This article was based on the 2016 TEDWomen Talk, “How to Gain Control of Your Free Time,” by Laura Vanderkam:
|How to gain control of your free time | Laura Vanderkam|
Saving Time Versus Finding Time
When it comes to time management, often people think that the secret is to save bits of time here and there and then add it up to finally get everything done. After studying how successful people spend their time, Laura Vanderkam tells us this is not the case. We don’t build the lives we want by saving time. We build the lives we want, and then time saves itself.
She recently did a time diary project examining 1,001 days in the lives of extremely busy women. They had demanding jobs, ran businesses, managed families, and took on community commitments. For the study, they tracked their time during a week, and Vanderkam added up how much they worked and slept, and interviewed them about their strategies. What she found is that time is highly elastic. We cannot make more time, but time will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it.
Identify Your Priorities
The key to time management is identifying our priorities. You choose how you spend your time. Rather than saying you don’t have the time to do something, you are choosing not to do it because it is not a priority. Using this language reminds us that time is a choice.
There are two strategies for identifying the priorities you want to make time for in your life. Start by thinking about your professional life. Name three to five things that are highlights of the past year. Then consider what your opportunities of growth could be for the next year. You can also repeat this process for your personal life. This will give you a list of six to ten goals that you can work on in the next year.
Now you need to break these goals down into doable steps. In order to find time to do these steps, you need to put them in your schedule. This means thinking through your weeks before you are in them. Vanderkam suggests planning your schedule on Friday afternoons. Friday afternoon is what an economist might call a “low opportunity cost” time.
Take a little bit of time each Friday afternoon to make yourself a three-category priority list: career, relationships, self. Making a three-category list reminds us that there should be something in all three categories. Career, we think about; relationships and self are easy to forget. Once you have your list, then look out over the whole of the next week, and see where you can plan them in.
As you are working on your schedule, remember these statistics. There are 168 hours in a week. Twenty-four times seven is 168 hours. That is a lot of time. If you are working a full-time job, 40 hours a week, sleeping eight hours a night, that leaves 72 hours for other things. Even if you’re working 60 hours a week, that leaves 52 hours for other things.
In 168 hours a week, you can find time for what matters to you. If you want to spend more time with your kids, you want to study more for a test you’re taking, you want to exercise for three hours and volunteer for two, you can.
Building the Life You Want
Remember that small moments can have great power. You can use your bits of time for bits of joy. Maybe it’s choosing to read something wonderful on the bus on the way to work. Breaks at work can be used for meditating or praying. If family dinner is out because of your crazy work schedule, maybe family breakfast could be a good substitute.
The key to time management is about looking at the whole of one’s time and making room for your priorities. Even if we are busy, we have time for what matters. When we focus on what matters, we have the power to fill our lives with the things that deserve to be there.