Making Time for What Matters

Over the last few months of working on full-time, I’ve been on a bit of a roller coaster of emotions, productivity, and success/failure. It’s helped me to better understand what I need to do to keep myself on task. This last week alone I managed to launch a redesign of nearly the entire site AND watch 8 out of 9 of the movies that were nominated for Best Picture (one of my goals for 2012 – I had already seen The Help) on top of whatever else was already on my calendar. It’s entirely possible to get a good night’s sleep on a startup schedule and still make time for fun. Here goes:

1. Figure out what matters.

An obvious first step, but an important one. If you don’t know (or aren’t told, as the case may be) what’s important to you, it’s pretty impossible to focus on it. These days there are a few things that matter to me:

  1. Growing (70%)
  2. Cooking more / Eating better (15%)
  3. Growth / Learning (15%)

Knowing what you want to and need to focus on helps to filter out all of the noise and distractions. Assigning a weight to a certain bucket in your ‘what matters’ list helps to eliminate the need for a lot of time-consuming decision-making.

2. Figure out what’s hogging your attention

There are two ways to attack this one: Become extremely self-aware or use an app that does it for you. A combination of both is most effective.

Start paying attention to how you spend your time. How many times a day do you check Twitter? How many days a week do you find yourself sucked into the 8-11PM TV shows? How many times did you check Facebook before your morning coffee? I’ve been using RescueTime for a while now and though I don’t actually check on my stats very often, two things are working in my favor: 1) I know I’m being tracked so I’ll tend to be on my most-focused behavior and 2) When I DO check my stats, I can see where my huge time-sinks are.

3. Kill those things.

Get them out of your life. Or at least minimize their potential for distracting you. Notifications / status icons are a gateway drug. You THINK you can just check one or two, but before you know it an hour has gone by and what have you accomplished? Nada.
Some things to consider killing:

  • Growl notifications – I turned these off during college and never looked back.
  • Twitter notifications – You know – the ones that make the icon in your menu bar turn blue whenever there are unread tweets? Disable that now.
  • Alert Sounds – My exception to this rule is the “first IM received” notification in Adium. You’ll especially want to kill things like the sign-on/sign-off alert in your IM client.
  • Your TV – If you have one: unplug it from the wall. It makes it a lot more difficult to just casually flip it on for a show and get caught up from 8-11PM.

4. Get Stuff Done

Now that all of the distractions are out of the way: get to work! You’ll be amazed at how much more time you have in your day now. Maybe you’ll use it to get more work done, maybe you’ll finally get to go out to dinner with those friends you’ve been ignoring for the last few months, or maybe you’ll find a new project. The options are endless! Enjoy it!

Rinse and Repeat

Keeping your time in check is an ongoing process. Every couple of months (or couple of weeks if you feel yourself slipping), stop and take an audit of your time again. If you have something like RescueTime running, you can just check in on your stats and adjust as needed.

Don’t forget to have fun

Productivity is great, but balance is better. Don’t forget to build in time for play. Not everything you do needs to fit into your ‘what matters’ buckets. Sometimes you just have to turn off your brain. Burnout is a much bigger problem than losing a few hours to a movie or aimlessly poking around Facebook. Don’t forget to have a social life. Don’t forget to water your plants. Don’t forget to have fun. Most importantly: Don’t burn out.

I’d love to hear how you manage your distractions or what you’re doing with your new-found extra time. Leave your tips/updates in the comments! ↓

  • Sam Spurlin

    I enjoyed this article. Well-written and full of personal touches. I’m so tired of reading personal productivity blogs that are all saying the same thing in the exact same way. Touche to you for adding a little something to the better stuff out there.

  • Collegemoneyman

    I appreciate the links, and I want to try now. Im glad someone retweeted this.

  • Positive Acts

    Funny, I just saw your article here from Feb. on Brazen Life yesterday, and I used it today to help me come up with my goals for my new account with Such good, simple advice, and it got me started. Thanks! You have inspired me.