
As a general rule, we need to do what we have to do, before what we want to do
It’s a fact of life that as we gain responsibility and take on certain roles in life, there will be things that are expected of us, which take precedence over those things we’d rather be doing. How you determine the relative hierarchy of the various tasks that demand your attention and time is up to you.
Work, studies, exercise, domestic chores, reading, relaxation and socialising are all vital components in our lives. As adults, those who get the things done that must be done first tend to live more successful, happier and generally more fulfilled lives than those who are self-indulgent and hedonistic in how they live, prioritizing what they want to do instead.
Work needs to be done to the best of our abilities, preferably when we’re rested and refreshed. With it out the way, we can then contemplate relaxing and socializing. Many attempts to shift this balance with varying degrees of success. Generally, though, it’s our duty to do what we must, before what we would like.
Occasionally we will feel overwhelmed; at times like these, take one step forward and one action at a time.
Even the most proactive and level-headed people will feel stress and overwhelm when their to-do list gets out of control. The reason is usually that there is too much to do and not enough time to do it.
The simple antidote is to surrender to reality and accept that we can only do one thing at a time. The only way to alleviate the overwhelm and change the situation is to then take one task at a time and move things forward one step at a time. You will feel better for taking action, progress will be real and measurable and eventually, the overwhelm will subside at least a little bit.
We cannot do anything about a perceived shortage of time and cannot make or access more of it. All we can do is make the best use of each and every minute that we have, using it consciously, deliberately and mindfully to best suit our goals and priorities.
We all have the same number of hours in the day-use them as you see fit.
If you’re tired, go to bed earlier. If you’ve got too much to do, get up earlier and make a start on it. If you know you benefit from exercising regularly, make time in your schedule to do some.
The excuse of being too busy isn’t valid, for we all determine the priorities we set for ourselves and then divide up the time accordingly. Some will feel as though their life is full for working a 40-hour week and with little else other than existing besides that. Others will work a full-time job (or more than one), study at college, raise a family and care for elderly parents. Both start each week with the same 168 hours at their disposal.
Nothing worth having or achieving comes quickly
Another feature of time is the role it plays in our desire to improve our lives and achieve great things. As Tony Robbins puts it:
“We usually overestimate what we can achieve in one year but we grossly underestimate what we can achieve in a decade.”
Good things take time, and usually, way more than we expect or hope they will.
The same is true at a task level — if you think something will take an hour to do properly, it’ll likely take longer. If you know that doing it thoroughly will take that hour, it’s pointless to rush or cut corners and do it quicker.
Time spent looking for shortcuts, hacks or quick fixes is likely to be wasted time. If you find a shortcut, chances are it’ll backfire immediately or at a later stage.
You are the principal custodian of your time, energy and attention
As children, our parents organize our lives, making sure we get to school when we need to, that we do our homework, do adequate exercise and tidy our rooms. As an adult, it becomes our own responsibility to allocate time appropriately to the various things that compete for it.
Nobody is responsible for this but you.
Time spent scrolling through social media or binge-watching Netflix is a choice you make and own. It may be that this is how you decompress from the demands of work and study, but be mindful that if this time creeps or expands (as it tends to do) then this will consume time that might have been allocated to other more productive activities or more-restorative leisure pursuits such as exercise or rest.
Rest and leisure are as important as work, and you should make time for them
Where most of my other advice takes quite an authoritarian or disciplinarian tone, this one has been learned through bitter experience. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy as the saying goes and it’s entirely true.
In his recent book ‘Stillness is the Key’, Ryan Holiday talks about the importance of hobbies and pastimes in helping us to achieve and maintain balance in life. Hobbies and leisure activities, undertaken immersively and for their own good have been proven throughout history to help restore balance to the lives of those whose existence is otherwise intense, stressful and demanding. Holiday makes a case-study of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who led Britain through the Second World War by working 110-hour weeks. Churchill’s hobbies, including brick-laying and oil-painting, were critically important in helping him to decompress from the stresses and strains of wartime leadership.
Hobbies and leisure time are as important in living a balanced life as are the times of intense activity. To neglect to include adequate leisure time, as well as adequate time for sleep will ensure that any regime of time management is doomed to fail.
Sometimes we have to let things slip, and that’s okay
There will be occasions when we run out of time. Either things take longer than planned, there’s too much to do and not enough time, or some other factor blindsides us and demands our time and attention instead. When this happens, accept it and move on.
Deadlines get missed. Time runs out. Tasks take longer than planned. New priorities emerge.
This happens to us all and provided you’ve done everything you could, you’ve nothing to fear in accepting that it happened.
Time is generally acknowledged to be the most precious and scarce resource we have. Unlike money, we cannot simply make more of it or borrow it from anywhere else. Instead, it’s our duty to make the most of every second we have.
In our youth, time seems to be plentiful and limitless. A year feels like a long while, and it is. When we get older though, it’s apparent that the years pass by in a blink of an eye. I’m approaching the half-way point in my life (based on statistics) and it’s alarming to think that that's the case, for it feels like it’s speeding up too.
I hope that through the application of these simple rules, my daughter, and in later years her siblings will choose to live in a way that maximises the value they get from every second of their lives.
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