A few years ago, I was often disappointed in myself before the day had even begun.
Each morning, like clockwork, chipper and chiseled David would walk in from his workout and ask, “How’s your morning going, Matt!?”
“I don’t know why I can’t seem to be as productive as you are,” I’d reply. “I’m always running behind and never get to everything on my list.”
This was before I learned that how I spend my time is a choice.
The truth is, I woke up at 4 a.m., sat on the couch to meditate for 15 minutes, and had five or six books sitting across from me on the coffee table, and I was hellbent on reading at least a few pages in each one. After that, I’d write for about two hours. But before I knew it, although I was waking up at four, it’d be 8 a.m., and I hadn’t even gotten to my workout.
David would tell me, “Matt, you’re doing a lot,” still, I’d look at myself in my pajamas with my still unbrushed teeth and feel as though I was failing at large chunks of my life.
After a quick workout and a quicker shower, I hopped behind my desk and went to work. At some point in the day, I’d find time to prepare food—doubling a recipe and making enough to last a few days. I’d need to wash the dishes, dry them, organize the cupboard, then the fridge, and while I was at it, clean the floor, take out the trash, then start the laundry, and by that time, if I gave it just 20 more minutes, I could put it in the dryer.
I always found more and more to do.
The problem for me was much less about not getting everything done but more about how I’d feel about myself for failing to complete the massive list of tasks I wanted to finish.
I felt like a failure, and always chasing my tail downright exhausted me. But I couldn’t ever rest—something else always needed to be done.
Around this time, my coach gave me a recommendation on time management called the Ivy Lee Method, which changed everything for me.
It’s a simple method. Just list the six things you want to accomplish on a given day and do each to completion in order of priority. At the end of the day, when you’re out of time or out of brain power, and if you’ve only gotten to five, you’ll probably be okay since the last one is the lowest priority.
As Ivy Lee states, we are to move any unfinished tasks to the next day and decide where they fit into the next day’s priorities. The real kicker is that you’re only asking yourself to do six things each day so that when you’ve finished, you can celebrate.
Ivy Lee helped me learn to stop filling my plate so full. I’ve been at it for about four years, and it’s continued to evolve and improve my life as I’ve learned how to make better choices in life.
I now put things like doctors’ and therapy appointments on my list because they, too, take time. I’ve also learned that I’m most unhappy with myself when I have important personal things that I’d like to get done but don’t because I put work before them. The work always seems to get done because that’s just the kind of person I am, but the personal stuff is much more liable to slip, and I’m much more likely to feel like a failure because of it.
All along, I’ve thought that I just wasn’t focused or productive enough with my time, while the truth was I just wasn’t allowing enough time for the reality of what it takes to get tasks accomplished. And, I wasn’t putting what was most important (and most likely to slip off) as a priority.
I realized that planning my day and navigating through it was actually the act of making choices.
It was up to me to start soaking beans in the morning so that in the afternoon, I could put them on a simmer to be ready for dinner.
A repair person was needed to fix the gate, and when I would call them was also up to me.
I had decisions to make about Bruno—take him for a walk or throw a bone at the boredom problem, also up to me.
I realized that all of these different events clawing at my precious time were indeed choices, and though some were really difficult and often left me feeling like I didn’t have a choice in the matter, I came to learn it’s true that I always have a choice and I had to learn how to set boundaries.
If I didn’t want to eat delicious and nutritious beans from scratch, I could have bought canned ones or ordered some from Postmates. The broken gate’s been like that for a month—one more day certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world. And, if I didn’t want to take the dog for a walk, I could find a dog walker or a different home for him altogether. While we often feel we have no choice, it’s not true—we always have a choice.
It’s changed everything for me to stop listing 15 tasks on one day’s goal list because it just won’t happen, and I’m tired of feeling like I’m not doing enough.
What’s changed is that I’ve learned how to be aware of how many hours there are in a day and that I can’t do anything about it—and neither can you.
It’s been hard, but I’m trying (and succeeding) at not looking at what David’s doing and focusing on just what I’m doing. He’s making his life improvement choices, and I’m making mine, and as I’ve eased up on the judgment about myself, it’s allowed more room for self-love and more space to focus on myself, which is what we all should be doing.
I don’t think we’re ever going to be perfect at time management, nor do I think it’s a one-size-fits-all kinda thing, but I do believe a simple philosophy applies to all situations:
- Don’t fill your plate fuller than it will allow.
- Put what’s most important first, even if it feels selfish (it’s probably not, BTW).
- Review, reflect, and revise.
But most importantly, remember, you’re making a choice—and even if it’s not the healthiest or the smartest, making small, incremental choices toward the life you’re aiming for will make a big difference in your emotional health in the long run.
Agenda in 2019:
What’s on my nightstand:
The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin
Why I’m enjoying it: The book contains “78 Areas of Thought”—short snippets that ALWAYS provide daily wisdom on approaching my creative work. After every single read, I’m ALWAYS more inspired and patient with myself than before digesting Rubin’s lessons, which I consume one “Area” at a time.