How to Make Time For Your Priorities (and Stop Feeling Guilty About How You Spend Your Time)
This article was originally published in the LearnThenApply newsletter.
Show me someone’s calendar and their spending, and I’ll show you their priorities.
– Ramit Sethi
I’ve lived so much of my life without knowing what I want to do or accomplish each day.
The popular saying goes “if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will”.
That’s so true.
There’s got to be a better way than showing up to work and doing whatever is assigned to us. Going home and watching whatever is on the TV or recommended by Netflix. Having our nights and weekends dictated by anyone who asks us to do something.
You can’t call something a distraction if you don’t know what it’s distracting you from.
– Nir Eyal
First of all, congratulations on sitting down and setting aside time to come up with your priorities! 🥳
This is the hardest part to be consistent with.
People often start with to-do list when trying to come up with their priorities. But it’s ineffective because a to-do list contains tasks.
We want to find values.
Values are things that don’t expire. Values determine who you want to be.
If you want to be a good sibling, you have to consistently make time for your family. If you want to be healthy, you have to make time for exercise and healthy eating.
Step One: Create a Weekly Schedule Around Your Priorities
We can make sure we set aside time for our values and priorities by creating a timeboxed schedule.
Timeboxing sets an implementation intention — a statement that claims what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it.
Implementation intentions make it more likely that we’ll make time for our priorities because we’ve mentally acknowledged what we’re going to do and said we’re going to make time for it.
ACTION ITEM: Create a timeboxed calendar.
Before you start timeboxing your time, beware this common pitfall:
Not leaving enough guilt-free time.
Guilt-free time is time where you can do WHATEVER you want. If you’ve made time for all your priorities (health, family, career, philanthropy, hobbies, etc.) then should feel no guilt in how you use the rest of your time.
That could mean taking an hour-long nap in the afternoon. That could be binging a show for 3 hours. Or just starting up at the sky with your parents.
Just because you’re now scheduling your time doesn’t mean you have to become a robot that does “productive tasks” from the time you wake up to the time you drift off at night.
The most common complaint against timeboxing is that it feels restricting.
It certainly can be if you are not fair with your time.
The first time I created a timeboxed schedule around my priorities, I only had 5 hours of guilt-free time left.
That means I couldn’t even spend time with friends if they asked me to hang out last-minute on a Saturday.
I recommend having at least 20 hours of guilt-free (a.k.a unscheduled) time in your weekly schedule to start.
Don’t do it.
This whole thing is useless if you’re not going to be realistic. You’re going to get disappointed that you couldn’t stick with those unrealistic expectations and give up.
Focus on building the habit of being someone that does what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it.
You can optimize once you’ve built that habit.
Recommended Order of Prioritization
1. Sleep: non-negotiable
2. Yourself: health, learning, prayer, etc
3. Relationships — family, friends, spouse.
This is NOT the order of where you should spend the most time to least time.
It simply means you should prioritize yourself and your relationships first.
Then all you have to do is show up at that set time. The set time to show up at your gym. The set time to sit on the couch with your significant other.
The consistency of showing up is more important than the exact thing you do during that time.
Step Two: Follow Up and Improve
This is the last point... but I’m sorry to say that if you don’t do this, you’ve wasted your time coming this far in the exercise.
The real reason we fail in our attempts at creating productivity systems is because we don’t make time to reflect and improve.
We make beautiful to-do lists. We highlight ONE BIG TASK for the day.
But we forget to do a weekly review.
Consistency and Making Improvements. <- These are the only two things you can control.
ACTION ITEM: Set a repeating alarm and 15 minute calendar event every week to look back at this calendar.
Maybe it’s Sunday night, maybe it’s Friday night. Maybe it’s Monday afternoon.
Just set a time. ⏰
Right now. ⌚
Great! Now just save these two questions to ask yourself during the weekly review
- When in my schedule did I do what I said I would do? When did I get distracted?
- What changes can I make that will give me the time I need to live out my values?
Wow, you did it. 🙌
You created a timeboxed schedule, and you set a time each week to review it.
You’ve taken the steps to control your life and live out your priorities.
Are you excited? I’m excited for you :)