People who are penny wise and pound foolish, meaning they focus on saving a few cents on a loaf of bread but then don’t negotiate a good price on big-ticket items like a house or car, end up worse off financially than those who do the opposite.
The same is true with your time investment.
That’s why I emphasise big wins that could save you hours or even weeks of your time, instead of only shaving off a minute or two here or there.
To start this process, look at your list of external and internal expectations and see if you can immediately cross off anything.
As Arianna Huffington says in her book, Thrive, “You can complete a project by dropping it.”
For example, you may want to resign from a committee where you no longer receive value. You may be able to release yourself from this external expectation immediately, simply by sending an email to the organiser. Or if you have a commitment for a certain term or your boss has asked you to take on a certain responsibility, you could decide to decline serving for another term or make a suggestion to your boss of someone who could take over your role.
Even if you don’t see any immediate change, these choices will help balance your time budget in the long term. In terms of internal expectations, you may want to release yourself from the expectation that you’ll learn a new language, write a blog, or start a new business.
All of these items are wonderful to do if you have the time, but they shouldn’t make you feel guilty, stressed, or pressured if you don’t have the time to do them now. Once you cross off optional time expectations from the list, see how closely your expectations total matches your time budget.
If you find that you still need to make cuts, priorities-based decision making provides the best method for making rational time investment decisions that also make you feel good about your choices.
Here’s how priorities-based decision making works:
1. Clarify your order of priorities.
You have a unique set of priorities based on who you are and what matters to you.
Write down a list of those priorities and then put them in order from most important to least important.
For example, I order my priorities in this way:
Spiritual Life → Relationships → Business → Wellness→ Home→Leisure
Yours may look similar to the above — or look very different, such as:
Wellness→ Work→ Leisure→ Relationships→ Community Service
Use whatever categories mean the most to you. There is no right or wrong.
But to get the most value from this filter, you need to approach this exercise from a place of honesty and authenticity about what you truly think is most important.
If you do, you’ll have a lot of confidence in your decisions because you’ll know they align with your values. If you don’t, you’ll find that you’re constantly questioning whether or not you’re making the right choices.
2. Translate your priorities into actions.
Defining the actions related to your priorities allows you to plan them into your schedule and evaluate whether or not your time investment aligns with your stated priorities.
For example, in my life, an action aligned with spiritual life is setting aside time each morning to pray and meditate; an action correlated with relationships is a weekly conference call with my family.
Both of these activities have a consistent place in my calendar. Your wellness activity could be going to the gym five times a week, and your work activity could be devoting fifty hours a week to your start-up.
3. Cut activities from the lowest-priority areas.
This will allow you to reduce your expectations’ time cost, guilt-free.
Do this immediately by deleting items from your calendar and letting people know that you’re no longer available for certain responsibilities (or at least develop a phase-out plan).
When one of my time coaching clients made the connection that one hour spent in a nonessential staff meeting meant one less hour with his family in the evening, he became much more rigorous in guarding his calendar and removing nonessential activities.
4. Make refinements.
If you still don’t seem to have enough time for what’s most important, you’ll need to make adjustments to your time allocation instead of cuts.
This typically involves trimming down high priority areas so that you have enough time left for lower-priority, yet still essential, items.
For example, you may consider your business a higher priority than wellness activities.
But if bringing on a new client today would leave you completely sleep deprived for the next two months, that decision — which could benefit your business — may negatively impact your wellness to such an extent that you may choose not to accept new clients or postpone their projects until you’ll have more time for them.
Alternatively, you may place wellness as a higher priority than your business.
However, if you notice that training for a triathlon is having a substantial impact on your business performance, putting your company at risk, you may decide that a triathlon doesn’t need to fall within your current wellness activities.
After balancing your time budget with your current expectations, you can use this same filter to decide whether to say “yes,” “no,” or “not now” to new opportunities.
One time coaching client described how this shift of perspective allowed her to go from feeling completely overwhelmed with just her job to feeling more in control, even though she now was attending graduate school in addition to having a very demanding job:
My boss said to me the other day that she noticed that, even with the addition of graduate school, she thought I seemed less stressed than before, something to the effect of, “You are in a very good place.” … For me, it really has been about saying “no” or “not now” or speaking up for my own needs.
For example, if you’re asked to volunteer to put on a community service event and it doesn’t take away from other areas, go for it.
But if that service would have a significant negative impact on your job and your relationships, then for you, the priority-based decision would be to politely decline based on the fact that you don’t currently have the capacity in your schedule.
Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from “How To Invest Your Time Like Money.” Copyright 2015 Grace Communications Inc. All rights reserved.