Own Your Time

We all feel the crunch of time – there’s just never enough of it! There are always those things that sound so leisurely, the activities that are part of our “dream” life, to which we say, “I wish I had time for that!” You imagine yourself reading in a coffee shop, trying recipes from your new cookbook, coloring in one of those trendy adult coloring books, taking a pottery class, or maybe just sleeping more… But alas, the to-do list looms.

Just a few years ago my weekends were absolutely consumed by my to-do list. Sometimes I’d barely even see another person from Friday night til Monday morning, aside from other errand-runners at Target and Safeway. I’d craft long, overly-ambitious to-do lists, and feel disappointed every Sunday evening when about 50% of the items went undone.

When I told a friend that I just didn’t have enough time to do something (I forget the details), she asked what was keeping me so busy. I felt a little stumped, but replied: you know, just stuff around the house. She looked at me suspiciously, and then gently suggested I let go of all the needless to-do’s.

It was the same wise woman who, over one year later, would help dig me out of my darkest period. This time I was in New York, and she in Australia, when I wrote to her and, once again, explained that there just wasn’t enough time to do everything I wanted to do. I framed it as: it wasn’t my fault, my job and this city were just too demanding, too time consuming. Once again, she reminded me that we all have 24 hours in a day, and we choose how to spend it. It was this friendly nudge that snapped me out of it and got me to take responsibility for how I spend my time. I was no longer the victim, and things that once seemed unmovable in my schedule suddenly became more negotiable.

It’s not about having time, it’s about making time.

I come back to this reminder often, as I still find myself making excuses, wishing there was more time in the day, playing victim to the to-do’s. The solution is not unlike the prioritizing exercise I explained a few weeks back: pick the most important and autopilot – or let go of – the rest.

I love Stephen Covey’s “Big Rocks” metaphor, in which he fills a jar (symbolizing our life) with big rocks. He asks his students if the jar is full, and they reply “yes.” But then he pulls out some pebbles and dumps them in, filling in the empty spaces left between the larger rocks. Now is it full? Still no – he pours sand into the jar, filling in any remaining spaces. The moral being: the most important things in your life are the big rocks, put those into your schedule first to make sure they fit. If you fill the jar with sand (the less important) first, the big rocks won’t fit on top; the sand needs to fill in the spaces around the rocks.

Don’t know what your big rocks are? Start with a list of your values, the things that are really important to you in your life. Try to list at least ten; some examples might be health, connection, growth, career, creativity, etc. When you feel your list is complete, number your values in order of importance.

Then think about how you spend a typical day or week. You can sketch out your day by hour, or, if you’re really not sure where all your time goes, take a day or two to track it. Keep a “time journal.” You might be really surprised by how long it takes you to pick out avocados at the grocery store, or how much time you spend scrolling through instagram (yikes!).

Create a pie chart depicting the division of time (and energy) you currently spend on different tasks. Then write down the purpose of each task, as in, what value does it align with? For example, do you spend a lot of time reading articles online? Perhaps this aligns with culture, education, or self-development (depending on what you’re reading about). Spend hours on the phone or crafting emails to your friends in another state? That’s relationships, connection, or support. Compare the chart to your list – are all your values represented? Are there values on your pie chart that maybe you forgot to list?

Sometimes our pie chart is dismal, and doesn’t represent any of our values. Other times, we realize that we spend so much time on something, it must be really important to us, and it gets added to the values list. Carefully curate your values list and consider how you might adjust your pie chart accordingly. What can you cut back on? What do you need to create space for? What do you need to let go of for now? Remember that how you spend your time is up to you. 

Once you've identified your "big rocks," carve out time, space, and energy for those important things first. Make them unmovable on your calendar; non-negotiable. Everything else (pebbles, sand) can be scheduled around them. 

Note: reading in coffee shops and coloring are perfectly acceptable priorities. It is important that we make time for stuff that brings us joy, even if it doesn’t seem “productive.” The last time I did this exercise, I had a healthy slice of pie labeled “bullshitting,” and I feel no need to adjust that.

Since I’m obsessed with calendaring and organizing time, this is one of my favorite activities. It can be a real eye-opener on how you spend your time, and a misalignment of values with time/energy expenditure might explain any dissatisfaction you feel with your day-to-day. Again, we need to remember that we can’t do it all; only so many big rocks will fit in the jar.

If you found this exercise helpful but still don’t see how you can make the adjustments necessary to fit it all in, I’d love to help! Get in touch to set up a complimentary 30-minute coaching call and I’ll put my ninja-organizing skills to work.