“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.”
-The Tenth Doctor, Doctor Who, episode “Blink”
Time Is The Only Currency That Matters
Time. Time is the only real resource or currency we have. We exchange our time for money, services and experiences. We also tend to waste time on things that don’t really matter. I do that too. Even now. Hell, I procrastinated writing this very article because my fear of writing is something I struggle with, and rather than keep trying, I scroll through Facebook or Reddit or play video games. But as I recently talked about in my blog post about conquering fear, the things we fear may be the very things we need to focus on, as fear indicates we are out of our comfort zone. And when we are out of our comfort zone, we grow.
“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.” – Bruce Lee
You probably feel like every other person on this planet: that there is never enough time to get everything done. There is a constant struggle of trying to fit in the things that you want to get done and the things you need to get done. Things you need to get done are the steps that allow you to accomplish both your short term and long term goals.
Simply trying to do everything is only going to result in you feeling like you’ve accomplished nothing.
In working with busy people through both group coaching and 1 on 1 coaching, a common theme is never feeling there are enough hours in the day to “do it all.” And as a result, the first thing that we tend to move to the end of our priorities list is our health, well-being, and even happiness.
You may find that all of the other things that are fighting for your time are taking priority over YOU. And maybe you are OK with that, because when you do make yourself a priority, you view it as selfish or that it makes you a bad person, a bad spouse, a bad parent, a bad employee, or a bad employer.
The truth is that this is a lie that we tell ourselves. If you put your own health, well-being, AND HAPPINESS as your first priority, then you’ll be able to take better, and more efficient care of all of the other people and/or things that are competing for your time and attention.
“Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”
― Eleanor Brownn
So how do you *make* time, when every single person on this planet gets the same 24 hours a day?
I think that there is an important lesson to be learned by looking at the extreme examples of people who seem to be thriving in the chaos of schedules that may seem far more packed than your own, as well as examining the failures of those people. Yes, the failures. Failure is the great teacher. What we learn from our own failures and the failures of others is often far greater than what we learn from our own success. Our successes are simply the summation of what we’ve learned and put into practice from our failures over time.
Rather than give you an un-relatable example of someone like the President, or a Hollywood actor, or even a famous tech entrepreneur like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, I’m going to go through my own personal example as a “case study” because I’m just a regular hard working family man that has lazy tendencies who has only included fitness as part of my life starting at age 28.
The Extreme Example
My intention in sharing my story as a case study isn’t to make you feel bad about not being able to accomplish everything you want to, but rather to show you that you aren’t alone in that struggle. I get the same 24 hours as everyone else and anyone that looks at what I’m doing from afar does not likely see my struggles!
What is the challenge that I face with finding the time? The essence of my specific challenge is that I am essentially trying to fit in family life (being a good husband and dad, with all that this entails), my own fitness (which is required to maintain my 200lb weight loss), and two jobs (one of which has me in the business owner role – which means my boss sucks and demands unreasonable things from me!).
You may know a bit about me already, but here are the basics:
I’m a 35 years old, middle-class guy, living in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’m happily married to my best friend and have been for 12+ years. We have two children, ages 7 and 4.5. I also happen to have lost over 200lbs, and I’ve kept that off for over 8 years now.
I’ve been employed at the same company for 12 years and work during the day as a computer programmer. Nearly two years ago, after I’d gone back to school to complete my undergraduate degree, I was given a spark of inspiration by my mentor, Dick Talens, to start my own business and help others with their weight loss.
I am also a person that didn’t grow up loving fitness. I hated playing sports, and most of my social interests and hobbies are done sitting in a chair and commonly done while eating snacks. I don’t have the advantage of having interests and hobbies that help me maintain my own fitness, nor is fitness something that comes naturally to me. My spirit animal is a sloth.
As you may notice, this means that I have lots of competing interests for my time, all of which are seemingly “high priority”, some of which are not things I want to do, but must do.
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Yeah, but how?
So how I do make that work? Well, I failed. I fucked up, bad. I don’t swear often in my writing or in working with others, but it’s true. I fucked up.
Here’s what I was doing wrong
- Constantly checking email, nonstop. At family events. At dinner. During workouts (yes, during workouts, I’d be checking/replying to email between sets).
- Staying up too late, again usually checking emails, my online classes, and researching new fitness information.
- Slacked off on household chores, leaving more work on the shoulders of my wife and kids.
- Missing out on the little things. I wasn’t taking time to really stop and have a special moment with my kids on every single day. Our interactions were rushed by me. I even caught myself starting to hesitate to say yes when my kids would say “read to me, Daddy” which really was what had led me to examine what it is that I want, because what I want is to not ever miss out on a moment of their lives. It wounds my heart to even write these words, but I wasn’t present. I am thankful that I caught myself before this got any worse. Again, I am not prioritizing regret, but learning from mistakes.
- Not scheduling any time for myself. Other than continuing to work out, I eliminated all other stress relieving / self-care activities. Gaming and reading for pleasure were both gone!
- Not having a social life. Visiting with adult friends usually only happened at holiday parties. I had declined invitations so often that I didn’t get invitations anymore, and I definitely didn’t initiate the creation of plans.
