Reality Check: You Do Have Time

This is the second post in a series about the realities of life as I have found them

“I’m just too busy for …” – How often have you heard this or thought this?  The goal of every person at every stage of life is to feel comfortable in that stage of life.  Until that happens time management will always seem like a challenge.  This post will explore why most people feel that they do not have enough time in each day, why nobody older seems to care, and what to do to feel more efficient.

How does the day go by?

Mathematics homework

When thinking about your day, have you ever thought about how much time you spend doing each activity?  How much time disappears in commuting between places?  Think back to yourself in high school, or college, or when you were 18 and a rock star (my only real guess for reading my blog if you didn’t go to high school or college).  I always remember feeling swamped with all the stuff happening around me in high school.   My days in high school were centered around getting to school on time, only sleeping in classes I could get away with it, keeping my social agenda full between classes, going to the gym, and then getting to work in the afternoons.  After I got home I would focus on talking with my friends and then finally getting to homework.

Now I look back at it and laugh at how few things I had to juggle (though I cared a lot more about my hair back then, but that is another story).  In truth what makes my high school life seem so simple now is that it was entirely predictable.  All of the randomization added to it was almost entirely optional (my job couldn’t have me work during the day since I was a student, my activities after school couldn’t suddenly be before school, the hours of the day were fixed, etc etc etc).  At a high level my high school life was exactly the same week after week.

Now think about your current week.  Have you thought about how much time you get every day to yourself?  First start with how many waking hours you have every day?  Next, how many of those do you spend doing your job?  How much time disappears in commuting?  How much time spent in getting ready for the day, unwinding from the day, eating meals?  On average, how much time do errands take on a weekly basis?

A quick breakdown of my typical week is this:

  • Waking hours daily: 17 hours
  • Working hours daily: 9 hours
  • Commuting time daily: 20 minutes
  • Getting ready daily (including workouts): 2.5 hours
  • Meals daily: 45 minutes
  • Errands weekly: 90 minutes

Looking at this data, it seems I have 4 hours a day to do anything I want.  That is plenty of time to take up one or two hobbies, stay in touch with friends, write on my website :) , whatever I want.  This doesn’t count for weekends where I have even more time to decide what I want to do.  Running a simple exercise like this on a semi-regular basis (I do this at least once a quarter) really helps shed light on how busy you really are – and where the time disappears every day.

How come nobody cares?

Nobody Cares

I have no sympathy for high school students when they tell me they are super busy.  Same for college students.  I remember when I was in college and I met working professionals –  they had no sympathy for me either.  How come, we can’t all turn into jerks as we get older, right?

As we each become more comfortable with our current stage of life the previous stages of life just seem simpler.  Everything I worried about in high school or college still has to be thought about, but add to that real responsibilities (my definition of a real responsibility is one that involves survival or one that is required to remain law-abiding – like paying bills) and career aspirations.  Add to that a countless number of errands that vary and keep changing on a weekly basis.  Relationships get more complicated as your friends travel further and further from you, timezones change, your friends schedules are as busy as yours, etc etc.

Getting older just makes you more in rhythm to get things done.  The more you have experienced the more you can handle.  The reason nobody older cares is simple: they have already walked in your shoes, outgrown them, and are still trying to feel comfy in the shoes they are in now.

So I waste a lot of time, now what?

thirty-seven: and this month, I joined a cult

As you realize that you should get more done each day but somehow don’t, the world of time management opens up to you.  Once you realize that you are not as efficient in getting things done as you would like – there are entire aisles at the book store to tell you how to be more efficient.  I won’t try to do that here.  Read Getting Things Done and subscribe to Lifehacker and you will have more than enough tools to help.

You need to know very very quickly what you have left to do.  If you don’t know what you have left to do then all the little 10 minute chunks during the day get swallowed up in useless nothings and at the end of the night you haven’t gotten anything done.

Besides following some GTD techniques I utilize a handful of tools to assist with time management for me.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Toodledo – todo/task management – web interface, decent phone interface, good Outlook sync for work stuff and good support for Contexts (home, work, anywhere)
  • GMail – email –  starring things that need responses, filtering quickly, and archiving aggressively
  • Google Calendar – calendaring – good Blackberry support, decent Outlook support, good enough GMail integration
  • Index Card – daily list of what 3-5 things I need to complete before the day is over
  • Read it Later Firefox plugin – process reading things – mark things to be read later quickly so I can forget about reading them right now, especially useful with long posts from within Google Reader
  • Delicious Firefox plugin – capture sites and links that could be useful for reference later

Let me know your thoughts about time management and efficiency in the comments below or by emailing me at: rajat.

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