In the past few years, perhaps driven by a midlife crisis or suddenly finding myself as the parent of two newborns, I’ve become obsessed with the idea of time. It’s obvious and almost cliche to say at this point, but it’s the one resource you can never make more of or give back to anyone. Regardless of who we are, we all get 168 hours in the week. That’s all. I’m going to make damn sure that those hours are spent on things that matter and that nothing goes to waste.
As I looked at the idea of time, I was struck by how we’re more distracted than ever. Our all-too-present phones and inboxes are constantly chiming to pull our attention away from the task at hand. If those aren’t chiming, fret not, you can create your own distraction with the likes of YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, never to see those hours again.
Despite all of the technology at our disposal, and with no thanks to the distraction it creates, we’re seemingly accomplishing less than we did generations ago. Run a test with your next 10 conversations. Ask someone how they’re doing. Odds are they’ll respond with “busy.” But are they? Or are they just letting distractions get in the way of what matters. Worse yet, they may not even know what matters. To many, saying they’re busy is a badge of honor. To me, it screams “I’m not disciplined with my time” and thus not doing anything exceptionally well.
After all, when you’re busy, you rush. When you rush, you make bad decisions. In the SEAL teams, there’s a famous saying: slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Doing something exceedingly well will usually beat doing something quickly. If you’re not managing your time well, odds are you’re feeling the pressure to do it quickly. In fact, my best work and thinking comes when I’m not busy; when my mind has time to fully tackle problems and questions. Without time discipline, none of this gets accomplished.
Maybe this strikes a nerve. If so, you’re certainly not alone, but don’t dwell on it. As with anything, approach the problem with clear eyes, make a plan, and attack it with fury.
First and foremost, set goals for yourself – personally and professionally. This is vital. It’s the reason we do anything; so that we can accomplish a given goal. Understanding what your goals are is massively important if you want to manage the very finite amount of time you’re given.
The next most important thing is to say no. If something is presented to you and it doesn’t align with one of your goals, say no. Period. Don’t fear missing out – you’re serving a higher purpose in the goals that you’re pursuing. Manage the inflow so you can better manage the outflow.
With that baseline in place, each night, after the day’s work is complete and before you head home, prepare a list for the following day with what you want to accomplish. Next to each item, write which goal that item is serving. If it doesn’t serve a goal, cross it off. If you have too many goals, revisit the first step and narrow your focus. You can’t serve many masters.
From my list, I break each task into the smallest possible pieces and work in timed 15 minute increments. Once you see the clock ticking, it’s amazing how your mind can zero in on a task and knock it out.
Each morning give yourself a ritual to put yourself in work mode. For me, I pour a cup of coffee, put my phone in airplane mode, close my email and turn on either heavy metal or classical music. You read that correctly, for some reason Pantera and Vivaldi both get me going and help me focus. This ritual will signal to your mind that it’s go time.
Throughout the work day, attack those 15 minute buckets. If needed, build in a meditation break or two so that you can refresh your mind (I have these cemented into my calendar). I recently discovered meditation, and I tremendously regret that I didn’t utilize meditation sooner.
Lastly, and most importantly, remember to go like hell. You’ve only got so much time. Find what’s worth pursuing, and chase it with vigor. If it’s not contributing to a goal, you shouldn’t be doing it. Use those hours wisely and you’ll be great.