“There is time. Even if we are busy, we have time for what matters. And when we focus on what matters, we can build the lives we want in the time we’ve got”.

Laura Vanderkam – TEDWomen 2016


Many of us are looking to improve our lifestyle and do more of the stuff that helps us thrive: Exercise, good nutrition, sleep, quality time with our loved ones, meaningful career experiences, hobbies etc.  

One of the biggest perceived barriers to lifestyle change is time. Or rather, lack of time. 

“I just don’t have time…” ,“I have too many things going on right now”, “I’m too busy”

The thing is we all have the same 24 hours in a day. And every day we all make choices about how we spend that time. Some of those choices are conscious, but many are unconscious or habitual. 

Over the past few years, I’ve changed how I think about and use time. Previously, I tried to do everything. My default strategy for achieving this was to work more hours, sleep less, and then amp up the stress and caffeine levels in order to push through. This approach was stressful, unenjoyable and contributed to several health challenges.

These days, I am much more deliberate and conscious about how I use my time. I embrace the fact that time is finite, and prioritise use of my time in line with my values. I make more time for my wellbeing in order to give quality time and focus to the things I do. Through research, personal experimentation, and observing others I’ve picked up the following strategies and tips which have contributed to me being more productive, having more ‘down time’ (without feeling guilty) and enjoying all aspects of my life more than ever! In saying this, following these strategies is not necessarily easy, and for me this is a continual area of personal development!

1. Get clear on your values and priorities

Clarify what’s important to you in life. What do you value? What are your priorities? What activities, commitment, goals or interests are non-negotiables for you? What gives your life meaning? What kind of life do you want to live? Write this down. 

2. Understand what nourishes you

What kind of activities support your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing? E.g. quality sleep, mini-breaks, playing sports, going to the gym, time with friends, walks in nature, cooking, a cup of tea and a good book etc. Write this down.

3. Record how you use your time

Keep a record of how you spend your time over a 24-48 hour period. Keep a diary or notebook with you and record what you do. You may want to use this template from Precision Nutrition. 

4. Evaluate how you use your time

Now take a good look at your time record. Identify:

  • Everything that aligns with your values and priorities list (1). 
  • Everything that nourishes you (2)
  • Everything else…

What patterns and trends can you see? Are you spending your time doing the things that are important to you? Are you looking after your wellbeing?

What does your ‘everything else’ list consist of? Are there certain activities, people or factors that are draining your time and energy? How many conscious versus unconscious choices are you making around time?

Now, think about how you can give more time and energy to the things that are important to you (align with your values and priorities) and nourish you. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here. This isn’t about doing more of the things you think you ‘should’ be doing. Instead it’s about doing more of the things that matter to you.

5. Embrace the fact that you can’t do everything 

Acknowledge that time is limited. Know that you can’t do everything and that’s ok. Embrace this. Take pride in the fact that you get to make conscious choices about how you spend your time in order to live the life you want to live. Sometimes this is uncomfortable. Sometimes it involves saying no to yourself or others when you think you ‘ought to’ say yes. 

6. Aim to do less

Reduce the amount of stuff you aim to do in a day or week. Overestimate the time it will take you to complete something. Every time you add something new to your list, think about what needs to drop off the list or go on hold.

Doing this increases the likelihood you will spend your time doing the things that matter to you and/or you really need to get done. 

When I have a ‘to do’ list of 5 important things, I am more likely to achieve those 5 things, than when I have a to do list of 10 things which include those 5 important things. Why? Because by placing less pressure on myself, I am in a calmer state and able to work through things more quickly and to a higher quality. I’m less panicked and distracted by everything I think I ‘should’ get done. I also don’t spend time procrastinating by doing the less important tasks first.

7. Do important things first 

Even when you aim to do less, the reality is that you still need to continuously prioritise. An effective prioritisation strategy is to do the most important tasks first. Generally at the start of the day or when you’re at your best (see Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

I love Covey’s analogy of adding your ‘big rocks’ into your life bucket first (great video here). Once you’ve done this there will still be room in the bucket to fill it with sand (i.e. the smaller things). However, if you half-fill the bucket with sand first, you’re unlikely to be able to fit the big rocks in afterwards.

Step 1, 2, 3 & 4 above can help you identify your ‘big rocks’ and what’s just sand.  We’re always going to have sand in our bucket, but being conscious of how this impacts on our big rocks is important. I used to think I was incredibly busy. And I was. But in hindsight a good portion of my ‘busyness’ came from having too much sand in my bucket. e.g:

  • Engaging in long email conversations at work (that should have been ignored or turned into a quick phone call)
  • Venting about things I had minimal control over, or no intention of changing
  • Going to social events I didn’t want to go to but felt obliged to
  • Binge-watching TV shows
  • Excessive / repetitive social media browsing 

8. Turn ‘regular’ important things into habits and routines

If you’re wanting to do something on a regular basis, turn it into a habit or a routine. This could be anything from deciding what to wear to work, drinking more water, going to the gym, preparing healthy meals or only responding to emails at certain times in the day. 

Once we’ve turned something into a habit it takes far less time, energy and ‘willpower’ to continuously do that habit – in fact we generally start to do it without much conscious thought. 

People often think you need buckets of motivation and ‘willpower’ to live a healthy lifestyle – and yes you do need some of this. However, over the long term, healthy lifestyles are built on and maintained by habits and routines!

9. Allow time for activities that create more time or resources 

Allow time for activities that generate more time or resources –  the stuff your future self will thank you for! E.g.

  • Having a tidy and easy filing system for documents so you don’t spend ages trying to locate things
  • Working on an innovative idea, personal project, business
  • Getting a great night’s sleep and/or spending an hour at the gym so you’re far more productive in the remaining hours of the day!

10. Single task & life stack 

Do one thing at a time. I.e. a single task! Multitasking isn’t really multi-tasking. It’s quickly switching between different contexts which requires more brain power and generally more time than doing one thing. 

That been said, I love the idea of ‘life stacking’ (see Katy Bowman’s book Movement Matters) where you focus on the few things that are most important to you and merge them together e.g. your desire to eat healthy meals and spend quality time with your children could take the form of a regular time where you involve your kids in meal preparation and cooking. Something I love to do is catch up with friends over a really long walk outdoors! 

11. Slow down and be present 

We can generally spend less time doing something if we ensure the time we do spend is quality time. Not to mention this time then becomes far more enjoyable and productive! Whether it be time with family, work meetings or completing a task –  fully show up and be present. Slow down, focus on being in the moment, knowing this is important to you and you’ve chosen to be here.

Jade Osborne | Lifestyle Coach & Personal Trainer

jadeosborne@zenergene.co.nz

@zenergene

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