We all have 24 hours in a day. That doesn’t change, whether you’re a politician, a stay-at-home parent, a business owner, a teacher, or really anything else. What does change is how we each spend our time. We all fill our days with different things, and that’s great … as long as we’re using our time wisely.
After all, there are any number of ways you could spend your day. We all “use” time. Everything we do takes time—time that we’ll never get back again. But we don’t all use our time wisely. If you can learn to do that, however, it will help you get what you want out of life, today and every day.
Using time wisely: big principles
When you’re trying to use your time wisely, there are a couple big principles you should keep in mind. These big ideas aren’t one-and-done tasks; they’re more like underlying ideas that you have to continuously work on over time. That may sound daunting, but actually, these principles can help you in other areas of your life too, so pay attention.
Know what matters.
Using time wisely essentially comes down to this: spending your time on things that matter.
Now, a lot of times, when I hear similar advice from “self-help gurus” and the like, they’re talking about spending time on your big goals and working toward your dreams. That’s important—of course it is. But I want to remind you that there are other things that “matter” too: bills, meals, time with family, chores, errands, mental health. These things all matter, so don’t feel like you’re taking time away from your dreams when you have to handle some of the more mundane tasks of life.
Of course, you can’t let the mundane tasks get in the way of your hopes and dreams, either. You have to strike a balance between what is necessary and what is desired—because both of those things matter.
It’s important to spend time working toward your dreams and goals. You need to define what those things are so that you can make sure you’re putting time into them. Investing your time in your dreams will bring meaning and fulfillment to your life.
What matters to you? Make a list of both the mundane and exciting tasks that matter to you. From there, you can start looking at how you’re spending your time and working out the right balance for your life. Ask yourself these questions:
- What dreams do I have for my life? What matters the most to me? (Need a little inspiration? Take the free design.org assessment!)
- How much of my time is spent on mundane tasks, and how much of it is spent working on my dreams?
- Is the balance between the two thrown off? Why?
- How do I feel when I’m working on my dreams versus when I’m working on mundane tasks?
- Which necessary mundane tasks take up the most of my time? Is there a way to take those off my plate?
- What tasks matter, but are sometimes neglected? Why do I neglect those important tasks?
- How can I make sure I fit the things that matter into my everyday life?
As you ask yourself these questions, you’ll start to see where your current balance is, where it could be, and hopefully, how you might get there.
If you’re going to be able to use your time wisely, you’re going to have to get to know yourself.
That’s because “using time wisely” looks different for everyone. A wise use of my time is going to look different from a wise use of your time. Different stages and phases of life call for different uses of our time. If you’re in a low physical or emotional state, using your time wisely will look different from how it looks when you’re healthy and thriving.
Knowing yourself will help you identify what matters to you, and will help you know how to make sure those things get done. It will help you create habits and processes that work for you personally. You’ll give yourself permission to leave behind “one-size-fits-all” solutions in favor of a life that you love. And you’ll feel empowered to make your dreams a reality.
How well do you know yourself? The following questions will help give you some important information that will serve you when you’re learning how to use your time wisely.
- What do I want the most out of life? (Think back to the work you did on what matters.)
- What am I most afraid of?
- Which personality type(s) am I? (I suggest learning your Myers-Briggs type and your Enneagram number, at least to start.)
- When am I at my best, my worst, and my most/least productive?
- How do I want others to perceive me? Does that affect how I spend my time?
- What time-management techniques have I tried in the past that haven’t worked? Why do I think they haven’t worked?
- What is something I’ve always wanted to do but never felt like I had the time for?
- What do I do for fun or when I want to rest?
- If I had a whole day to myself, what would I spend it doing?
- What are my strengths and weaknesses (especially when it comes to time management)?
Answering these questions about yourself will help you become more familiar with what works for you, what doesn’t, and what expectations you have for yourself around how you use your time.
The more I think about living a deliberate life, the more I feel like I’ve uncovered some kind of secret that more people need to know about. Living deliberately is the key to being an active participant in your life, rather than just letting your life happen to you.
Living deliberately gives purpose to your life—even to those mundane tasks we talked about earlier. And the thing is, it’s more of a mindset than anything else.
I can get up and go to work every day because I have to. Or I can get up and go to work every day because I realize that my job supports my goals, my dreams, and my family’s finances. The action is the same, but the first is a chore; the second is a mission.
I’m not saying that everything we do has to be done deliberately all the time. Sometimes, it will be hard to remember that you actually like your job, and you’ll feel like you’re going just because you have to. Some mundane tasks are hard to do deliberately.
Still, as often as we can, I think we need to be more deliberate about how we choose to spend our days. It’s a huge factor in using time wisely.
For a couple of days, track your movements. Be your own stalker. Write down everything you do—what you had for breakfast, what you wore, what chores you did (and which ones you thought of doing but ignored). What did you do that you feel proud of? What do you feel guilty about? Who did you talk to or spend time with? How did they make you feel?
As you do this, try to identify the parts of your day that are done deliberately, and those that aren’t. When are you making conscious decisions, and when are you doing something just because you always do it or feel compelled to do it? How much of your time is spent being deliberate?
Think about ways you could be more deliberate in your day-to-day life. What changes or choices could you make that would change your life for the better?
As you work on being more deliberate, you’ll realize that you do have time to do the things you want to do. You can choose how to spend your minutes, hours, and days. And you’ll realize that the things you do deliberately are the things that bring you the most fulfillment and joy.
Using time wisely: quick tips
Now that we’ve discussed those big principles, I want to give you some quick tips that will help you use your time wisely.
- Create habits. Habits can be your best friends. Developing good habits means that you will use your time wisely automatically, rather than it being a new decision every time.
- Use productivity methods. Productivity methods like the pomodoro technique or the idea of “eat the frog” can help you hack time management. Check out this article for other tips.
- Delegate. Is there anything on your list of mundane tasks that could be delegated to others? Getting your kids to do chores, using a grocery pickup or delivery service, or hiring someone to clean your bathrooms are all examples of delegating. Your time is worth something; don’t spend it doing something that someone else could do.
- Get started. Sometimes, the hardest part of using time wisely is just getting started. Tell yourself you’ll only do something for five minutes. If you want a break after five minutes, that’s fine, but you might find that once you get going, it’s easier to keep going.
- Set three big priorities for the day. Have you ever gotten to the end of the day knowing that you were busy, but feeling like you didn’t actually get anything done? Avoid this by choosing three tasks to prioritize every day. As long as you get those things done, your day was a success.
- Build in rest. Productivity doesn’t mean going going going all the time. It means having the energy to keep going when it counts. That requires rest. Make sure you’re making rest or play a regular part of your days.
With these quick tips and big principles in mind, you’re better equipped to use your time wisely and make the most out of every day.
So stop letting every day pass you by. Commit to doing what matters. Spend your time how you want to spend your time. It’s the best way to “create happy” in your life.
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