HOW-TO HAVE A LIFE AND A CAREER
Time is tight. It’s always tight. Odds are, it will always be tight. But if you want to do something, you’ll find time to do it the same way others do: you’ll make time to do it.
I’ve believed that my entire life. Which is not to say I lack sympathy for the challenges in actually making it happen, especially when juggling a home/life and a career. Yet even with challenges, you will find time to do those things you most want to do because your desire to do them will entice you to give them “high priority.”
Desire breeds determination. Want it badly enough and you move heaven and earth to make it happen—regardless of how you define “it.” Once, in a magazine I read a comment about Madonna. The article’s author said that long before Madonna became a hit, she’d seen Madonna in a club and “her ambition was shining like a second skin.”
Madonna knew what she wanted and went after it. The author knew what Madonna wanted and recognized it.
But recognition alone isn’t enough when you’re looking at your life. The key to doing more of what you want to do also requires understanding–your own.
You must recognize, or identify, what you want and understand why you want it. Understand what it takes to get from where you are to where you want to be. Understand a simple truth about time and that is, we’re not going to find time because it isn’t lost. We are.
We all have twenty-four hours in each day. No one gets any more or any less. So our first step on this how-to path is to realize that we have a set amount of time in which to do the things we want to do–and that time (and those wants) fall right behind the things we must do.
Some will tell you that wants hold equal importance to needs. I won’t debate that, but I will say that the majority of people functioning in real-world, real-life situations tend to do what they must (due to responsibility and/or necessity) and then do what they want with whatever is left.
Want time is scarce, and we don’t want to squander a second of it. Others may rarely consider it, but how we spend our available want time is significant–very significant, to us—and that makes it critical to our sense of well being and contentment. (How happy would anyone be doing just the command performances in life?)
Available want time holds the key to understanding the dynamics of what we’re doing now and how we can reclaim or reallocate to better utilize our available want time.
How exactly do we do that? Reclaim or reallocate?
Suggestions follow, but first, understand that the list below isn’t all-inclusive or a cure-all. You can find what you need to reclaim and reallocate, but a little commitment to actually implement is required. It’ll take an hour or so to prepare the first list, and a few minutes each day for a month to note your findings on your second list. This isn’t hard or complicated and it’s more than worth the investment required. If you do it, I won’t have to explain the benefits; you’ll see them for yourself.
Keys to Reclaiming or Reallocating Time
1. List #1: Create a “THINK LIST.” Write down where you think your time goes on a typical day. Prepare it as if dealing with one month of your life. This is where you think you spend your time. Remember:
• We all have responsibilities. To family. To our “other” careers and causes. List those responsibilities and the time you feel you spend each day fulfilling them. Be specific. Whether it’s paying bills, working on the job, attending the kids’ ball games. Taking care of elderly parents. Commute time to and from work if it’s significant. These are the things you must do.
• We all have commitments. Volunteer jobs, classes you’re attending or teaching. Studying. Doing critiques of others’ work, heading PTA or other organizations.. Doing social media.) List those commitments and the time you think you spend each day fulfilling them. These are things you agree to do.
• List your hobbies, recreational pursuits, time spent exercising, or anything you do on a regular basis which requires your time. (Include time spent reading for pleasure, time spent watching television, etc.)
• List all other obligations that require your time on a steady basis.
Now put this “Think” list away for one month. Don’t look at it, and don’t think about it.
2. List #2: Create an “ACTUAL LIST.” Each day for one month write down where your time actually went. Write down what you did, and how much time you spent doing it.
• At the end of each day, note all you did and the time you devoted to doing it.
• Make a chart to track some of the repetitive tasks. Amend it to suit your personal life. (Charting isn’t essential but it makes this part quicker and it helps you see your time patterns at a glance. That’s helpful on both fronts.)
3. The month is up! Your month is up. Now compare your “Think” and “Actual” lists.
If your results are anything like mine, you’re going to be stunned. I discovered I wasted a lot of time, and odds are you have, too. Use what you learn to eliminate the waste and focus on what you most want.
Eliminating the Waste
Combine necessary tasks.
Eliminate unessential tasks.
Change when you do tasks to best suit your needs. (i.e., something you’re doing daily might work just as well to do weekly)
Seeing your time in black-and-white gives you what you need to reallocate your time and use it more efficiently. That’s the jewel in having done those notes all month.
Remember . . .
