“You don’t build the life you want by saving time. You build the life you want, and then time saves itself. Recognizing that is what makes success possible.” ― Laura Vanderkam, American author

Not enough time? Ask yourself, “What are my priorities?”

In my Purposeful Women of Faith Circle meeting last month, we shared openly and honestly about our struggles with time management. We all wear many hats – boss, employee, wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend … the list goes on. We only have 24 hours each day. How do we find time to fulfil all our obligations, complete the tasks on our to-do lists and carve out “me time” to rest and recharge? Thinking about it even now is exhausting!

Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time, shared a different perspective of looking at time management in her 2016 Ted talk.

Our focus is always on time itself or in most cases, the lack of it or how quickly it slips by. Laura shared in this Ted talk that our focus should not be on time but on our priorities. What is important for us that we will set aside time for it? In the example she shared, we may not have 7 hours in the week to train for a triathlon but we will carve out 7 hours the same week to fix the broken water heater which had caused flooding in our house. She said, “We cannot make more time, but time will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it.”

Her interviewee said, “Listen Laura, everything I do, every minute I spend, is my choice.” And rather than say, “I don’t have time to do x, y or z,” I’d say, “I don’t do x, y or z because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t have time,” often means “It’s not a priority.””

As we discussed this video in our meeting, these were some of the insights shared:

  • We, as a family, got together towards the year end and made SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound) goals as individuals and as a family so that we have clear focus throughout the rest of this year.

  • There is a need to be intentional about making time for the priorities in my life. Otherwise, I run the risk of letting things slide due to fatigue and distractions.

  • I want to make decisions where my “Yes” and “No” will bring me closer to my goals. I want to be intentional in my thinking and making the best use of my time.

  • When I look at my to-do list, there are items in there that will never be crossed away. I want to take a cold hard look at them and just remove them from the list. They may not happen now in this phase of my life but it doesn’t mean that they will never happen.

  • How will my usage of my time serve my higher purpose as a person? Do I make myself a priority or do I neglect to care for myself?

“If you seek tranquillity, do less. Or (more accurately) do what’s essential … and in the requisite way. Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better. Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’”— Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor

Laura recommended creating a three-category priority list: career, relationships and self. “Making a three-category list reminds us that there should be something in all three categories. Career, we think about; relationships, self — not so much. But anyway, just a short list, two to three items in each. Then look out over the whole of the next week, and see where you can plan them in.”

Most of us will find planning and thinking about our careers a natural thing to do given all the objectives setting exercises and performance reviews that we have done in our professional lives. However, do we really plan priorities in our career? More often than not, we are just fighting fire and hurriedly meeting deadlines and expectations imposed on us. As for relationships, do we really plan for time to be spent with our loved ones or do they get our “leftover” time? I believe the category that is often forgotten is self. The aeroplane oxygen mask analogy reminds me that we are to put on our oxygen masks first before we help others put on theirs. We will be of no use to anyone if we don’t look after ourselves. It’s instinctive that we rush to take care of others but if we are running on empty physically, mentally and emotionally, we may do more harm than good.

Depending on your planning style and phase in life, you may be thinking of a daily, weekly or monthly list or even a big picture annual plan. Do what will work best for your circumstances. Ponder on these questions as you contemplate your three-category priority list.

  • What are the “must-haves” for my three-categories of career, relationships and self?

  • Why are these priorities important to me?

  • How do I ensure that they happen?

  • What might get in the way?

“He who every morning plans the transactions of that day and follows that plan carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life.” – Victor Hugo, French poet and novelist

Author: Jenny Toh, Life Coach
Insta: @lettheinsideout