This article is an installment of the Everyday Warrior series, featuring advice, key interviews, and tips to live a life of impact, growth, and continual learning.
Ever wonder how everyone else seems to have so much more time than you? A buddy drones on about his twice-a-day workouts and meal prep. Another friend has what appears to be an immaculate car, house…and basically life. Oh, and that guy who’s always asking you if you’ve seen the latest episode of whatever is currently hot on Netflix. Where the hell do these people get the time?! Between work, family, and a constant barrage of life’s little brush fires, it can make you feel like you’re on a treadmill vs. getting ahead on the road of life.
We all have 24 hours in the day, some people just use theirs better. How to spend your time wisely isn’t as complicated as one might think. It’s all about prioritization. It’s simple, but not easy.
Your neighbor doesn’t have more time to clean their car, they make time to do so. Choosing what’s important to you is more than just making an organized checklist and starting at the top. It’s more complicated than spending a day creating neat work and life environments where you can go about your day efficiently. It’s about calculus where the two variables are need and benefit. There are several ways to deal with each task.
- Ignore it.
- Pay someone else to do it.
- Get it done.
Which option you choose is based on your goals and internal calculus.
At any given time, I have a three-page “to do” list. I still like to put it in my notebook that I carry around. Here’s the thing, if I’m putting a task at the bottom of the list, it’s probably not really all that important to me (think organize sock drawer). Rather than building register of things I feel guilty about not doing, to streamline my life, I’ve ditched the menial tasks that don’t add value to my day and aren’t really required. I’ve oriented on my goals and try to be decisive.
For a while I had stacks of The Economist laying around the house. The print version came free when I paid for the app. I love reading the articles on my phone when I have an opportunity, such as waiting to board the next flight. But I know that the app lets me sort and search for topics I’m interested in, and I should at least browse the hard copy to see more of the world outside my immediate interests. I end up spreading the magazine around the house in spots where I might pick one up and page through it—the bathroom, next to my chair in the living room, or even by the coffee pot. I really want to read the old issues but deep down I know this is a waste of counter space and a constant reminder I’ll never read all those great articles. Time to adjust using the “ignore” technique. I still get excited when the print version shows up, but if last week’s edition is still on the coffee table when the new one arrives, I feel no guilt recycling it.
Taking time reviewing my list with realistic expectations has really opened up time for things that add value. I started with the bottom and worked my way up asking myself, “Is this necessary?” If the answer was no, I simply X’d it out. Admitting that I would never alphabetize my client business cards, repaint the garage shelves, or read that stack of magazines was liberating.
Pay someone else do it
After crossing off a significant amount of non-value-adding tasks, I still had two pages left, which was overwhelming and intimidating. I had the privilege of asking Sheryl Sandberg, former COO of Facebook, how she juggled so many things at once. Her response was shockingly simple: “Outsource that which doesn’t really matter.” When you start placing a value on your time, you make decisions differently. Sometimes time is worth more than money.
Finding someone to clean your house, cook your food, and mow your lawn are commonplace in today’s dual-income households. But is that the best use of your money? If not, maybe you mow the lawn and use the money to accomplish other items. If it is, can you take more off your plate with additional petty cash? How much does it cost to have someone else drive you places? One of my favorite time savers is taking an Uber to the airport. Once I did a little fuzzy math, I realized that getting someone else to drive me was only slightly more expensive than gas plus parking. If I can force myself to be productive in the back seat of a stranger’s car, I can be more present when I’m at home or with clients. I order my groceries online, check emails, call my mom, read up on certain topics that are important for my current contract, and even remember to check in on extended family or old friends. Changing your daily drive into a bus commute is a great way to come into the office with all your emails read, a plan made to tackle the day’s tasks, and avoid the stress of traffic. And when you do drive yourself, keep the productivity going. An audiobook is literally paying someone else to read a book to you. For me that’s a great use of my money.
What about things you do with your kids? Is that quality time? Could you be more present if you farmed out some “parenting” tasks? We spend a lot of time in school drop-off lines, making lunches, cooking fancy meals they don’t appreciate, and checking homework. If these activities don’t bring you closer with your kids, don’t do them. Carpool, let them eat in the cafeteria, make quick meals or buy from a delivery service, or get a tutor to look at that algebra.
If you’re only doing certain necessary activities because it feels like you should, ask yourself if there’s a way to accomplish them more effectively through a third party.
Do it yourself
In my house, we have a saying, “If it matters, you’ll find time for it.” There are some things you just can’t avoid (e.g. doctor’s appointments, prepping for family to visit, building a presentation for your boss). These are the must-dos of being an adult. Here’s where prioritization meets organization. When assessing my three-page to-do list, I threw out page three because I never would make time to replace the plastic seat adjustment handle in my car, I paid others to do page two including swapping curbside pickup for grocery store trips, but I still have to figure out how to most effectively own the remaining tasks. These are not only ones that lie squarely in my lane, but they’re also the ones where I need to be present and in the moment. For me, this includes coaching cheer practice, eating dinner at the table each night with my family, getting adequate sleep, training in the gym, and being fully engaged when prepping for each client meeting. After separating the wheat from the chaff, the activities that require my personal attention are doable if I stay focused and organized. Of course, organization is a completely separate rabbit hole to dive into.
Prioritization is the first of many steps to make each day a little less stressed and start spending the 24 hours in your day a bit more deliberately. If you do, you might actually have time to catch up on the next episode of Stranger Things.
Lisa Jaster, PMP is currently serving as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve and one of the first three women to graduate the elite United States Army Ranger program in 2015. She graduated at age 37, while the average trainee age is 23. Lisa creatively juggles her civilian career, family life, and personal interests. She is a Partner and Senior Contributor at Talent War Group as a keynote speaker and executive coach. She is also on the board of the Directors of two non-profits, Team Red, White, and Blue as well as Dive Pirates. Lisa retains her sanity through strength training and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. She is married to Marine Col. Allan Jaster, also a reservist and principle/owner of the Financial Advising Firm, Archer Consulting. Lisa and Allan have two children together, Zachary and Victoria, and live in New Braunfels, Texas.