1. Free time. As you reallocate and get efficient,remember that free time isn’t wrong, it’s good, and we need it for balance. Our mental health, creative and spiritual selves, require it. Bear that in mind as you read the rest of these suggestions.
2. Beware of rigid scheduling. Don’t schedule yourself so rigidly that you lose spontaneity or overwhelm yourself. Take time to smell not only the roses, but also their leaves and stems.
(Others originally said these things but do consider them. They hold a lot of wisdom.)
3. You can’t have everything you want. You can have the things you want most. (Norman Vincent Peale.) What do you want most? Think about it. Decide. Often we drift and do things without ever deciding what we want, and then, when our lives aren’t what we wanted or hoped, we suffer awful dissatisfied feelings. So think about it, and then craft a reasonable plan for obtaining what you want most.
If you don’t know what you want, you’re apt to never get it. That leads to regret, and regret can be merciless.
If you don’t have a map for getting where you want to go, you won’t know which road to take to get there and, worse, when you get to your destination, you won’t know you’ve arrived.
Where do you want to go? If you’re a writer, is it your objective to be a star bestseller? Or is it your objective to be a low-profile, steady producer? What’s your plan for getting there? What are you actively doing to get there?
Whatever you are doing, know your objective. Define what you want to achieve, develop that plan, and then enact it. The best plan in the world is useless if you never act to implement it.
Without a plan, you flounder, take wrong turns, get side-tracked at roadside attractions that might be fun—and maybe should be done for that purpose alone—but should be identified as such so that you don’t fool yourself into believing these things hold value to the overall plan.
Know where you’re going. Take concrete, positive steps so you move toward your goals and dreams. Think of this as plotting your life, because that is what you’re doing. Plotting moves you steadily toward something, ever forward from where you are to where you want to be. In this case, to a more content, fulfilled life that you’ve chosen. Where you end up should not be just how things turned out, or the way the cookie crumbled. Choice is empowerment, it’s also empowering, particularly when discussing your life.
2. Be wary of advice. Seeking advice or wisdom is a wonderful thing. Respect it. Listen to it. But in the end, follow your own mind and exercise your own judgment.
Only you know all the inner-workings of your plan, your dreams, and your vision. Only you know your entire plot, or story–all of everything in your mind and heart.
Be grateful to those who advise you. Appreciate their time, interest and concern. They owe you nothing, so all they give you is a gift. Still, weigh the advice given into your plans and use only what you feel is beneficial.
Never alter your plans because so-and-so is where you want to be and s/he says your way won’t work. These maps and travels are life journeys, and they are as individual and unique as you are. There is no one-size-fits-all.
That said, don’t feel you must reinvent the wheel. If so-and-so has traveled this path successfully, and you feel you can travel this same path to success, then don’t feel you must alter that path just for the sake of altering it. Coloring outside the lines is fine, if you believe you need it do it. But coloring outside the lines for the sake of coloring outside the lines is counter-productive. Bottom line, use what works for you and ditch what doesn’t.
3. If your ship hasn’t yet come in, then swim out to it. If you have a particular weakness, focus on eliminating it. Plan study time so that you overcome the challenge.
If you want something specific, you can’t wait for it to come to you.
If you aren’t qualified for something you want, then get qualified for it. If you want a particular job, ask for it, apply yourself to getting it by making it a priority to learn as much as you can about the job and how best to perform it.
Take decisive steps to acquire what you want.
4. Learn to say “No.” This was a particularly hard challenge for me. I love doing volunteer work. I love being involved. I love giving because it makes me feel good. But I learned the hard way that one person can only give so much before that person depletes themselves and can’t give at all. This, too, is a loss—for oneself and for those one wishes to help.
Remember that you are one person. You can’t help everyone, and you can’t do everything. I know because I tried. The results? Slivered focus. Nothing much accomplished. Mental and physical exhaustion. And in doing everything, nothing got my best.
Don’t tackle everything at once. Have you ever had a doctor tell you “Slow down or die?” That is what you’re courting when you take on too much. Do what you can comfortably do. We all have an obligation to help others and we should help others. Do this, no less, but no more. Think TNSTAAFL. (There’s no such thing as a free lunch.)
You accept too much, you lose everything. Then everyone loses, most of all you.
You tackle nothing and you lose everything. Think balance. Find your “this works for me” zone and get in it.
