Even worse than being over-busy is being distracted by things with little or no value -- like mindlessly surfing the web when your child wants to play.
Without question, there are countless things we could do at any moment of our lives. What do we choose to do with our moments? What does that say about us?
How can you learn to truly use the time you have, so that looking back each day you will be proud of who you were and how you lived?
The following is a short list of principles, that if applied, will empower you to make the most of every moment of your life. To be sure, developing these habits is not easy in our heavily distracted and externally-driven world.
But the cost of not getting control over your time and life is astronomical. It's everything. For, how we use our time determines everything about:
- Who we are
- Who we will become
- What we will accomplish in our days, and in our lives
- How deep our relationships are
- And ultimately what we value most
Let's begin in humility, for this is too important to ignore:
Be Where You Are: In Mind And Body
"Wherever you are, make sure you're there." -- Dan Sullivan
Awareness is the first step. What are you doing right now? Be there, not somewhere else.
If you're with your friends, be with your friends. If you're doing the dishes, do the dishes.
It's amazing how bad we've all gotten at being present. At actually living in the world and connecting deeply with the experiences we're having with the people we love.
However, awareness is far from sufficient. Indeed, full-engagement in the wrong things is no better than being distracted by something else.
Good Things Are A Dime-A-Dozen
"We should be careful not to exhaust our available time on things that are merely good and leave little time for that which is better or best." -- Dallin Oaks
In every situation, you must ask yourself, "Is this the best possible use of my time?" Is this the best approach? Or am I settling for less? Derek Sivers has created a great benchmark for activity: If something is not a HELL YES!, it's a no. End of story. If you are not 100% behind what you're currently doing, stop doing it. There are certainly better things you could be doing.
For me, passively watching a movie with my kids is good. However, actively engaging with them -- whether playing games, laughing, playing out in the yard -- is better.
Listening to or reading uplifting content is good. However, there are also better things you could be doing, like helping someone.
The problem with doing good things is that they are easy to justify, because they are inherently good. But, as Jim Collins, author of Good To Great, has said, "Good is the enemy of great. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life."
There are a million good things you could do this very moment. You could go to the gym. You could read a book. You could hangout with a friend. You could spend the evening with your family. You could watch a movie.
But what is the "best" thing you could be doing right now? Context determines what is good, better, or best. Every situation is different.
In some situations, it's best to stop on the side of the road to help the person with a flat tire. In other situations, it's best to pass them by. In some situations, it's best to go to class. In other situations, it's best to skip class. In some situations, the absolute best thing you could do is relax and chill-out. Or go crazy with excitement.
Meaning is shaped within contexts. And every context is unique. Which is why you must be present to your circumstances. If you are not mindful -- but instead disconnected and distracted -- you won't be able to determine what is good, better, or best.
Always Take The Higher Road
"May we ever choose the harder right, instead of the easier wrong." -- Thomas Monson
I once asked an older couple whom I deeply respect how they've lived such a beautiful life. The wife responded, "In every situation, we determined to always walk the higher road."
In every situation, there are always at least two options. Which one is your natural default?
When the alarm clock goes off, do you push snooze or get up? When you're with your spouse, do you compliment or criticize? Do you listen, or must you always speak?
Doing what is best is not always convenient. Actually, the lower road is almost always easier. As Robert Frost famously penned, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."
Literally every situation you're in is a fork in the road. You can become consistent -- even automatic -- at choosing the harder, better road. And you can find joy in being and becoming the person you desire to be. You can develop confidence using your time in meaningful ways, and positively impacting those around you.
You can find satisfaction looking back on a day you invested in yourself and others which is sure to yield enormous dividends, rather than a day you merely consumed.
Be Who You Ideally Want To Become, Today
"How would your life change if you made decisions TODAY as if you were already the person you want to become TOMORROW?" -- Richie Norton
Who do you want to be tomorrow? How about in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? On your 80th birthday?
Stephen Covey has taught that highly effective people "Begin with the end clearly in mind."
Your current behaviors are a reflection of the future vision you have of yourself. For most people, that vision is not much different than their present selves.
