When we looked at personal finance basics last month, we explored how our budget should reflect our values. We should be spending money on the things that are important to us.
In the day-to-day grind, this often gets away from us and we end up spending money on whatever is in front of us.
The same is true for our time.
We should be spending our time on the things that are most important to us. But in the day-to-day grind, we often end up spending time on whatever gets dropped in our lap.
You Are Not Too Busy
When looking at this topic previously, I’ve noted that the phrase “I’m too busy” doesn’t actually mean “I’m too busy.”
Instead, it means “This is not a priority for me.”
This may not be a conscious decision on our part. Our time usage may feel out of our control.
Maybe we don’t actually intend to prioritize work events over our kids’ soccer game or watching television over exercising. But when we say we are “too busy” for one thing, it means that we are choosing to do something else with that time.
We need to be more conscious about our time usage and start using it to accurately showcase our priorities.
And now that we’ve logged the way we currently spend our time, it is time to make a plan for how we want to spend our time.
Reviewing Your Time Log
Look at your time log from last week.
If you haven’t done a time log yet, start one now.
Where is your time going?
Add up the hours that you spent on different activities. Combine activities into categories and compare those. Look at patterns in your time usage.
Look at your log in as many different ways as you can.
Does your usage of time reflect your values?
Are the things you spent the most time on the things that are most important to you?
Planning Your Ideal Week
If you’re like most people, the answer is probably no.
Like with money, we shouldn’t judge ourselves for the way we’ve spent our time in the past. We’re not here to shame and self-flagellate.
Instead, we need to make a plan to better align our time usage with our values.
What do you want to spend more time on? Less? What do you spend the right amount of time on?
Are there any times of day that are more valuable than others? Maybe you are more alert and present before work. Is there anything that you would like to move from its current time block into that morning block?
Try creating a time log for an ideal week that matches your values.
Compare that to your real world time log.
What changes can you make to start working towards your ideal?
Some of these changes may be obvious.
If you spend a lot more time watching television than you want and a lot less time playing with your kids, then work on replacing NCIS with playgrounds.
This type of switch should be the first change that we make.
If we can cut down on low-value tasks, then we make more time for the more important things.
In a similar vein, we can work on eliminating wasted time.
Maybe we stall before starting new tasks. Maybe we check social media as a distraction. Maybe we switch between tasks instead of completing one thing straight through.
Maybe I’ve done all of those in conjunction with writing this article. (I have.)
If we can work on eliminating (or at least ameliorating) these habits, then we can free up more time for things that we value.
Clear Your Plate
Another way to free up time is to take some things off of our plates.
We live in a culture in which most people just take on too much stuff. Myself very much included.
This can be fine if we have control of our time, but we need to keep it in check if it is causing us to lose time for things that we find more important.
Addressing this problem sometimes requires getting better at saying no to other people.
Sorry, but I can’t come into the office this weekend. I wish I could go to that movie with you, but I’m already booked that night. I’ll have to pass on joining your softball league this season, but check in next year.
You don’t have to come out and say that something is not your priority. But you need to know your priorities if you want to keep control of your time.
Eliminate, Delegate, Automate
To get more off your plate, look into whether there are tasks that you can eliminate, delegate, or automate.
Maybe there are tasks that you are still doing out of habit that are no longer really necessary. Eliminate them.
If there is anything that you spend time on that someone else may be better equipped to handle, delegate it.
The magic of technology can help save you some time by allowing you to automate tasks that you are currently spending unnecessary time on.
Look through your time log to see if there is any time you can get back through any of these means.
After you’ve done all of these things, it is time to look at being more efficient with your time.
This is where most time management and productivity advice focuses. And, to be fair, is where a whole bunch of our articles this month will focus.
Which makes sense. Efficiency is the area where there is the most to discuss. The most nuance. The most debate. The most ideas to explore.
But it is not the most important.
Focus on efficiency. Focus on time management hacks and productivity hacks.
But do it after you’ve followed the other steps.
Improving your efficiency will help you pick up some time around the margins. Being conscious about your time usage could change your life.
Join the Conversation!
Does your time reflect your values? Have you made any changes in how you spend your time? What works for you? Share with us in the comments!