5. If you reach for Mars, you’ll never reach Pluto. Don’t be afraid to dream, to set your goals high. This is subjective, unique to each individual, but don’t be timid of wanting too much, of going too far. Often we let our insecurities keep us from really stretching ourselves. I mean creatively and imaginatively, not in over-extending or over-committing.
The planets aligned from the sun are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Pluto. If you reach for Mars, the next planet in our solar system, then how do you know you couldn’t have gone farther? Say to Saturn or Uranus? If you reach for Pluto, the most distant planet, and you get it, great. Say you only get to Uranus, well, you’ve gone two planets farther than you would have gone had you set your sights on Mars.
Acknowledge your right to fall short of your ultimate goal. Don’t browbeat yourself for traveling to Uranus and not to Pluto. There’s a fine balance here, and you have to look at and enjoy each success along the way. Don’t fail to enjoy the successes because you’re so intently focused on the goal. In this case, Pluto. Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn hold value and the joys found in them deserve savoring, too.
Enough philosophy. Let’s get practical—about implementation.
Prioritize. After you’ve studied your Actual list and seen where you’ve really been spending your time, consider how you can restructure your time to use it more efficiently. I do this with what’s commonly referred to as The $10,000.00 Plan.
This plan is no more than a simple daily Things-to-Do list where all tasks are listed in order of priority. Start at the top of the list and work your way down it. Those things deemed most important are accomplished first. This is a flexible list, of course, because something always comes up. But if you work by priority, the most important things do get accomplished first and you generally stay out of crisis-mode.
Incorporate. Incorporate decisive actions in your daily priority list that will get you where you want to go. This requires you set goals and that helps you stay focused.
If you have non-career aspirations as well as career ones, incorporate them into your daily lists as well. That helps you focus on the whole you without losing focus on any one thing.
Schedule. Many oppose schedules. But for most, they work. The secret is to make your schedule as rigid as it has to be for you to be productive but not so rigid it stifles you. Find your balance—everyone’s is different—and use a schedule for the good it can do for you.
Self-discipline. Take matters in hand, analyze them, adapt them to make them work, then accomplish them. For example, writing is a creative pursuit, but if you wait for the muse to strike to work, you’re not going to make a career of writing. No one is going to stand over your shoulder, crack a whip, and yell, “Backside to leather!” You must monitor and accept responsibility for what you do (or don’t do) yourself.
Some time-saving points
These are little things, but over the course of a week or a month, they add up to hours. Hours you can better spend on what you most want.
1. Look at mail once. Deal with it, and be done with it. Don’t stack it and be forced to review it again later.
2. Don’t procrastinate. If you know something is coming up in two weeks, give it priority on your list and get it finished and out of the way ahead of time. Otherwise, you think about needing to do it, wasting time and energy, and worry about it. None of those things actually do anything.
3. If you’re working full-time, utilize your lunch hours a couple days a week to accomplish a priority item on your list. Whatever you can feasibly do, do it. When I worked full-time and wrote, I incorporated free time with lunchtime so I could just relax and not feel guilty about all the things I should have been doing. I scheduled lunches with my husband several days a week. Terrific, all around.
4. Never cut corners if it cuts quality. In other words, don’t resolve to get up an hour earlier if in doing so you’re awake but nearly comatose. Nearly comatose, you’re not accomplishing a thing. Reasonable expectations are warranted. Base them on your capabilities and your limitations. If you have 30 minutes a day to write, then it could be helpful to say, I write this particular thirty minutes each day. It could gear you up so that when that specific time arrives, you know you’re supposed to produce and so you do it. But if having a set time to write inhibits you or makes you anxious, then it isn’t beneficial, it’s destructive to have that set time. You must try methods and use that which works for you.
Physician heal thyself comes to mind.
While we aren’t ill in the traditional sense, if we aren’t satisfied with our progress, our production—our lives—then we can, in a sense, be the physicians who heal the ills in ourselves.
Some things we cannot control. But there are many things that we can and should control. The first step is to recognize the difference. To understand those things we can change and then to change them in ways that are constructive to us.
In creating the Think and Actual Lists and then analyzing them, we can better understand ourselves. With a firmer grasp, we increase our odds of creating a higher quality life and the career we most want–even though time is tight.*
© 2014, Vicki Hinze. Hinze is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest releases are: Duplicity (military romantic thriller,) Torn Loyalties (inspirational romantic suspense), Legend of the Mist (time-travel romantic suspense), One Way to Write a Novel (nonfiction). She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s online community: Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact. www.vickihinze.com.