How are you spending your time?

time4

The way you spend your time is the way you spend your life. How are you spending your time?

In this post you’ll learn how to spend time wisely.

“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”

Did you know that the average lifespan of an ant is about 50 days?

Imagine for a moment that you, like the ant, only have 50 days left to live.

How would you spend your time?

This post is part of RethinkingTruth’s Performance Series. and it reveals the second principle of world-class performance:

Spend your time wisely.

There are two parts to spending time wisely:

  1. Spend your time on the right things
  2. Spend your time in an efficient manner

Let’s get into this exciting post right away starting with the most important of the two…

Spend your time on the right things

In order to spend your time on the right things there are four things you must know:

  • How do I currently spend my time?
  • What’s my dream?
  • What skills and other resources do I need to achieve my dream?
  • What are the specific activities to do next?

How do I currently spend my time?

The first step to spending your time on the right things is to be aware of how you currently spend your time.

Imagine for a moment that you’re sitting alone on your bed, You’re a 100 years old. Your weak, tired and you know the end is near.

You ask yourself the question of questions: “How did I live my life?”

funeral

It’s impossible to answer that question without reflecting on how you spent your time.

Would it be good idea to start reflecting on how you spend your time a little earlier than on your death-bed?

I think so and here’s what happens when you do:

  • You become aware of the choices you make
  • You make different choices
  • You spend your time differently
  • Your life becomes different

There are few things in life I believe are more important than being aware of how you spend your time!

Here’s what I recommend that you do to get you started

  • Carry your phone with you at all times for one week
  • Document what you spend your time on, when the activity happens, in the “notes” application of your phone using this template*:
    • The date of the activity, e.g. 20th of October 2013
    • The activity itself, e.g. “Replying to email”, “Making dinner for the family” or “Resting on the couch”, “Jogging”, Watching TV” and so forth
    • The time the activity started
    • The time the activity ended
    • The type of activity (not important & urgent (NIU), not important & not urgent (NINU), important & urgent (IU) or important & not urgent (INU)
  • Go through what you’ve recorded at the end of each day and the week and ask yourself:

What changes would I like to make to how I spend my time?

q41 * For the more tech-minded of you, check out these mobile time-apps: App 1, App 2, App 3.

Doing this very simple task will significantly increase your awareness of how you spend your time.

To become more and more time-aware I recommend doing this exercise once every three months. Put it in your calendar.

What’s my dream?

The second step to spending your time on the right things is to find the right dream for you.

I’ve written a whole post dedicated to this exciting topic. Read it to learn how to know, believe in, and love your dream (World-Class Performance Principle #1).

dreamking

What skills and other resources do I need to achieve my dream?

The third step to spending your time on the right things is to know what skills and other resources you need to achieve your dream.

There are three things you must know:

  • What skills and other resources are required in all areas of world-class performance regardless of what the specific dream is (I’ll drop some hints right away; health, belief, focus, thinking…)
  • What skills and other resources are required for your specific dream
  • What the best way to acquire these skills and resources for your specific dream is

I’ll address this crucial topic in part #4 and part #5 of the World-Class Performance Series.

I haven’t completed these posts yet, but let me give you one piece of advice right away:

Get to know the experts and learn from them, but never forget to trust yourself, your emotions and your imagination.

Word of warning: Don’t try to know everything before you start doing!

Some people believe that they need to know everything about what to do to achieve their dream before they start doing anything.

This is a very bad strategy.

There’s no way you can know everything before you start. Instead I recommend that you follow this simple strategy using the 80/20 rule (80% of the value comes from 20% of the activities):

First, get a decent idea about what skills and resources you need and how to acquire them.

Then, spend time acquiring them.

Next, spend some more time refining your understanding of what skills and resources you need and how to acquire them.

Then, spend time acquiring them.

And so forth.

It’s only by spending time doing the right things that your dream will come through.

What are the specific activities to do next?

next

The fourth and final step of spending your time on the right things is to know exactly what the next activities to do are.

We don’t have time to go into all the details about why knowing what to do next is so crucial, but here’s the gist of it:

If you have to think deeply about what to do next every time you’re thinking of doing something, then your brain gets tired and annoyed.

You’ll feel this as resistance to doing something and you’ll get the feeling that you’d rather check your phone, watch some TV and so forth.

But, if you have time and you know exactly what to do next, your brain finds it significantly easier to start that next activity.

In order words, knowing exactly what to do next significantly reduces resistance and increases the chance that you’ll end up spending your time on the right things.

Here are the two key actions I recommend you take to start becoming excellent at knowing what to do next:

  • Weekly reflection (1 hour): Set aside time every Monday morning and ask yourself the following key question:

 What are the most valuable things I want to spend my time on this week?

  • Daily reflection (20 minutes): Set aside time every morning and ask yourself the following key question:

What are the most valuable things I want to spend my time on today?

