Time Triage: an Exercise in Life Management

86400. 1440. 24.

Seconds. Minutes. Hours.

Each day, we are given a plate with these numbers on it. It is our job to figure out a way to use them. Some, we pitter away—spending an average of 2+ hours on social media here, or binge watching the newest Netflix show there. Others, we make work for us—building toward future goals, or spending time with the things and people that make us feel happy and fulfilled.

Still, more often than not, many of us are left feeling overwhelmed, with too much to do and too little time to do it in. A study by Zenger Folkman recently showed that around 14 percent of us feel chronically overwhelmed all the time. That feeling doesn’t match the facts, however—that time is finite, expected and plentiful, if we use it correctly.

So today’s exercise is this: to recapture time, and to funnel it into ways that serve your internal purpose and your external goals as a human being. We’ll do it in a few simple steps, so grab a calendar (this weekly one broken into days and hours will work as a testing ground) and let’s get started.

  1. First, book the essentials. There are things required to live and to function in society and so we’ll start there. Sleep, food, work and medical care all fit into this section, so start by blocking off the time you need for those things, and don’t forget some sort of daily exercise as well. Keep in mind that skimping in these areas doesn’t pay off—it will catch up with you and make things harder to keep going in the future. (When you’re done, yours might look something like this, using grey for sleep, orange for exercise and green for food.)
  2. Define what makes you happy, and find the patterns. Once you’ve gotten your most basic needs taken care of, think back on the last few months. When did you feel most happy, or most fulfilled? When did you lose track of time? Was it when you were working toward a goal? Spending time with family? Out for a long hike in the woods? On a date with your spouse? Whatever it was, this simple exercise can lead to the discovery of great mood balancers, or even purpose, so follow that. For this exercise, we’ll make sure to pick 5 areas that made you happy or fulfilled, and add at least three of these into your week.
  3. Don’t forget your goals. Your calendar is surely looking full now, but don’t worry—you still have time! Make sure you work in at least three to five times over the week that you will dedicate toward your biggest, current goal in order to move it forward. This means if your goal is to find a job that is a “perfect fit” for you, you may spend that time cleaning up a resume, searching online or even networking at local events. If your goal is to get in better shape, you may spend time with a personal trainer, or doing meal prep on the weekends. All of it counts, and by blocking off the time you’re much more likely to actually see progress in your goals.

Sure, it’s easy to fall back to “well, it’s just time. There will be more tomorrow.” While this may be true in theory (aside from the obvious fact that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow in the first place), one thing to remember is that while we may be planning out hours and minutes, we’re not really dealing in time. What we’re planning is life. And if you want to get every thing you can out of your life, there’s no better way than to figure out how to stop wasting those precious minutes and make them work for you and your goals in building the life that you want.