- Not setting any limits for myself. I was unsure of what was “too much,” so I kept expanding and expanding, hoping that I’d find my breaking point. It hadn’t occurred to me that there was a cost that wasn’t proportional to what I had hoped to gain. I was blinded by my passion for helping people that are in the same place that I was but I didn’t realize how I was hurting the people who are most important in my life.
- Working through weekends. Even on the weekends, I would continue doing everything listed above. Even trips to the museum or zoo with my kids were few and far between (and then were rushed) because I never set any limits on how to spend my time.
Here’s what I was doing right
- Choosing what’s really important. Even with all of the things I was doing wrong, I was still having most priorities correct. While I had a some instances of poor decisions on my part, I feel that I was still a good dad while helping many people!
- Batching tasks. Preparing meals on the weekends so that there was more time during the week. You don’t realize how much time you spend on things that you do every single day and you gain back time by being efficient.
- Outsourcing the work that I don’t enjoy/am not good at/are not great uses of my time. I hired someone to cut the grass. I hired an accountant to handle taxes. I hired someone to help with some business plan/marketing type stuff. These were all things that I possibly could do, but they aren’t things I am especially good at; so why do them personally when outsourcing frees time for myself and results in a better finished product.
- Outsourcing the work that I *do* enjoy/am good at. For example, having another coach handle my nutrition and training, which also allows me to see what other coaches are doing and learn from them. Always be learning.
- Being OK when there are things left undone. I am not ashamed to admit that there are days where folding laundry gets 0 priority, and I live out of a laundry basket. Or my house is a mess and it isn’t worth the time to declutter the living room when the kids will just have stuff out again tomorrow morning.
Here’s what I’m doing now
- Continuing to do what I was doing right and expanding those concepts. For example, I no longer check email in a constant stream throughout the day, but I do so every few hours. I find I am much more efficient when I *don’t* multi-task.
- I’m done spending time or energy on regret. Instead, I’ve taken a cue from my own weight loss and what I teach others: I am learning from what I’m doing wrong. I am taking those lessons, and applying them going forward. I am adapting and continually learning from failure. I’m not perfect, and I don’t want to be. I want to be better. And I want YOU to be better.
- Shutting down email after a certain time, no matter what. I reduced my rest periods during my training and have stopped checking email between sets. Nothing is so important that it can’t wait.
- Made time in my schedule for brief periods of gaming, as well made sure to include time for reading fiction. This does come at the cost of reduced reading time for non-fiction, a compromise I’m OK with.
- Starting to try to be less of an introvert, and simply agreeing to social events without even considering it.
- Taking the majority of weekends off, and only doing what I *want* to do, not what I feel that I *have* to do. That means if I feel like writing, or replying to emails, I do but not because “I have to.”
- Avoiding perfection. I still struggle with this in certain things, such as writing. I’ve committed myself to one article very week, and I wanted this article to be perfect so that I could help people that are being suffocated by the pressures of time. Even as I push “publish”, I see the flaws. It’s too long, I’m rambling. There aren’t enough memes. Too many quotes. Not enough quotes. Just shut up and publish it, Chuck. But better a flawed diamond than a perfect pebble, right?
“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” – Voltaire
Bite-sized Tips: Priorities And Making Choices
“Action expresses priorities.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
Accept that taking care of yourself FIRST is NOT selfish. The better you take care of yourself, the better and more efficiently you can do the other things.
Reflect on the most truly important items of your day and of your life in general. Practice the skill of being alone with your thoughts while not being overstimulated. Get up 5 to 10 minutes early every day and sit down without any distractions or noise or sound or video. Let ideas come to you and simply write them down on a blank piece of paper. By being constantly distracted we have learned to be afraid of our inner selves.
Priorities don’t always need to be the same every day. When you are taking that time in the morning to write down what it is that is important to you, don’t be judgemental about your list. What is actually important that you get done? What can wait? It is okay to prioritize a walk with your kids/dog if that is the most important thing for the day.
Be aware of the things that mindlessly suck up your time: social media (a double-edged sword for entrepreneurs), constantly checking email, binge-watching a series on Netflix, etc. Set yourself a time limit for things that you consistently spend too much time on so that the things you need to do won’t feel rushed. If your work is done on a computer, install a browser extension that blocks websites that cause you to waste your precious time.
Practice mindfulness and being present. Really be engaged in whatever it is you are doing. If it is replying to emails, only reply to emails. If you are going for that prioritized walk, take the time to think about what you see, smell, and feel as you walk. If you are watching tv, take a minute to get comfortable, really think about your anticipation for the show, and then enjoy watching it guilt free.
Be sure to schedule time for yourself. I schedule one hour a night after the kids are in bed for leisure. This is often when I have to make a hard choice. Do I go out? Watch TV? Do I read? My DVR is 99% full all of the time, and I’m rarely caught up with anything. However, you can bet I’m watching Game of Thrones every Sunday.
Are the trade-offs worth it? Are you willing to state that your time spent watching TV is more important to you than your health and well-being? If so, there is nothing wrong with that as long as you aren’t deluding yourself that you are paying that cost. If you do decide that, own that decision.
Again I’d like to leave you with a Bruce Lee quote from his book, Striking Thoughts. Seriously, read this book. I used to think that I should limit quotes like this, but I’ve been fighting my gut instincts by doing so, and I’m done with that.
“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.” ― Bruce Lee
What are you doing that’s inessential? It’s eating away at your time.