Simplify (Part III): a brief guide to becoming less busy.

The waste of life occasioned by trying to do too many things at once is appalling.
— Orison Marden

Our time is the most precious non-renewable resource we have and yet I find myself spending a great deal of it on things that offer little meaningful return or value. At the same time, I envy those who have painted masterpieces or written novels by the time they were my age. The lopsided nature of what we wish we had time to do and what we spend the time we do have doing is quite befuddling considering the access and opportunity that we are privileged to have these days.

When researching the painter, sculptor, scientist, cartographer, inventor etc., Michelangelo, I discovered he was only 26 years old when he carved his masterpiece, The David. He had 26 years to learn and perfect his craft and he grasped it. Lord willing, we will have/have had those same 26 years that he did. What have we done with ours? Sure, we can throw out excuses about different cultures, apprenticeships and genetic genius but the question remains: what have you done with your time?

Time management is a sought-after but rarely-seen-in-the-wild sort of creature. A unicorn of the social world.

However, in this brief guide to time management, I'll show you how to practically prune your schedule and gift yourself the time you so desperately desire.

 

1. Understand that busyness is a choice

This is the most fundamental truth of time management. If you believe that you will never be unbusy, you never will be. It's a self-fulfilling prophesy. On the other hand, by accepting the power to take charge of your own time, you'll find yourself suddenly able to work magic with your calendar.

Busyness has been glorified by our culture as the new badge of honor. If your life isn't a poster-child of stress, worry, last-minute meetings, you must not be doing anything of note. But if you're cutting short your lunch with a friend, it's understandable - nay, commendable! - for you are responsible and living up to your duty as a world-changing paper-pusher.

What you do with your time is your choice. If you choose to spend 40 hours of it at a job each week, that's your choice. If you choose to spend 100 hours of it at a job each week, that's also your choice. But whichever you choose, don't act like it was forced upon you at gunpoint. Call it like it is. Your choice.

Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.
— Lin Yutang

 

2. Ask, "does it matter?"

We all share time - it's the only thing we really share as a population of human beings. Each of us choose to spend our time on different things - writing, gardening, event planning, practicing law, cleaning teeth - and what we choose to spend it on should be representative of what matters to us. It's very counter-intuitive if we spend our days grinding through activities we hate. Spend your life chasing what you value. This means saying "no" to those requests for your time that don't line up with those values. By appeasing the masses, you divvy up your time among other people who are demanding it and find yourself with little for yourself.

Everybody agrees that no one pursuit can be successfully followed by a man who is preoccupied with many things.
— Seneca

What do you believe will make a difference in this world?
What would you do feel personally called to do?
What can you offer the world that it desperately needs?

3. "I can't. I'm busy sleeping."

I think so many people sacrifice rest at the alter of must-be-done's because they don't actually appreciate the value of rest. Sleep has been scientifically proven to shut down your brain long enough for your body to perform routine maintenance on your brain. Your body literally uses the glymphatic system to purge the brain of toxins that build up over the day allowing you to function at a mentally and physically higher rate than someone who is running on only a few hours of sleep. Sleep is not for the weak; it's for the wise.

Knowing this, we should schedule time for rest and rejuvenation. Saying "No, I'm sorry but I'm busy" is a legitimate excuse if you need time to relax. Warning: don't abuse that excuse or people might start catching on!

 

4. Every hour has a name

People are always telling you to budget your money, but rarely are you advised to budget time. Dave Ramsey, in his Financial Peace University, asks his participants to give every dollar a name when they are budgeting. Even if it goes into the "Miscellaneous" or "Money To Blow" fund, put a name on it. Keeping account of your money goes a long way toward helping you manage it. Likewise, giving every hour a name helps you subconsciously manage it as well. As Peter Drucker, the famous management consultant and business leader once quipped, "what gets measured gets managed."

The best way that I've found for managing my time is by using my calendar app on my iPhone (see my recommended calendar app). Anything that can be scheduled gets scheduled. Work, meetings, birthdays, events, blog posts, newsletters, dates... it all gets thrown into the calendar. Even those things which I don't plan on attending, I put into my calendar. This way, I know what's going on, what I was invited to, what might conflict with my plans, how I can accommodate others and, of course, when to show up if I change my mind. I've even gotten to a point where I schedule things even if I find out about them 30 minutes before I go do it just so I can look back later and see what I did that weekend. Being mindful of your time and how it is being spent is the best thing you can do to help you budget it. As you see what you spend your time on, you'll find yourself gravitating toward the things that matter most to you and saying no to those which don't.

Resources:

  1. How I use the humble Index Card to manage my time
  2. The 40-hour-a-week-er's Guide to Rescuing Time

 

5. Leave room for flat tires

Sometimes schedules are so tightly packed that the scheduler isn't giving themselves enough time to get from one event to another, causing them to be late, which upsets their friends, which stresses them out, which makes them feel indebted to them... it's a nasty cycle. In the end, you're better off giving yourself space to account for the mishaps along the way, slow down and breathe and smell the proverbial roses. The best change in routine I've made in the last two months is leaving 10 minutes earlier for work. I used to show up either on time or late and stressed if traffic was bad. Those ten minutes allow me to enjoy my drive each morning, not feel rushed (which, consequently is safer) and show up early (bonus points!) or on time if the traffic is bad. For just a ten minute tweak to my schedule, the payoff was huge.

 

Time is a wonderful gift we are given - let's be strategic about how we invest it. Give attention to those things which matter and say no to the rest.