If you had to pick a word right now to describe yourself, what would it be?
C’mon, be honest…..would it really be a word like “calm,” “pulled together,” “organized,” or “balanced?”
Probably not, right?
Maybe it would be something more along the lines of “frazzled,” or “chaotic,” or “busy.” Perhaps it would be something like “stressed,” “overwhelmed,” “crazy busy,” or “spinning around in circles.” It might even be something a little longer, like “putting everyone else’s needs before your own.”
Or maybe it is something entirely different. Maybe instead of feeling frazzled, you just feel stuck. Frustrated. Unmotivated. Afraid. Maybe you feel like there has to be something more out there for you, but you just don’t quite know how to get there.
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If you had to pick, what would your word be?
Now imagine for a minute, life could be different.
What if instead of feeling frazzled, you felt fulfilled? What if instead of spinning in circles, you were able to plan your days in a way that felt purposeful and intentional? What if, every morning, instead of hitting the snooze button for the third or fourth time, you couldn’t wait to jump out of bed and start your day? What if instead of feeling stuck and unmotivated, you were able to find momentum? What if you could discover a surefire way to take back your time and begin creating the life you always wanted?
A life you love.
As women we often spend a whole lot of time taking care of other people’s needs—our kids, our husbands, our parents, our friends, our students, our bosses–and we also tend to have a hard time saying no. Before we know it, our calendar is completely full with all the obligations that we’ve committed ourselves to, and that’s when we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed or trapped in a life that we didn’t totally choose, and one we are not that excited about.
But the reality is that making time for our own dreams and working to create a life we love will help improve every other area of our lives. Because when we are at our best, we can give our best to others.
And that is why your own goals and dreams matter, and why they are worth making time for.
There is a very famous story about a professor who held up a jar of rocks to his class. He asked them, is this jar full? They all agreed that it was, but then he took a bag of small pebbles and poured it into the jar. The pebbles filled in the space around the jar and he asked, now is it full? Everyone again said yes. He then took a bag of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand filtered through the rocks and pebbles until all the space was filled. What about now, he asked, do you think it is full? For the third time the class said yes.
Finally he took a pitcher of water and poured the water into the jar until it was all the way to the brim and began spilling over the top. Now, he said, we can say the jar is really full. He then asked his class an important question: Do you think, he said, if I had started with the water, then the sand, and then the pebbles, there would still be room for the rocks?
If we think of our lives and our time as a jar of rocks the illustration is pretty clear. We have to fill our life with the big stuff first, before we tackle the easy, the mundane, and the stuff that doesn’t really matter all that much.
Of course that is sometimes easier said than done. So how do we make this lesson practical and actually apply it to our live?
Here are a few simple steps you might want to take.
STEP ONE: List Your Priorities
You can’t prioritize your time if you aren’t clear–even if just to yourself–about what is most important to you. Is it your family? Your spouse? Serving your church or community? Getting your blood pressure under control or losing 50 pounds? Is it finishing your degree? Getting your house in order or remodeled or ready to sell? Getting in shape or training to run a marathon? Getting a promotion or establishing your own business? Getting your budget under control, paying off all your debt, or establishing an emergency fund?
Your priorities can and will change based on your season of life, but the first step in taking control of your time is determining what matters most right now. Take ten minutes to write down the 5-10 things that are most important to you in the season of life you are in right now. Don’t base them on how you have been spending your time, but on what actually matters most to you.
Close your eyes and imagine your life in detail five years from now. Where do you live? Where do you work? What is your job title? What do you look like? What does your house look like? How much money do you have in the bank? Where did it come from? What is your relationship with your kids and spouse? How do you spend time together? What do you do in your free time? What are your hobbies? Where do you volunteer? Spend a few minutes day-dreaming about what your ideal life would look like five years from now, then write it down.
With this vision of the distant future fresh in your mind, it is time to set your long term goals. List five major things you would like to accomplish by this time next year. Be as specific as possible. Use dates and locations and quantifiable goals whenever possible. Thus, if you want to run a marathon, write down which marathon on what date. If your goal is to read more, write down how many books, or better yet, how many fiction, non-fiction, biography, etc. Don’t list more than five or you might forget some of them.
With your long term vision and goals in place, give some thought to your short term goals. What is it that you want to get done in the next month? Is there any small chunk of your long term goals that you could do right away? Set a few manageable goals for the things you would like to accomplish in the next month, then repeat this process every month from now on.
One useful tool for putting this method of goal setting into practice is our Living Well Planner®, which includes pages for setting both long-term goals for the year, as well as setting monthly goals. I have found that having this daily reminder of my biggest goals right in front of me helps keep me motivated all year long!
STEP THREE: Eat That Frog
One of my favorite time management books of all time is called Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get Things Done by Brian Tracy. It got its name from a quote by Mark Twain, who famously once said something to the effect of “if you eat a frog for breakfast, chances are that will be the worst thing you have to do all day.” The point of the quote—and the book—was that if you start your day by tackling your hardest but most important tasks, even if you don’t do that much for the rest of the day, you will still have accomplished a lot.
Life moves fast and it is really, really easy to get sucked into mundane–though essential–tasks of the everyday. We spend our time putting out fires or escaping into the time-wasting vortex of social media and email. It all seems so important, so urgent, but before we know it, we’ve spent the whole day reacting to other people rather than proactively reaching our own goals.
My own life changed dramatically when changed the order in which I completed my task list. Most importantly, I stopped checking email first thing in the morning, and instead focused those first few hours of my day on long-term projects and goals. As a result, my productivity skyrocketed and I was finally able to start accomplishing the things I really wanted to.
The easiest and most simple way to make sure you are always focusing on your biggest tasks first is to divide your to-do list into A tasks—those most important tasks that will get you closer to your goals, B tasks—those items that should be done, and your C tasks—those things you would LIKE to do—and then to be vigilant about completing them in that order.
STEP FOUR: Reset Your Habits
Another one of my favorite books is called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. The book explains that our brains are wired to form habits. These habits can become good or bad, but once something has become a true habit, a different part of our brain takes over and we begin to perform that particular habit on autopilot. This means we no longer have to use mental energy to perform the task, which leaves our brain free to focus on getting other things done.
Because our willpower on any given day is a finite resource, the more good habits we are able to create for ourselves, the more willpower and energy we will have left over to use towards other things.
Creating a simple morning routine that allows you to start your day off right is a great way to put this into practice. It allows you to set the wheels in motion for a highly productive day, and once you get into the routine of doing the same thing every single morning, your brain doesn’t have to think about it anymore. Likewise, a simple evening routine can set you up for success the following day!
STEP FIVE: Eliminate the Unessential
Getting rid of the things we don’t really need to be doing is probably the hardest part of managing our time! After all, each of us has a few time fillers we could probably stand to eliminate, whether it playing Candy Crush on our phone, spending an hour watching TV or drooling over Pinterest, or even taking on a few too many commitments.
This is where the priority list and goal setting becomes so important! If when you look at your day, you find that much of your time is filled with things that don’t match up to your priorities or your most important goals, then something has to give. Start small–eliminate 3-5 things in your life that are taking up time but not adding much value. Just stop doing them. Yes, I know it is easier said than done, but making a conscious decision paves the way for change.
With just a few purposeful tweaks, you can learn to better manage your time so that it doesn’t manage you. In the end, it all comes down to learning how to focus on those few things that are most important and eliminate the rest.
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