I was recently asked how I manage to travel often, run nearly every day, read 80 books a year, and write blog posts. Well first of all it’s humbling to have someone think that I’ve actually figured out a way to manage my time this well. With a job that I am passionate enough about to spend extra time outside of work to do things like recruiting and traveling, it isn’t easy. I constantly worry that I’m running out of time for things or trying to keep too many plates in the air.
In the interest of sharing, and hopefully picking up some tips myself, here’s how I approach time management.
It definitely isn’t easy. You have to decide what your priorities are. Someone told me once that there is no such thing as not having time; there is only not prioritizing something over other stuff. It’s pretty much true for work and life. You have a limited amount of time in a day, week, year, and life, so it’s all about how to best utilize that time. There are always far more things you can be doing than time allows.
I usually prioritize running over watching tv or doing much at night. It takes a toll on relaxing after work, or how much side project stuff I can get done. The one that bugs me the most is that I don’t get to walk the dog as often as I know I should. I still get him out a few days a week, but there are definitely days when a long run prevents me, and I can see it in his eyes. Or the way he runs around the backyard like a maniacal lunatic. I try to make this up with a long hike on most weekends to tire him out for a few days, but even this sometimes suffers.
As a result of prioritizing running, reading, and writing, I ended up entirely giving up video games and mostly giving up TV. When you define your “stuff” to do in terms of priority, it makes it much easier to scrap certain activities. When I realized I was getting more enjoyment and benefit from running than games, it made the decision to de-prioritize games much easier. TV was largely a time suck in the past for me. I’d veg out and lose half of the night while parked in front of the tube. We still periodically watch tv, but much more ad hoc and far more directed now. We don’t just put the tv on to kill time now.
I like to set deadlines for myself on certain activities. I don’t mean to complete an activity, but rather to know how much time to spend before moving on. For example, I may give myself an hour to run, or dedicate a 45 minute block of time to catch up on my social media feed or articles I saved to read later. The goal isn’t to map out your whole night minute by minute, but to set boundaries around tasks so that you don’t end up spending an entire night on one thing and miss the others.
Another way is to see what things you can do together without suffering. For example, I watch tv shows and movies I had been missing while on the treadmill or listen to books while running outside. Especially in the winter, I go through a ton of tv shows and movies this way. I’ve watched all of Twin Peaks, the Martian, Wild, The Prestige, and a Walk in the Woods all since December. While running outside, I like listening to books about running or feats of physical endurance. Wild, about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and Into Thin Air, about an expedition to summit Everest, are books I’ve listened to this month. I like listening to books about seemingly unfathomable physical activities that inspire me to keep pushing while running.
When we walk the dog, that’s my time for catching up on our days and things we need to discuss with my wife. This is one of the most important times of the day. Though we talk over email and IM through the day, an actual conversation is super important. Even if we just blow off steam about the day or make plans for the upcoming weekend, it’s incredibly valuable “us” time. This is part of why missing a walk is problematic. Also, we’re getting exercise during this.
One thing I noticed is that I can’t think of a time in my life where I had “free time”. Things have a way of expanding and taking your time, whatever amount you have. So I used to fill time with video games in college, but ended up cutting that out years ago. It’s all about priority. The hard part is deciding what you’ll cut out because it doesn’t make that priority list. Free time is what you make of it. Instead of striving for free time, try to figure out what will get you the best return on investment for your time. Whether that return is self improvement through reading or writing, finishing that big art project you wanted to do, or maybe just spending more time with your family, make sure you are using your most valuable resource, time, appropriately. Treat time as the commodity it is.
Pay Yourself for Time
I know it’s incredibly cliche, but time is money. Think about your time as if you were paying yourself. What would you charge? Minimum wage? Your salary adjusted to an hourly salary? Then think about that equation when deciding how to use your free time. It’s almost definitely worth dozens of dollars an hour for you to learn something new or improve your skills and marketability at something, but it probably isn’t to watch a 3 hour movie about elves.
I’m certainly not going to pretend I have this all figured out. There are absolutely days when I want nothing more than to veg out and dive into a mindless tv show, or catch up on sleep. I constantly worry that I’m not using my time wisely and readjust. It’s all about doing what works best for you, and most importantly, what brings you fulfilment.
So what works well for you? I want to hear your tips and suggestions.