“How do you find the time to do all that you do?”
“Where do you get the energy to do all you do?”
I know we just plowed through an enormous spring project list, but honestly, I get asked these questions all the time by all sorts of people. Sometimes it is a blog follower, but more often than not it is someone in my daily life. Someone at church, someone at school, someone at work, a friend or a neighbor.
A sweet friend recently said to me, “If you could see my house right now, you probably wouldn’t be my friend.”
It was not meant as a mean comment at all, but I felt a little guilty about appearing to set a high standard.
I will say this: I do have a high standard about some things, but not ALL things. No one can do it all. There are only 24 hours in a day – we all get the same amount of time. And no matter what we do, we cannot have any extra time. 24 hours. That is it. No one has any more time than you do.
So, how do some people seem to get more done than others?
Aside from the fact that not everyone can do everything (and you are not seeing what they are not doing), I believe the answer is two-fold.
They don’t necessarily get THAT much more done, but they have firmly identified their priorities and they focus on achieving small steps/goals toward those priorities every hour of every day. What you are seeing is progress on those specific priorities – not every possible thing there is to do. Things that are not their priorities are let go and not done.
Some people do consistently get more done than others. How they do that is by discipline. Instead of saying, “I would like to read more”, these people break that down into manageable chunks. First, they say “I want to read 48 books this year”, then they break that down to 4 books per month, or 1 per week. They look at the book they want to read that week, estimate how much time they need to read it, identify times when they can read and then they follow that plan. With a goal in sight, they do not let distractions waste their time.
Let’s dig more into each of these items to see how you can make the most of your time and energy, too.
Before we go on, I want to say that this is not meant as a post about what you are doing wrong in your life. Your priorities are based on many things, including the season of life you are in: your work situation, your health, the health of your loved ones, whether you have kids, how many and their ages, and many other factors. There are no right or wrong priorities – you simply pick what is most important to you. I care if my house is put together, but it does not matter to me if your house is put together – maybe it is not a high priority for you. That’s groovy – that is the beautiful thing about this life. You get to live it how you want.
But, if you want to get more out of it than you currently are, it might take some reflection and work to make it so. THAT is what this post is about – what I have found to work for me to help me get more done in the same 24 hours that we all have.
This post is not about condemnation – it is about inspiration.
SET YOUR PRIORITIES
If you have not done so yet, I encourage you to read Crystal Paine’s book Say Goodbye to Survival Mode. I can’t say enough good things about how well it is written and how efficient it is in taking you through the steps of setting your priorities and turning those priorities into a disciplined schedule.
There is just no way to get around it – you need to sit down and ferret out your priorities. You HAVE to identify what is most important to you at this point in your life. There are so many great things to be involved in, it is hard to say no. But in order to get a lot accomplished, you have to narrow down your priority list to only the top priorities. Otherwise, you will find yourself running from thing to thing, not feeling accomplished at any of it, which will leave you feeling frazzled and frustrated. I know, because I have surely been there.
Yes, it will probably change as time goes on and your life situation changes, but all you can do is plan based on where you are today and where you hope to move in the future.
With firm priorities in hand and in mind, you will be far better able to filter through what is a must do and what is not that important. Once you know your priorities, you can look at each task that presents itself and determine if that task is in line with your priorities. If it is not, then you need to either not do it or strongly limit how much time you spend on it.
For example, one person might have a priority that leads her to hand make appreciate gifts for her kids’ teachers. Another might have priorities that lead her to give her kids’ teachers gift cards to show her appreciation. Neither is right or wrong – the teacher will get the message either way. I myself have done both – it depends on my priorities at the time.
Another reason why priorities matter is that without them, it is pretty tough to set worthwhile goals and subsequent tasks. Like in the book example above, you have to know what your ultimate goal (priority) is, so that you can break it down into monthly, weekly and even daily steps. Once you have those steps identified, you need to implement discipline.
