Too often, I feel like I’m not using my time well – how I spend my time day-to-day doesn’t align with my priorities (for example, bingeing on ‘House of Cards’ is not a priority to me).
I’ve tried putting important things on my calendar at the start of the day, or the start of the week, but then I feel like a slave to my calendar, and I feel guilty when I take a break to sit on the balcony to watch the birds on the pond and the sunlight glittering on the water. This approach accomplishes nothing, and only adds stress.
Chatting with my Stuttgart friend Sandra Seibert yesterday, she encouraged me to come up with a metaphor for the things that take up my time, unwanted. I chose termites, things that burrow into your home and bit-by-bit destroy the structure. One can call in the exterminator, and flush them out, but they come back, and keeping termites out requires constant vigilance.
Identify the termites that nibble away at how you use your time. For me, the first things that came to mind are Facebook, email, and reading the newspaper on my smartphone. Once you’ve identified them, put effort into getting rid of them. You’ll discover new termites, and once again flush them out. This is a different kind of discipline than being a slave to your calendar – I feel free to sit on the balcony, knowing that right at that moment I don’t need to be a termite exterminator. The process of identifying termites and getting rid of them can wait.
As Sandra said, imagine a plate that you fill up with slices of pie, where the size of each slice corresponds to how important that is, and how much time you’d like to devote to that. For me, the biggest slices were to take care of myself and my health, to nurture my closest relationships (wife, daughter), and to earn enough money to maintain our fairly modest lifestyle.
Looking at your plate of pie slices, notice at how you actually spend your time, and identify all the termites that chew up your time, contrary to these priorities. Try to get rid of these termites for the rest of the day. It won’t work completely, but keep trying to identify and get rid of them (or minimize them – not all time spent on email is time poorly spent) day-by-day.
Sandra suggested printing this image of the termite and putting it on my desk. Try it as a reminder to keep those time termites at bay.
Let me know how it goes.