“Ordinary people merely think how they shall ‘spend’ their time; a man of talent tries to ‘use’ it.”
~ Arthur Schopenhauer.
Time is the most precious element of our existence. The way we treat our time finds an immediate reflection in the reality we experience. If we live a focused life learning how to direct our energy into every minute, we are able to draw success from time. But as soon as we loosen our grip time starts to slip through our fingers.
Let’s take a moment to think of the time in a more physical way. Time is a concept that people created to describe the change of the matter. If our mind doesn’t detect this change, it cannot conceive time. Just like in a video put on pause, time doesn’t exist in the absence of movement.
A similar thing happens inside a meditative mind. During meditation, all external movements are eliminated — the eyes are closed, the ears are stuffed with earplugs, the body remains in stillness. In the absence of incoming stimuli, all “internal movements” — thoughts, also start to slow down. The perception of time gets distorted. An hour seems like a few minutes. Few minutes seem like an hour. The conception of time vanishes in the present moment.
As we already know, our mind experiences a similar distortion of time when we enter the state of flow. Understanding how you can deliberately alter your perception of time sets the whole new paradigm of time efficiency. Seizing the moment is not so much about exerting an intentional effort, it’s more about losing yourself in the flow in which the very thoughts of concern about the time spent working become irrelevant.
I would reduce time-management to 3 key principles: prioritization, time-blocking, and directionality.
How often do you say: “I don’t have time”? We all know that most of the time we use this phrase as an excuse for the things we don’t want to do and people we don’t want to meet. The truth is we find time for everything we deem important.
Everything we do in a day can be roughly divided into 2 groups: essential and fluff. You know what these things are.
Thus, the first principle of effective time-management is to define your priorities. Distill all your daily activities into 2–3 things that will have the biggest positive impact on your life and focus on them. Get down to the meat and potatoes, the rest is of secondary importance. In the words of Grant Cardone: “If success is the main concern for you, then spend most of your time doing things that will create success.”
The second principle of effective time management is to schedule your priorities. Assign primary blocks of time for work on achieving the goals you have prioritized. Make sure that the duration of the time-block is adequate to secure steady progress.
Break the whole day in such a manner. In the morning visualize the smooth progression of your day. Exercise thought experiments. One minute spent on planning will save you ten minutes in execution.
Constantly optimize. Keep your daily routine relevant to your goals. Ask yourself how can you do more quality work within a given time. Ask yourself a question that Peter Thiel poses in his “Zero to One”: “How can you achieve your 10-year plan in the next 6 months?”
The third principle of effective time-management is to align all your being with your priorities.
Set your mind on a course of achievement. Allow your priorities to condition your behavior. When you work on your goals, go “all in”. When you have to be involved in work that is irrelevant to your priorities, try to revise your approach to it in a way that would support your main goals. When plans get canceled — train your mind to promptly utilize freed up time to make some progress on your main projects. Train your attention to return to them like a boomerang.
The mechanism of fixating your mind on a goal is subtle, it takes time to reprogram yourself but there is one practice that can expedite the process. Understanding your own mortality significantly enhances your directionality. Meditating about death redirects your attention to things that truly matter and the fact that we really don’t have much time to accomplish them.
Benjamin Franklin wrote: “If time be of all things the most precious, wasting of time must be the greatest prodigality.” Your time on this planet is finite. Once the moment is gone, it is lost forever. You can’t undo what’s done, but what you can do is to use the resources you have to make a change in your life. Identify your priorities, allocate time, execute — that is the essence of time-management.
Here is one exercise that will dramatically improve your time-management skills. Install a time-tracking application on your phone (I use a Time Logger — Time Tracker). Measure the time for every single activity throughout the day be it work, commuting or personal hygiene. Track your time for 3 days straight. Insights are guaranteed.
- You will see where your time goes. Time is like money — if you don’t track it, you don’t control it. You will see how much time is spent in vain (oversleeping, consuming video content, talking to people, commuting, etc).
- You will see how you can optimize your time. Once you discover how much time is wasted on unproductive activities, the ways of optimizing your day will reveal themselves. Some of the activities can be shortened, some completely abandoned.
- Tracking creates a sense of urgency. You will develop some sort of inner timer. It will be constantly “ticking” and “ringing the alarm” when you procrastinate. While three days is not enough time to develop a strong inner timer, commitment for a longer period of time will be rewarded with a habit that will upgrade your time-management skills.
There is no magic behind great time-management. Everyone has 24 hours a day. The question is: what do you do with yours?
Beware of telling everyone that you are busy, you might start believing in it yourself. Busyness is a dangerous place to be, it may be a form of escapism from doing things that are truly important. Jeff Goins a founder of Tribe Writers said it best: “The most successful people I know are not busy. They’re focused.” You can achieve much more with bursts of productivity that are way shorter than an 8-hours work-day but by far more intense. Work hard but work smart.
Effective time-management is not about the things you do, it is about the things you don’t do. It’s about the reduction and elimination of non-priorities. Don’t try to manage your time. Manage your priorities, throw all your energy to the things that matter — your health, your relationships, your creative legacy. Don’t waste your life. Your time is limited. The sand is running out.
Thank you for reading my book “Meditations of the Millennial”.
If you want to support me on my mission, please, share this book with someone you love. Maybe they will find what they seek on its pages.