“Valuable” in this context is defined by your life-direction.

Add these two meetings to your calendar and try to do them alone and early in the morning.

Document your answers in a way that makes it easy for you to use the information. I use this template. To be able to open and edit the file you must download and install FreeMind.

Getting into the habit of having a weekly and daily reflection will significantly help you spend your time on the right things. Start doing it and you’ll never regret it.

And, that’s all there is to spending your time on the right things!

However, if you spend your time on the right things but in an inefficient manner, your dream and world-class performance becomes like a star in another galaxy:

Bright and shiny but unreachable.

You must therefore…

Spend your time in an efficient manner

Efficiency is doing things right.” (Peter Drucker)

Being efficient means doing things well, using as few resources such as time, energy, effort, money as possible.

efficiency

There are three core principles of how to be efficient. The first two are important enough to be covered in this post, while the latter will be addressed in the future:

  1. Consolidate your time in chunks of at least 2 hours
  2. Focus on the task at hand or don’t do it at all
  3. Work smart (will not be covered in this post)

Consolidate your time in chunks of at least 2 hours

When you know how you currently spend your time, when you know your dream, and when you know the activities required to achieve that dream, magic happens.

Suddenly, you start becoming aware of the fact that you do lots of things that don’t really add anything to your life.

You start becoming aware of things you’d rather not do anymore.

And, you start to stop doing many of these things.

As a consequence you have more time available to spend on the right things.

Great right?

Well, that depends.

More time isn’t very valuable…

…unless we’re talking about more consolidated time of course!

Brain and performance research is in agreement about at least one thing:

You won’t make much progress in anything by spending time in small chunks, like 5 minutes here, 15 there and 30 here. To get something done well you must consolidate your time into larger “chunks”.

Without going into details the main reason why small time chunks are problematic is that people like you and me require a fair bit of time, often 15-45 minutes, to get deeply into a task. Spending time in small chunks therefore make us very inefficient.

So what’s the “right” time-chunk size?

While there’s broad agreement to the inefficient nature of smaller time-chunks there is somewhat less agreement about what “the right chunk of time is”.

Some people argue that an hour’s chunk of time is enough to make significant progress. Others argue that there’s no point starting anything if you don’t have at least 3 hours available in one chunk.

The answer, I believe, is that it depends on the task. However, here’s what I generally recommend:

When you’re doing something that’s important for reaching your dream, like writing this blog post is for me for example, I recommend that you set aside at least 2 hours of dedicated time to work on that task.

Pretty straight forward.

But, how do you consolidate your time into chunks of at least 2 hours?

Here are four things I do to consolidate my time:

  1. I wake up 06:00 every day so that I have two hours to myself before I need to make breakfast and go to work
  2. During my weekly reflection I block out several time-chunks of at least 2-hours and mark them as “unavailable for meetings” (appointments with myself is at least as important as appointments with anybody else)
  3. I work hard to have several meetings/appointments in a row instead of three or four spread at different times during the day
  4. I do tasks that don’t require my full focus during smaller time-chunks so that I don’t have to do such tasks during my 2-hour+ time chunks (emails, phone calls, short conversations, small manual tasks, research and so forth)

The above are all simple and effective ways to consolidate time. Do just one of these four and you will become more efficient.

However, spending time in chunks of 2 hours or more isn’t in itself valuable unless you…

Focus on the task at hand, or don’t do it at all!

focus

Your ability to focus is one of the most important skills of any world-class performer. In fact, it’s impossible to be efficient without being focused.

In short, achieving focus has five key requirements:

  1. At all times, know what the right things to do are (covered above)
  2. Set aside time-chunks large enough to achieve full focus and large enough to use that focus for a significant amount of time (covered above)
  3. Have a clear mind with as few thoughts as possible
  4. Do only one task at the time
  5. Avoid all interruptions

I’ll be writing much more about focus in World-Class Performance Principle #4. Let me immediately share with you four things I do to achieve focus.

  • To consolidate my time I carry out the tasks I reccommended above
  • To clear my mind I try to live by the rule “keep your mind where your body is”, I sleep 7,5-8 hours a night, eat a healthy diet, reduce stress, meditate and exercise
  • To avoid interruptions I remove all sounds and reminders from my computer, I turn off the sound on my cell phone, I work in quiet places, I tell people that “I’m busy for the next 2 hours” and so forth
  • To never multitask I have simply made a decision to never do it in situations that require focus. Because I know how harmful multi-tasking is to focus and performance I now find it easy to avoid doing it

Simple right?

Again, we’ll visit the topic of focus in more detail in Principle #4. However, just by doing one of the above your focus and efficiency will increase significantly.

Work smart (will not be covered in this post)

I won’t cover working smart in this post as it depends significantly on the type of task you’re doing. However, on a high-level working smart is about the way you carry out a task, for example how you break down a task into its smaller components, how you structure these, and how you go about carrying them out.

