If you ask someone how they’re doing, chances are they’ll say that they’ve been busy. But being busy (or more to the point, thinking that you’re busy) can prevent you from prioritizing what you really need in order to build the life that you want. In a TED Talk, “How to Gain Control of Your Free Time,” time management expert Laura Vanderkam offers tips on how to better manage your time, and why you really have a whole lot more time than you might think.
Prioritize your priorities
Vanderkam advises making a three-category priority list comprised of career, relationships, and self. Your goal should be to ensure that you’re properly taking care of all three categories in order to live a well-balanced life. Knowing that you need to tend to your career, your relationships, and yourself “reminds us that there should be something in all three categories,” says Vanderkam. Otherwise, it’s easy to allow one area (such as career) to take over other equally important aspects of your life, like your relationships or self-care.
Stop wasting time
It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re scrolling through your social media channels. Thing is, what started off as a quick Facebook check-in could quickly elapse into an hour—or more. Those precious moments can be better spent on things that might be more important to you, though, such as working on that gardening project or taking the time to work on your resume and cover letter. If you think that you’re not online all that much, try timing yourself—most likely you’ll be shocked at how much time you’re actually wasting.
In order to figure out what you’d like to accomplish, Vanderkam suggests pretending that it’s the end of next year. Reflect on three to five things you did during the year that made it wonderful. This exercise should include both professional and personal goals. Maybe you see yourself in that job you love, spending more time with your family or friends, losing weight, or going back to school to finish that degree. Whatever it is, think about what would make you happy and feel accomplished. Those answers will become your goals and help you shape your priorities for next year.
Break it down
It’s all fine and good to have big, lofty dreams, but dreams without goals are just dreams. And since big-picture priorities can be overwhelming (and perhaps cause you to quit before you’ve actually begun), you’ll need to break down your priorities into easy-to-digest, actionable steps. You’ll be more likely to achieve your goals since you’ll see results faster, which can motivate you to conquer the next challenge.
Optimize your Friday afternoons
The best time to schedule in your priorities, claims Vanderkam, is Friday afternoons. It’s a time when you can assess what you did (and didn’t) get done during the week. Then you create your calendar for the following week accordingly, adding in the things that can help you attain your goals. Thinking through your week—before you’re already in it—can help you keep perspective and get it all done.
So often, all we’re doing is running, and not really enjoying our time. But as Vanderkam points out, “We don’t build the times we want by saving time. We build the lives we want, and then time saves itself.” She claims that time is “highly elastic” and that while we cannot manufacture more time, it “will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it.” That means being mindful of how you spend your time and eliminating anything that doesn’t align with what you really want to accomplish with your life.
Maximize the moments
There are 168 hours in a week. If you work 40 hours weekly, and sleep roughly eight hours a night, that still leaves you with about 72 hours in the week to build the life you want. “In that time, you can find time for what matters to you,” says Vanderkam. And even if you are working more than a full-time job and have a side hustle, too, you still have extra time to make things happen, even if it might take you a little longer to get there. As Vanderkam points out: “We don’t need that much time to do amazing things,” says Vanderkam. “Small moments can have great power.”
As Vanderkam points out at the end of her TED Talk: “There is time. Even if we are busy, we have time for what matters. When we focus on what matters, we can build the lives we want, in the time we’ve got.”