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Uncovering Time for What Truly Matters

Author: TEDTime: 2024-01-06 17:45:02

Table of Contents

Introduction: Common Assumptions About Time Management Experts

When people find out I write about time management, they make two assumptions. One is that I'm always on time, which isn't true - I have four young kids and am occasionally late, even once for my own speech on time management! The second assumption is that I have lots of tips and tricks for saving small bits of time here and there.

Magazines often ask me for advice on helping readers find an extra hour in their day. Their suggestions include efficient errand routing, strict microwave timer usage, and fast forwarding through TV commercials to gain time for exercise. The logic is that we can save minutes in various places, add them up, and suddenly have time for important activities. But after studying how successful people actually spend their hours, I think this premise is backward.

Flaws in Typical Time-Saving Approaches

The idea behind most time-saving advice is to shave small bits of time off regular tasks, add it up, and suddenly have time for important stuff. But we don't build the lives we want by saving time - we build the lives we want, and then time saves itself. If you asked an extremely busy person if they could carve out 7 hours to train for a triathlon, they'd probably say no. Yet when a crisis like a broken water heater demands 7 unexpected hours, people somehow find the time. Why? Because time stretches to accommodate what we choose to put into it. So the key is treating our priorities as urgently as that broken appliance.

Building the Lives We Want

The time logs of busy women reveal how elastic time can be. When an emergency like a water heater breaking and flooding the basement takes 7 hours to deal with, people tend to somehow make room without planning for it. Yet few would initially commit 7 free hours to something like mentorship or training even if deeply meaningful. This shows time expands for what we decide to prioritize.

So it's more accurate to say "I don't do x because it's not a priority" rather than "I don't have time for x." Using this language reminds us time is a choice. There may be consequences for those choices, but over the long-run we absolutely can fill our weeks with activities of true importance.

The Elasticity of Time

We cannot create more time, but time does stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it. So the key to time management is treating top priorities with the same urgency as a home emergency. Saying "I don't have time for x" often just means "x is not a priority." That's more accurate, since time is not lacking - willingness may be. This language reminds us time ultimately reflects personal choices.

Treating Priorities as Urgencies

To build the life we want, we must schedule regular time for priorities with the same focused urgency given to unexpected emergencies like appliance breakdowns or accidents. This means deciding in advance what is most important and planning ahead to assign effective timeslots for those activities each week.

Defining Your Priorities

To treat our priorities as urgencies, we first need to define what those priorities actually are. I suggest 2 helpful reflection exercises for this.

First, imagine it's next year and you're evaluating amazing professional successes over the last 12 months. What 3-5 key goals made it so outstanding? Write down specific objectives like "launched an online course" or "led key expansion initiative". These become priority performance areas to schedule time for.

Second, envision it's next December and you're summarizing standout personal life events for your hypothetical future holiday letter. What 3-5 accomplishments made the year phenomenal for you and loved ones? Maybe "visited 5 national parks with family" or "hosted Thanksgiving dinner for 30 guests". These become personal priorities warranting planning.

Envisioning Your Best Year Yet

Pretend it's one year from now and you are assessing major accomplishments over the prior year, both professionally and personally. Outline the 3-5 goals or events per area that made the last 12 months truly exceptional and gratifying. These visions of an ideal future year become the priorities to proactively work into your schedule.

Breaking Down Goals

With a list of 6-10 total priority objectives for the coming year, the next step is breaking these down into manageable incremental tasks. So for a goal like writing a family history, initial steps may be researching models, designing questions for relatives, and scheduling interviews. The key is to treat priorities as urgently as crises by putting these concrete sub-goals into calendar slots.

Scheduling Your Priorities

With clarity on key priority areas and incremental sub-tasks, the next step is scheduling time for these in advance. Friday afternoons can be useful planning periods with lower opportunity costs for most.

I suggest making a short list of 2-3 priority items per sphere: career, relationships, self-improvement. Scanning the full week ahead, plug these into calendar slots like appointments. Planning ahead is essential to ensure time for what truly matters, even during busy weeks.

Planning Your Week in Advance

Use Friday afternoons or similar low-opportunity periods to outline 2-3 key priority tasks per domain: professional, relationships, personal growth. Survey the week ahead to schedule these like appointments before getting immersed in reacting. Planning ahead assigns time to what deserves it before other less important things fill the calendar. Even during extremely busy weeks, this preventative time allocation works.

Finding Time, Even When Busy

There are 168 hours in each week, with 72-52 left for priorities even if working full-time or more. By planning ahead and treating goals as urgently as crises, time emerges for what truly matters. It's inaccurate when overloaded people claim 75 hour+ work weeks - time diary studies show they exaggerate by about 25 hours. So we really do have time if we schedule priorities before reactive things fill the calendar.

Embracing Small Moments

We don't need huge continuous blocks to accomplish meaningful things. Small pockets of time also hold great potential through intentional usage.

For instance, brief commutes can be enriched with reading. Breaks at work offer opportunities for meditation, prayer, or refreshing with inspiring podcasts. Family breakfasts can substitute when dinners are missed. It's all about deliberately optimizing smaller windows.


The bottom line is we have time for what's important if we plan ahead and harness pockets along the way. By treating priorities as urgently as crises and understanding time's elasticity, we can build the lives we truly want even during busy seasons.

What are your top priorities for designing your ideal next year? Schedule them first and see what opens up!


Q: How can I stop feeling like I don't have enough time?
A: Remember that we have 168 hours in a week, even when working full-time. Focus on scheduling your top priorities first before filling your calendar.

Q: What if my priorities conflict with each other?
A: Carefully evaluate your priorities and determine if any can be delegated or eliminated. For those that remain, schedule focused blocks of time for each.

Q: How long does it take to form a new time management habit?
A: Experts say it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit. Stay diligent and soon time management can become second nature.