Over the past few weeks, people have approached me and said, “Your system sounds great, but it’s so complicated! I can never see myself do all that.”
While it sounds more complicated than it is when actually applied, I understand this concern. So many things to apply, where to even start?
Therefore, I’m going to suggest one simple thing you can do: eliminate one activity that you don’t have to and don’t want to do.
It is quite simple and very powerful. There are four steps:
- Monitor how you spend your time.
- Find something you don’t have to and don’t want to do.
- Eliminate it!
- Replace it with an activity you’d like to do.
I’ll explain each one in turn.
- Monitor how you spend your time.
Before you can make any changes, you need to know how you, in reality, spend your time. That doesn’t refer to how you’d like to spend your time ideally, but how you do so realistically.
If you have a calendar that accurately describes how you spend your time, then you can just take a look at your calendar. If your calendar only contains appointments, though, you’ll need to do some more digging and reflection.
You could also track your activities. For a couple of days or a week, you could track how long you spend on different activities. You can use a stopwatch (i.e., your phone), pen, and paper or an app such as Toggl. Whatever you’d like to use is fine; the point is to get a realistic overview of how much time you spend on different activities.
The first time you track your time can be a bit shocking. I remember my first reaction after a week-long tracking and looking at the output from Toggl: “This is how long I spend showering, putting on cosmetics, and doing my hair?! I’m never putting on lotion or drying my hair again!” Now, that’s not the point. The goal is to realize how long these things take and to then make an informed choice about whether these things are important enough to us to deserve that time.
2. Find something you don’t have to and don’t want to do.
Now that you know what you spend your time on, make a list with two columns:
- Things you don’t have to do;
- Things you don’t want to do.
Do you have any items listed in both columns? If you do, great! Those are your items to eliminate.
For instance, many people are surprised by how much time they spend on social media. They find that they neither want or have to spend so long on those apps and websites. That’s a clear one to eliminate because you really don’t have to do it. But the appeal of social media lies in the powerful reward mechanisms that are in place there, so for an effective way to eliminate those, see 4.
In relation to work, we sometimes find we are attending meetings we don’t want to attend and, strictly speaking, we don’t have to attend. It’s important to ask yourself here, “What function is this meeting serving for the institution I belong to, and what is my (possible) contribution in this meeting?” If your contribution in that particular meeting is minimal or none, you will probably do better skipping the meeting and contributing to the institution in a better way. Alternatively (and what I deem the better choice), you can decide to step up your game and actually contribute during that meeting.
Similarly, sometimes we get involved in projects we don’t really want to participate in, whether at work or in the community. We often don’t need to participate in these projects but somehow get dragged into them. Importantly, when we spend time on something we don’t care about, that saps our energy for things we do care about. So, if you don’t have to be on a project you don’t care about, find a way out! Apologize and say that your priorities have shifted. You owe it to yourself and to your institution or community to spend your time on things you care about, whenever possible.
As another example, we often get irritated by the amount of time we spend cleaning our homes. Most of us don’t get a lot of fulfillment from cleaning our kitchen or vacuuming our floor (although mindful housework is definitely a thing). Thus, you can consider whether you can afford to hire somebody to clean your house. Usually, it’s not that expensive, and it makes a huge difference in your life. I was amazed at how much quality time I got on my weekends by outsourcing those 3 hours of cleaning per week!
3. Eliminate it!
Just delete it from your calendar! Yeaaahhh!!!
On a more serious note, if necessary, discuss this with any people who are influenced by your choice. Don’t be mean about it but also be firm and affirm your priorities.
4. Replace it with an activity you’d like to do.
This one is crucial! If you just leave the time free, it will get filled with… stuff. That’s how life works. And then you won’t be any happier with the way you’re spending your time. As useful as it is to eliminate activities you don’t want to do, it’s even more important to actually do things you want to do.
The social media example is a really good one in this case. We tend to spend lots of time on social media in our free time when we have nothing to do. It’s an easy way to get some quick enjoyment even though it’s not really satisfying in the long term. In the end, we often feel guilty afterwards because we wanted to do something more valuable with our time, but we just didn’t manage.
I’ve heard lots of solutions for this one. I think it’s useful to time ourselves and stop when the time we’ve allotted for social media is up. But even better is to decide what you’d like to do instead. Would you like to watch your favorite TV show? Or would you like to read? For instance, I have replaced most of my social media time with reading, and it’s so much more rewarding and relaxing for me.
Someone specifically shared that she noticed she went on social media mindlessly. It was as though her fingers clicked on the icons themselves. To change this, she moved the icons of her social media apps to a different place on her phone, and in the old place she put her Kindle app. This helped her to change her habit of visiting social media to reading. I thought it was brilliant!
I have done something similar by adding an easily-accessible icon to my Gmail folder with emails from my favorite blogs. In this way, I can quickly access quick reads that I know I will enjoy.
Regarding the work example, once you’ve freed up time from unwanted meetings or projects, make sure to replace that with time for things you actually want to be working on. This will help you make more progress on the work you care about and will also make you feel more fulfilled.
About the house cleaning example, you can replace this with pleasant, quality time activities! Many of us clean on the weekend, so ask yourself: “What would I like to do with three extra hours on my weekend?” That sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?
Once again, the key is not just to eliminate unnecessary activities but to replace them with things you actively choose to do. In this way, you spend more time on things you truly care about and want in your life, so the way you spend your time can be more aligned with your priorities.
How do you choose how to spend your time? Have you tried this, and how did it work for you? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below or let me know on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. As always, thanks for reading 🙂