My name is Tom O’Leary and this is the Time Academy podcast. Today we are talking about how we allocate time.
Almost everyone seems to agree that we live in a busy world. And yet, as Henry David Thoreau noted:
“It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”
In essence, how do we decide to allocate time to activity A rather than activity B? You do this countless times every day so it is something you do almost by default but how do you actually decide? For example, how did you decide to listen to this Podcast rather than do something else, anything else? How did this become a higher priority? The risk obviously is that if we aren’t crystal clear about our priorities in the moment and able to defend them from everyday distractions then someone else is essentially deciding what it is we get busy about.
Indeed, staying true to our priorities can almost be a task in itself. As Jon Kabet Zinn, the Mindfulness teacher noted – half in jest I imagine:
“I am attempting to keep myself unbusy and finding that to be something of a full-time job.”
So, how then can we make it easier to ensure that most of the time on most days we engage in activities that we have actively chosen and that serve us?
As I said, we’re already deciding how to allocate time but if we want to be more deliberate it helps to become aware of what in essence is our own philosophy of time. That awareness brings with it the opportunity to adapt what we’re doing and then create rituals and routines that reduce decision-making in the moment. Remember, each and every decision on how we allocate our time is also an opportunity for distraction, an opportunity to do something that doesn’t advance our priorities.
As you probably heard me say in earlier episodes – most of us don’t have that many quality work hours in the day. Even during those hours we are often battling at the frontier of our priorities and those of others so the first line of defence are our time principles. These are the rules that help set boundaries and protect us from both ourselves and from others. Rules make life easy – they eliminate hundreds if not 1,000s of subsequent decisions. And that in fact is one of my top principles – Making Fewer Decisions.
So what does Making Fewer Decisions look like? Well for me it starts with a morning routine that allows me to get some priority activities done first thing without having to think about them. Scheduling when I check email and messaging platforms and not negotiating with myself is another. At home, a simple example is meal-planning – we set the dinner menu for the whole week, focus our shopping to get all the ingredients and then just cook the dish in question on the day.
Another of my top time principles is Focus on Accomplishments Not Tasks. So, what does this mean in practice? In essence I have no desire to be busy just to be busy – I’m happy in the corner reading a book or chatting to friends. Therefore, I always try to ensure that what I’m working on serves some larger vision. I’ve clear aspirations across my life and if some activity doesn’t advance those and I can’t properly answer “Why would I do this?”, my default response is No thanks.
So how do you apply this? Well the first step, and my invitation as you go through the coming days, is to ask yourself:
How did I decide to do what I’m doing?
This allows you to step inside your decision-making process and notice “I’m doing this because I couldn’t say No to Joan”. “I’m doing this because my phone pinged and distracted me”. “I’m doing this because I’m bored”. “Because I’m tired”. The possibilities are as unique as you are.
Whatever comes up may offer opportunities for deeper exploration – in the first two cases I mentioned it might be “How might I become more comfortable saying No?” or “How might I reduce distractions and interruptions?”. If it feels right these might be turned into principles “Learn to say No” and “Reduce distractions and interruptions” that you can refer back to each and every day. If you are looking for more inspiration there is a link to a post on my own time principles here. No matter what you notice please just treat it with curiosity and be grateful for the pathway to possibility it offers.
Thanks for listening to the Time Academy podcast. I hope this has offered you a slightly different perspective. If you find it helpful please share! I’d also love to get your feedback and hear your stories so please feel free to email me.