The Challenges of Making Time for the Important Things

It’s getting to that time of year when students, schools, organizations, and companies are making plans for what’s next. What is the plan for the next quarter, the next year, the next direction, the next horizon?

Really, the planning is the process of making time now to decide how you will spend your time in the future. The tricky part is that we don’t have the time to do all the things we might want to.  And unlike money, time doesn’t accumulate. Time is a finite resource. Each week we get 168 hours and by the end of the week, it is gone.  So making time to decide strategies, focus efforts, and position for the wanted future can be powerful and valuable.

Life is a collection of time choices. What are the choices that you make?

Think about it the choices you make every day.

  • Trading off spending time with kids or friends or partners or coworkers. (Which relationship is more important right now?)
  • Choosing to sleep instead of streaming a TV show.  (Rest vs. Entertainment)
  • Deciding to workout instead of going to that happy hour for work. (Physical fitness vs. work relationships)
  • Reacting to the urgent and loud instead of focusing on the important.

Small choices around time are cumulative and powerful. Several years of attending class, doing homework, and passing tests equal a diploma. Weeks of training means completing the marathon. Spending 10,000 + hours of deliberate practice over years means you are in a position to win at Wimbledon or the World Cup.

Looking at the way we spend our week lets us see patterns, routines, and habits. It allows us to make the small choices to build progress in the direction we find important and to align our time to our values.

The Story We Tell with Our Time

The way we spend our time is a story of our lives. If I look back over the last week what story would I see? The last month?  What was important enough to get time?  Was there forward progress on the project you say is important to you?  Did you spend time with people you value?

Or is your calendar a hot mess with double bookings, lateness, and disconnection from overall goal and priorities? Is ‘busy’ and exhaustion at work the only way you see to get ahead? Does your attention ricochets from an ever-filling email inbox, your work project, the ping of a new notification, a random errand you need to do, and – Squirrel! Last week did you multitask all the things, but are not quite sure what you actually accomplished?

‘I don’t have time’ means that it is not a priority right now.  That is fine, everything can’t be a priority.  Making time for what is important means letting go of something else.

Time is how we express what is valuable and important to us.  First, decide what is important. Second, match your time/calendar to it. Finally, and this is the hardest part, live it with imperfection, pushback, and adjustments along the way.

Integrating the Tactics of Making Time

Late night is often the time that I get into a project or book or TV show.  I lose track of time with one more chapter, one more episode, or one more thought. I enjoy getting into the flow late at night and will align my calendar to match my preferences. Sleep is also important to me. So my tactic is to set a sleepy time alarm on my phone as a trigger to make me aware of the time. Sometimes I chose to keep doing what I was doing.  But each time, I know that I am making a choice about my time. I am reminding myself that sleep is important to me and decide if the trade-off is worth it.

The internet is full of time management tricks, tips, and techniques. There are models, frameworks, and apps. We know about them, it’s the integration into our lives that trips us up. The best ones are the ones that you actually do.

Here is a collection of ideas:

  • An online calendar as a dynamic planning, tracking, and organization tool. My calendar tells a story and becomes an outline of my future.
  • Pay attention to endings and transitions, not just beginnings.
  • Think about when you need to stop what you were doing so you can start the next important thing on time.
  • Always add in explicit transition and travel time.
  • Anchor new desired behaviors with current habits.
  • Single task your attention. Multitasking is half-assing your attention.
  • Notice and accept when you produce your best work. Lean into it.
  • Think about ebbs and flows; both with seasons and time of day
  • All work is not created equal.  Differentiate it.
  • Build in real breaks.
  • Turn of most of the notifications on your phone. Or at least the noise.
  • Let go of productivity as self-worth and exhaustion as a status symbol.
  • Understand the purpose behind a choice.  Know why you are making that choice.
  • Notice your default routines and habits. Make changes by disrupting or adjusting them.

There is no right way to integrate changes into your behavior around time.  There isn’t even a best way.  It is a human-centered set of choices and decisions.  The main question is whether you want to do the work to keep your time aligned with what is important to you.

The Catch-22 of Making Time

It is easier to let the status quo exist. To take what you did last week and do something similar this week.  To take last year’s budget and make decisions about resource allocation based on prior choices. Decision fatigue is real and behavior change is challenging, slow, and disruptive.

How do you make time to change when there are fires at work, traffic sucks, and you have to keep the wheels turning in life?

Making time means you have to make time. And trade-offs.  You decide that up-front investment and pain of making time now will pay off in the future.  Make a deliberate choice.  And ask for help and feedback.

You make the choice and commitment to attend a workshop because you decided that understanding and designing your time is important. You are dedicating at least three hours of your time to changing how you allocate your time going forward.

Imagine how a three-hour investment now can make the next week or ten days run more smoothly. And then the next month feels more aligned as you integrate changes. What would that feel like?

Is that feeling worth it to make time?

Yes. Yes, it is. 

Taking Action

Connect with me to schedule a one-on-one intensive or workshop for your organization.