However, once you determine who you want to become, you must start acting like that person now. Otherwise, you will never become that person. As Bill Walsh has said, "Winners act like winners before they become winners." That's how they become "winners."
In Third Circle Thoery, Pejman Ghadimi explains that most people envision their lives no more than 1-3 years into the future, mostly living week-to-week.
Ghadimi argues about 20% of people envision their lives 5-10 years into the future, and thus act accordingly and become enormously more successful. Lastly, 2% of people envision their lives in whole -- "beginning with the end in mind" -- of who they want to be the day they die. Consider these words by Elon Musk: "I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact." It's obvious how that vision determines Musk's daily behavior.
To be sure, not all of us can or should be Elon Musk. But the vision guiding his daily behaviors is instructive. Without question, the potency of his "why" is "how" he can work 100 hour weeks year-after-year. And his behaviors are a reflection of his values, which he is unapologetic about.
His values may not be your values. But are you consistently acting in accordance with your values? Is your why strong enough to keep you choosing the harder right, or do you consistently default to the easy wrong?
Give Everything To The Things That Truly Matter, And Forget About Everything Else
"When you cannot do what you have always done, then you only do what matters most." -- Robert Hales
Becoming a foster parent has been the hardest thing I've ever done. The first 6 months were hell. I wasn't ready for it. In my heart, I didn't want it.
Thankfully, overtime, I was able to have a change of heart. Now, I couldn't be happier to invest my time in these kids. They've become in large measure, my why -- if not exclusively, they've radically strengthened my why.
But being a foster parent has done more for me. It's given me clarity about what really matters to me. If I'm going to be a good foster parent, then I don't have time to do many of the things I used to do. And that's okay. Actually, it's the best. Because for me, it's almost forced me to forego the many good options I could put my time into for what I believe is the best use of my time.
Whatever it is you truly value, devote your time to those things. The things you consider "best." And remove all other non-essential distractions from your life.
Become The Master Of Your Mind
"You tell me what you think about when you do not have to think, and I'll tell you what you are." -- Llewelyn McKay
It's impossible to use your time well when you can't even govern your own mind. Most people's minds are like a garden that has been overgrown with weeds. They haven't done the work of managing their minds -- or pruning it, digging it about, and preparing the soil for good fruits.
However, you can master the garden of your mind. And when you do, you will be in-control of yourself. When you have clear, simple, and specific goals and values with which you resonate with -- and your thoughts are constantly mulling these things over -- your greatest desires will manifest quickly.
Every thought you think plays a role in who you are, and how you are living in the world. As James Allen has said in As a Man Thinketh, "A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts."
All of these things take constant practice. You will never "arrive" at any of these things. Every day is simply practice at getting better. Here are a few actionable ways you can start improving the use of your time.
- Work on being more aware of what you're doing. Catch yourself disengaging. If you're with people, leave your phone in your car, or in a drawer, or somewhere it doesn't tempt you. Work on being where you are, and embracing the moments.
- Take time to write down your core values and goals. Consider Stephen Covey's advice and imagine your 80th birthday party. Who do you want to be at the end of your life? What will you have wanted to accomplish? This vision determines what is good, better, and best in your life. Once you know what you want, it becomes painfully obvious what you don't want. Thus, you won't be seduced by the many good things in life distracting you from the better and best.
- When given an option, choose the harder right. As we can learn from Steve Jobs, standards aren't for bending. Consistently walk the higher road and you will be transformed internally and externally.
- Remove the things in your life that get in the way of the "best" things. Or, be highly thoughtful about how you keep these things in your life. You don't have much time on this planet.
- Become the master of your thoughts. When you catch yourself mindlessly wandering, or going places counter to your values and goals, stop yourself. Memorize a poem, quote, scripture, or song that brings clarity and light to you. Whenever you have a negative or unhelpful thought, recite or ponder your memorized friend. Then, reflect on your values and goals. Eventually, you'll get better -- even automatic -- at thinking about the things you want to think about. Your thoughts are what create your reality.