“I’ll do it when I find the time.” “I just can’t seem to find the time.” “Let me see if I can make some time.”
How often have you heard, or have you yourself said, one of these phrases? We are all, it seems, in a constant pursuit of time: making it, finding it, creating it, or filling it. Indeed, when you first enter the world of work, you are flush with all of the available time. “I can do whatever I want!” you suddenly realize. No one’s telling you what to do, or when to do it, or how to do it. No one’s telling you to clean your home, or to eat something better than take-out food for every meal, or to go to the gym, or to join a church, or to find a place to volunteer, or to get a good night’s sleep.
However, your choices aren’t without consequences, both positive and negative. And one of those consequences is that every decision you make to fill a part of your time with one thing, limits or eliminates the amount of time you can spend on others. No matter how much you chase it, you only have twenty-four hours to every day. So what is the secret to “finding time” as an adult?
There are two ways to approach this dilemma. The first is to try to fit as much as possible into your available hours, which is probably the approach you took in college. And eventually, you will be faced with the reality that something has to give, whether that’s sleep, your health, socializing, or your productivity.
The second approach is to be intentional and disciplined in how you manage your time from the outset. What does that look like? Try the following strategies to get a handle on your time:
- Create a time budget. Just like you would with your finances, create a budget for how you will spend your time. Make a simple graph with the days of the week across the top, and the hours in the day from midnight through 11 pm down the side. Then, for two weeks, chart how you spend your time. Be completely honest! Shade in the hours you spend sleeping, preparing for work, traveling to work, at work, and everything you do in your free time. What does your chart tell you, at the end of two weeks? Where are you overspending, and where could you make a cut? Now make a second chart, with a budget for your time, and try to stay within your budget for the next two weeks.
- Identify your have-to-do’s and your want-to-do’s. We all have a list of have-to-do’s – work, sleep, eat, those sorts of things – and a list of want-to-do’s – exercise, socializing, and so on. Unfortunately, for most of us, our have-to-do’s take up most of our available time in any given day. And we spend far too much time trying to cram in as many of the want-to-do’s in the leftover available time as possible, which leaves us exhausted, drained, and often over-committed (again, this is the college-student approach to life). As you create your time budget, be honest about what falls in which category. And then, make a priority list for your want-to-do’s. If you were going to do only three things on that list, what would you cut? What are you willing to say no to?
- Set boundaries. On the topic of saying no, this is probably the most challenging strategy. Once you are clear on how you want to spend your time, you have to be firm about your boundaries, with yourself and with others. You have to be willing to say to friends, family, and colleagues (and yourself), “I’m sorry, that sounds like a really great opportunity, but I just don’t have the time for it right now. Keep me in mind for the future?” When you’re used to showing up for everyone and everything, actively saying no and prioritizing yourself can be daunting. But I challenge you to try it. Pick one item from your list that you are going to say no to in the next two weeks. I’m willing to bet not only will it not be hard, but the other person will respect you for your ability to set clear boundaries.
These strategies – create a time budget, identify your have-to-do’s and want-to-do’s, and set boundaries – apply not only to our personal lives but our professional ones as well. The culture of busyness has been explored at length for its harmful effects on both health and productivity. Multitasking has been found to be a myth; we simply do not have the ability to do multiple things at once and to do them well. And yet, even as the Millennial generation pushes for more flexible, integrated lives, as a society we still equate idleness with laziness and weakness, especially in the workplace.
But you know what? No one gets a prize for burning out, missing deadlines, or showing up late and unprepared. That friend who is always flaking out on her commitments or showing up thirty minutes late with a handful of excuses isn’t someone to emulate. So as you are acquiring tools for managing your life and work post-college, make sure that you are including strategies for managing your time effectively. It might just be one of the most important ways that you spend your time.
Want to know more about intentionally managing your life and work post-college? Check out our Five For Your First Five!