At this point in my life (my kids are 18, 16, 10 & 7), my first priority is being a wife and mother. That has so many facets, but I choose to focus on managing the household and creating a welcoming environment for my family, as well as our friends and extended family. That manifests itself into a lot of parenting (teaching, playing, talking and praying with the kids), household management (cleaning, laundry, food prep, scheduling, organizing, systems) and transporting (school, friends, scouts, sports, church, events). I love to make things myself, so I tend to work in that way when I can. I have other priorities, but it is sometimes hard to fit those in all at once, so I kind of rotate through them as I can, focusing on one at a time.
Planning, planning, planning. Planning is the key to being disciplined. With your priorities (and related goals/tasks) in hand, sit down and look at your daily and weekly schedule and map out how you will spend your time. I did this when I planned my school day schedule, and I am working on it again now that the kids are home for the summer.
With the schedule set, I limit my time spent on social media, email, blogging and other entertainment. Other than the news (and maybe an episode of Friends after), I rarely watch TV unless it is a show or movie we are watching as a family. I spend less than 15 minutes a day on Facebook and Instagram combined and usually when I am waiting on someone else and have time to kill. Instead, I spend most of my entertainment time reading magazines, books and blogs that I enjoy. That is what I enjoy the most, and since I know my entertainment time is limited, I am very careful about how I spend it.
My schedule also keeps me on track for things that are important to my overall priorities, even if I might want to put them off on a day to day basis. Exhibit A: making dinner. Dinner is a big priority for our family, but sometimes I get caught up in my other projects and end up feeling stressed or even failing at putting dinner together on time. I know that overall I will be happier if dinner is on the table (because it is essential to my top priority), so I set a time in my schedule where no matter what, I stop and prep for dinner. On the days that is not possible, I prep in the morning or the night before, often planning something in the slow cooker for that day.
And believe it or not, setting a schedule actually helps me build in down time. When you see your schedule mapped out on paper, you quickly have to deal with the reality of only 24 hours in a day. And we all know that if we never plan for any down time, then eventually it will take its toll. So, by setting a schedule, I have a set time for entertainment/quiet time. Oddly enough, knowing that time is scheduled helps me NOT feel guilty when I take it – I know it is important to my overall health and happiness (and therefore that of my family), so it is in line with my priorities. I consciously choose to make time for the activity.
Did you catch that? Doing something like watching TV is not a horrible way to spend you time – as long as you are purposefully choosing that activity, not just wasting time mindlessly, letting yourself get distracted from more important tasks.
When something starts consistently taking more time that I scheduled, then I know it is time to re-evaluate. Either I need to adjust my priorities (say if a parent is ill and needing care) or I need to get rid of some responsibilities for lower priorities (I recently decided not to go another term as Treasurer at my church due to time restrictions on my schedule). It is not that church is not important, but I decided that I need to spend my time at church in smaller chunks and less consuming positions. It is a better for me right now to have a one day or one month obligation at a time, verses a 3 year obligation, where I have less control over the commitment during busy times in our life.
This is a lot of info about time – but what about energy? All I can say is that when you know your priorities, you will be focused. As you see progress from your discipline, you will built up momentum and you will want to keep going. You will feel a nudge to finish your project before bed or instead of watching that show.
A Word About Grace
No matter how carefully you plan out your schedule, there will be times when life just takes over. If you are like me, you can sometimes feel like a failure when you don’t stick to your plan. But, sometimes you need to give yourself some grace. Sometimes you have to slip into survival mode for a few hours, a few days or even a few months. Look at it this way: If you did not have a schedule, you would not be as far along as you are. Things can wait for your return and your schedule can be adjusted so you can still maximize the time you have, even when you are surviving more than planning.
If you are not used to a schedule, it might be tempting to give yourself grace as more of an excuse. In order to see the biggest impact, you may have to be really honest with yourself. Know thy self.
Do you agree? Do you think you maximize your time and energy, or do you want to improve?