One of the concerns I have about the productivity and time management world is its focus on doing work. I grew up understanding that life was not just about work but also hobbies, friendships, experiences and fun. Yet, today if you read almost any article about productivity or time management, it will inevitably be about getting more work done and a small paragraph about goals and rest.
No! No! No! That is not what becoming better at time management and more productive is about. It’s about being more effective while at work, so you can leave your work for the day and enjoy life doing things that mean something to you.
When I was a child, I was frequently asked what my hobbies were. As an adult, I cannot remember the last time anyone asked me about my hobbies, yet I am frequently asked about my work. How’s your work? How’s business? Etc.
Living a balanced life is fulfilling. It grows you as an individual; it keeps you mentally and physically healthy, contributing massively to your happiness. Why would we want to sacrifice this for our corporate paymasters?
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. Your work is important, and your continuous professional development can lead to success in your chosen profession. But, your job is just one part of a potentially fantastic life. It is not the sole reason you were put on this planet. Many of you will be parents or part-time rugby coaches, or piano teachers. Some maybe horse riders, runners, skiers or hill walkers; these activities are also a part of your life. Just because you are not paid for doing it does not make it any less important.
Your reasons for becoming more productive and better at time management should be so that you can live a life of fulfilment and joy. It should be about making sure you have time for all the different parts of your life: Your relationships, family, hobbies and personal development.
So, how do you bring this balance into your life?
First, understand and identify what is important to you. I created a free Areas of Focus workbook that guides you through this process. It’s not something you will be able to do in a few minutes. If you have never thought about your higher goals and interests, you will need to allow a few days or weeks to develop these. Take your time; the effort is worth it.
Once you know what is important to you, plan for your week on your calendar, not your to-do list. What do you want time to be able to do this week? Let’s imagine you want time to go with your family for an evening walk every day. Schedule that time on your calendar. Block one hour after your dinner time on your calendar for “family activities”. Or you may want to finally get consistent with your exercise programme, schedule it on your calendar.
The same goes for learning to play the piano or a foreign language. If that is something you want to do, schedule it on your calendar.
Any activity you want time for must be scheduled on your calendar.
Only once you have your activities for the week planned should you look at your to-do list.
Now imagine you have decided to take up hill walking. For that activity, you will need some sturdy walking boots. That will require a little research and some shopping time. Get the research onto your to-do list. Never allow your to-do list to become the sole domain of your work life. If you need to do something related to your personal life, get it onto your to-do list. It has just as much right to be there as any work task.
Don’t be tempted to create a separate to-do list for your work and personal life, either. This always leads to imbalance. Your work to-do list will soon take over your life. Have one to-do list, so you can see all the tasks you have to do each day and each week. It will also act as a measure of where you are putting most of your efforts. If you find you are spending 80% of your time working on your work tasks, you will immediately see you have an imbalance.
Once you have scheduled out your week, then move to your to-do list and plan out your tasks for the week. The important thing here is you treat all tasks equally. Your work tasks are not necessarily more important than your personal tasks.
A good example here is if you have an acute toothache, your priority will be to make a dental appointment, not clear your email inbox. The importance of your tasks will depend on what your priorities are for the day and the week. It could work the other way; you may have an important work meeting on Thursday that requires a lot of preparation, then the tasks for that meeting will be your priority for a couple of days. All tasks are equal until you decide which are your priority, and it makes no difference whether they are personal or work.
Building balance in your life does not mean dividing your twenty-fours hours into equal parts. It means you put your attention on what is important to you at the moment.
We are moving towards a more flexible way of working, where the traditional Monday to Friday, nine till five work shifts are disappearing for many people. If you prefer going to the gym at 10 AM, then do so. If you want to go grocery shopping at 2 PM on a Thursday to miss the crowds, that’s okay. That’s what flexible working means.
I’ve often found working on a presentation late at night works better for me. Trying to build a slide deck in the afternoon often feels a struggle, so I prefer to exercise in the afternoon and work later at night. It makes no difference. I get my exercise done, and the presentation is completed and delivered on time. Does it matter when I work on it?
If you want to build a more balanced life, ask yourself, what would you like to spend your time doing? Then build it into your calendar and ensure any tasks related to your personal life are just as important as your work life. It’s not difficult, but you do need to be intentional about it. It won’t happen on its own. Your boss will always be around to give you more tasks to do, and your clients and customers will still be making demands on you. You have to decide when you will work on their tasks and work on your personal ones. Only you can make that decision.
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My purpose is to help as many people as I can live the lives they desire. To help people find happiness and become better organised and more productive so they can do more of the important things in life.
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