“Either you run the day, or the day runs you.” – Jim Rohn

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” – William Penn

How we spend our time is how we spend our lives. Minutes turn into hours, hours into days, and days into years. No matter who we are or what we do, as C.S. Lewis says, “The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour.”

Time itself is a funny thing. Businessman Harvey Mackay points out that “Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back.”

How are you choosing to spend your time? What is the life you are creating with your hours, days, months, and years? And if you aren’t creating the life you want, or becoming the person you want to be, why not?

Time Management and Priorities

Although typically referred to as time management, it’s better to think about how we spend our time as energy or focus management. The key is knowing what to prioritize. “Managing your time without setting priorities is like shooting randomly and calling whatever you hit the target,” explains time management expert Peter Turla. “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule,” adds author Stephen Covey, “but to schedule your priorities.”

Starting healthy habits, spending time with friends and family, reading and learning more, or creating that book or screenplay you’ve always thought about – all of these things are possible if you give them the time. It requires a little bit of thought and advance planning, otherwise it’s easy to get lost watching television or surfing the internet and social media.

It’s like the story of the philosophy professor and his jar of rocks.

A Professor Fills A Jar With Rocks

At the beginning of class one day, a philosophy professor picked up a large glass jar and began to fill it with rocks about two inches in diameter. When he couldn’t put any more rocks in, he asked the students if the jar was full, and they said yes.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. They rolled down between the larger rocks, filling the open areas. Again, he asked the students if the jar was full, and again, they agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of sand and poured it too into the jar. The sand filled the remaining open areas. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor “I want you to recognize that this jar signifies your life. The rocks are the truly important things, such as family, health, and relationships. If all else was lost, and only the rocks remained, your life would still be meaningful. The pebbles are the other things that matter in your life, such as work or school. The sand signifies the remaining “small stuff” and material possessions.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks or the pebbles. The same can be applied to your lives. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are truly important.”1

Time Management in Practice: Helpful Visuals

One of my biggest struggles has always been trying to do too many things in too little time. Each day has a physical limit of twenty-four hours, but for some reason I’m always optimistic that I can fit thirty-six hours worth of activity into that time. Even after identifying the things that were most important to me, I tried to cram as many of them as I could into the day and was left feeling stressed and unaccomplished.

Being more realistic about what can be accomplished in a single day has helped me to both get more done and be less stressed about it.

Consider a tall container that gradually gets filled with different amounts of liquid, depending on how long each activity takes. The container – our day – has a hard limit of twenty-four hours, and If we try to put in too many things, the container will overflow.

So what goes in it? All of us need to sleep and eat, plus take care of personal hygiene, commute, and work or study. You should also prioritize your personal fundamentals – the things that make you feel better, a better person, and more productive when you do them. For me, they are exercising, journaling, and meditating. The time I spend on these activities more than makes up for itself in how much I’m able to accomplish during the rest of the day because of them.

Before even making any serious decisions about what to do, my container looks something like this:DailyContainerOfTime

Looking at our days as a finite container to fill up can help us realize that in order to add something in, we have to take something out. Extra time doesn’t appear when you want it to, it has to be created or taken from other activities.

When all’s said and done, on an average day I get just over three hours of “free time.” Being reminded of this fact can help me to think twice about what I want to spend it on.

Alternatively, we can make better use of the time. For example, commutes can be used to exercise (by riding your bike or walking to work), or learn (by reading a book, listening to a podcast, or a TED talk.) Similarly, exercise can be paired with learning, for example by listening to a book on tape, podcast, or TED talk while running or biking. Even so, there is a limit to what can be accomplished every day.

Viewing The Day As Circular

Another useful visual is the circular day.2 Many of our days have regularly repeated tasks (in fact, our bodies function most optimally when we stick to more regular schedules) so it can be helpful to view our time in a circular fashion, rather than the typical agenda.

For example, consider the following daily template:

CircularDailyCalendarHourly
After including the necessary activities like sleeping and eating, and then fundamentals like meditating, journaling, and exercising, we get something like this:

CircularDailyCalendarFundamentals

Bring It All Together: Create Your Perfect Day

It’s time to get practical.

Take a moment to think about the following questions, brainstorming and taking notes in your journal.3

  • How do you want to spend your time?
  • How do you want to feel?
  • Who are you with?
  • What are you creating?
  • Where are you?
  • What types of activities are you doing?
  • How long will each activity take?

Next, print out a copy of the circular day calendar, (or if you’re a regular subscriber*, download a copy of the Perfect Day PDF from the resources section.) Using your answer to the questions above, fill up your day with the most important activities.

Of course, not every day is going to be the same. The goal is just to get a better idea of how an ideal day might look.

After you’ve come up with an idea of what your perfect day looks like, take inventory of the way you are spending your time now. Search your app store of choice for a “time tracker,” or just start using a journal or a calendar to note down what you do throughout the course of a day.

Then, take small steps to make every day more and more perfect.

*Not a regular subscriber yet but want to be? Enter your info below!

Let's have some fun.

  1. http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/motivation_articles.asp?id=264 []
  2. Inspired by Isaiah Hankel []
  3. Inspired by Lewis Howes. []