Friday, December 27, 2013

What Matters Most (to me)?

I have a novel approach to the New Year’s Resolution and it’s my own goal for 2014.  Forget the typical resolutions.  My plan?  To do less, to take on less, and with that goal - to be more present.

It sounds easy, but I think this will be one of my hardest resolutions yet.  It starts by taking stock of what I am doing.  Here’s what I know:  I am busy – to a near chaotic level – most of the time.  I don’t even know what’s taking up my time.  Is it purposeful?  Is it necessary? 
And I see it all around me.  We are better connected worldwide, and yet less connected to those we see face to face: our neighbors, co-workers, and friends.  We can shop online at any time day or night (saving us time, right?) but are too busy to get together with those we care about. 

In my own life I recognize other elements.  I don’t sleep enough.  I feel compromised in spending time with my husband and children.  And yet I still feel pushed to do more. 

Perhaps you are experiencing the same pressures on your time, and feeling the same need to evaluate.

Here’s my plan (at least the start of it). 

1.      Take stock of what I’m doing now.  I’m going to take one week (nights and weekends included) to pay attention to the details of how I spend my time.  I will jot down notes throughout each day of what I am doing with my time.  I will likewise make a list of those less frequent but often time-consuming activities like managing my QuickBooks.
2.      Charting and categorizing.  Next I’m going to set aside a day to pour over those notes.  I’m going to create categories to identify how my time is spent, and how much time is spent on each activity.  I will also jot down the purpose (short or long term) for engaging in each behavior, and its potential value to me or others. 
3.      Analyze the results.  Now seeing where and how my time is spent, where do changes need to be made?  Am I spending too much time on a particular business activity?  Do I have a good balance between personal time and business time?  Am I operating on each during the right hours of the day?  Are my activities necessary and purposeful?  Am I wasting time online?  So many questions that I cannot answer until I survey my time.
4.      Identify what I want.  Once I know what I am doing, it’s easier to evaluate what I’d like to be doing (with a realistic sense of how I currently spend my time).  How much time do I want to spend on business activities?  Do I want to devote nights and weekends exclusively to family?  How often do I want to go to the gym?  What does my preferred week (hour by hour) really look like?
5.      Create a new plan (I hope this part will be fun). Once I identify what I am doing, and what I’d like to be doing, I hope to be able to create a schedule that works for me.  Perhaps this will be liberating as I realize that I don’t have time to participate in that discussion group I felt pressured to join, or to attend that function clear across town.  It may also mean committing to an undisturbed four hours of prep time for a program that I typically spend six hours preparing.  As I become aware of how my time is spent, compared to how I’d like to spend it, I can make those tough decisions without feeling compromised.
6.      Making it work.  In creating a new plan, I also need to find a way to make it workable.  I’ll look to see what activities can be delegated to others.  Perhaps a subordinate can do the research; another parent can maintain the volunteer list; my husband can do the grocery shopping.  Other items may need to be released.  Maybe I need to limit my time connecting with friends/colleagues on social media, give up writing a fresh article for each newsletter I write, or stop using QuickBooks to account for every dollar I spend.
7.      Making peace with my choices.  As I choose what to change, delegate or let go of, I am sure to experience feelings of sadness or frustration.  Change is hard.  But I must also take stock of what I will be getting in exchange for these sacrifices:  A better work/life balance; a clearer sense of my own purposeful activity; more time with my husband and children. 

I have a hunch that as I manage my way through these 7 steps, I will start to feel more in control of my time and happier with my daily activities.  Whether you need to make changes personally, professionally, or (like me) across the board, choosing to do less may be the best choice you can make.