That’s all there is to efficiency folks!

Efficiency isn’t hard, it’s just a habit that can be learnt by anyone.

If you consolidate your time into larger chunks and practice spending that time in a focused manner, then it won’t be long until efficiency has become a habit for you too.

Summary

Spending your time wisely is essential for achieving your dreams and for world-class performance.

time3Here’s a brief summary of how to spend your time wisely:

Spend your time on the right things

  • Know how you currently spend your time
  • Know, believe in, and love your dream
  • Know what skills and other resources you need to achieve your dream
  • Know exactly what to do next

Spend your time in an efficient manner

  • Consolidate your time in chunks of at least 2 hours
  • Focus on the task at hand or don’t do it at all
  • Work smart

Here’s what I recommend that you do right now

In this post you’ve learnt what steps and actions to take to spend your time wisely.

However, wouldn’t it be great if there was just this one thing you could do that would kick-start your time-spending journey?

Luckily for you one such action exists and I want you to start doing it today.

Record how you spend your time for the next 7 days

I want you to start becoming aware of how you spend your time. This awareness will lead to you making better choices, regardless of who you are and what your dream is.

Here’s exactly what I want you to do (and yes, it’s the same task that I outlined in the “Know how you currently spend your time” part of this post:

  • Carry your phone with you at all times for one week
  • Document what you spend your time on, when the activity happens, in the “notes” application of your phone using this template:
    • The date of the activity, e.g. 20th of October 2013
    • The activity itself, e.g. “Replying to email”, “Making dinner for the family” or “Resting on the couch”, “Jogging”, Watching TV” and so forth
    • The time the activity started
    • The time the activity ended
    • The type of activity (not important & urgent (NIU), not important & not urgent (NINU), important & urgent (IU) or important & not urgent (INU)
  • Go through what you’ve recorded at the end of each day and the week and ask yourself:

What changes would I like to make to how I spend my time?

* For the more tech-minded of you, check out these mobile time-apps: App 1, App 2, App 3.

This is a very simple yet powerful task. It takes virtually no time to do it and yet: It will kick-start your journey towards spending your time wisely.

Remember, how you spend your time adds up to how you lived your life.

Pretty important stuff in other words.

Enjoy and let me know how it goes ;)

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful to not let other people spend it for you.

(Carl Sandburg)

Now I want to hear your comments

How aware are you of how you spend your time?

Notes

I’ve borrowed the above pictures from here: Time wingsTime quadrant, Focus, Efficiency, Time spend, Next, Equal time.

15 thoughts on “How are you spending your time?

  1. Varsha Vallurupalli

    “Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it. ”
    ― M. Scott Peck

    Reply
  2. Tony Nguyen

    Hi Bjarte Bakke, your time management skill is very good. I will learn it from you. I work 16/24 hours, and I do not know how to arrange my time properly to relax. thank for your time controlling tips, strategies, and methods.

    Reply
  3. Lara

    Thank you for this excellent article, another inspiring writing of you.

    I like the quote you begin with. But I think you can’t even “spend” time in the real sense of this word. You can only fill it with things that time is worthy.

    I can recommend a book about this topic by Laura Vanderkamp “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast”.
    It is a highly inspiring, very short book about time managment. Read an article here.

    Enjoy :-)

    Reply
    1. Bjarte Bakke Post author

      Lara,

      I love that you share great content with us. Keep it coming. I read the article and I agree with the key points it makes. From research and client/personal experience I am confident that our brains are sharpest in the morning (assuming that we’ve slept well and for enough hours: http://rethinkingtruth.com/2013/11/11/ill-sleep-when-im-dead-is-the-dumbest-quote-in-history/).

      I recommend doing what’s most mentally challenging early in the morning. I’m sceptical to the notion of “Type A: the early risers” and “Type B-slow starters” people; I’m not convinced these types exist outside our minds. What I’ve seen is that when people implement great sleeping habits everyone can be an early riser and highly productive in the morning. Exceptions probably exist but the belief that we are either an early riser or slow-starter is in my opinion ineffective.

      I also agree that we can’t really “spend” time, spot on. I’ll see if I can find an improved way of phrasing what I mean in the future.

      Reply
  4. Ashley

    I work more hours than I should and still remain un productive, why because I do so many things at ago, things that actually add no value to me, but with this knowledge, how can I fail to manage my time well.

    Reply
  5. Tebe

    I like your page and i found ur article helpful..
    Pls advice me, I set a goals giving myself time to achieve it but whenever I try to pull it to the the top, different sh**t comes up, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes complicated to the point I almost lost focus, but one things I still stay real to myself… My questions is: what are the fact or principles that guarantee success in life…
    Pls if you have a WhatsApp group, I would’ve love to have you, for a better brain share,
    Great job #Bjarte Bakke…

    Reply

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