Do you know what I find interesting? Everyone in the world is given the exact same allocation of one single resource: Time. No matter who you are, where you live, or what you do, everyone has exactly 24 hours each and every day to fill with some combination of tasks and leisure.
I’m sure you’ve run into this person: The person who says “I don’t have time for that” or “I’m way too busy to spend my time doing that.” Heck, you may have been that person once, or are currently in a situation where that is exactly how you feel. What is worse, is that people, often over and over, allow themselves to subsist in a chronic margin-less lifestyle driven by the choices that continue to be made on a daily basis .
I think the underlying assumptions (forgive my economist background), is that for every activity that you engage in, you are by default giving up the ability to engage every other possible activity. For example: If I take a nap, I can’t clean or eat at same time. There is an opportunity cost to every decision you make and every activity you participate in.
In essence, I feel like the real statement should be not that, “I don’t have time for ‘that’”, but rather “I don’t feel like that is enough of a priority in my life to allocate my time for ‘that’.” I think rather than a lack of time problem, most people have a prioritization problem (similarly, most Americans don’t have an income problem but an allocation problem).
Most individuals have the inability to make decisions on what is most important in their lives. If not proactively addressed, society and others will make these decisions for you. Think of the people who surround you. Are you allowing your boss, advertisements, parents, spouse, kids or anyone else to make their priorities your priorities? Do they line up with what you value?
Common things I’ve said to myself or observed in others: I don’t have time to workout. I don’t have time to read. I don’t have time to learn that. I don’t have time to learn or plan my finances. I don’t have time to keep myself organized. I want to spend more time meditating/with god/in reflection. I want to have time for all these things; I just have other things that seem more urgent.
So, how do you recognize and address a time problem?
- Step back and figure out what is important to you. Realize you have control over your life and your priorities in the long term.
- Get rid of the unimportant, de-commit, brainstorm long or short term changes
- Put the Big Rocks in first
- Find someone who can check to see if you are making progress
What we come to realize is prioritization and organizing can lead to a more efficient allocation of time. Allowing you to get more done and have more free time.
Here are some of the most common time wasters that keep us from getting important things done:
- Watching TV (Average American @ 5 Hours a day)
- Reading/Surfing on the internet
- Running “errands” (see Batching @ 4HWW)
- Non-Productive reading
- “Getting Ready”
- Video Games
- Inefficient cleaninghousework
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not bashing all of these activities. In fact, being intentional about conscientiously participating in the activities listed above can be quite entertaining. However, I am bashing these activities for the people who claim they do not have time to get important things done in their life.
A second technique for addressing this lack of time is changing the way we talk.
Try rephrasing a sentence like this:
“I don’t have enough time to spend with my kids/wife because I am working too much.”
Be honest with your self, and state it like this:
“I could spend more time with my kids but work is a greater priority than spending time with my kids.”
“I would exercise but I’m too busy and I don’t have time for that.”
“Exercise is not a priority and I would rather spend my time watching tv/reading/surfing the web”
The other strange idea that always creeps up when you discuss a topic like this is: observing two people with equal responsibly where one has plenty of time and the other feels like they have no time. I know surgical residents who are incredibly busy working tons of hours who feel like they have no time; then others, even on the same rotation, who seem to be relaxed with free time. Or two graduate students in the same program where one is completely stressed by the workload and the other is relaxed and has plenty of free time. Finally, you have two stay at home moms. One feeling like they have no time and the other who has plenty of extra time! What gives? What makes people different? I believe much of it has to do with organization and prioritization. Building and maintaining an efficient lifestyle and removing the non-important can take back the feeling of time deprivation.
To finish up, I want to reiterate. Everyone has the same amount of time. Figure out what is important to you (not others) and make that a priority. Spend a little time up front organizing your life and see how you can actually give yourself more free time in the long run.
A lack of time is not the problem, wasting time and filling your life with unimportant things is the problem.
*I love kids. But it’s important to have a balanced life.