January 21

The Profound Power of Knowing How You Spend Your Time

All of us have a bank account. We track where our money is going and how much we're spending. But we don't necessarily do that with our time. If most people spent money the same way they spend the currencies of time and attention, they would be broke. If you know how you're spending your time, you're much more likely to become the architect of your destiny. There's tremendous power in knowing how you spend your time.

1. It helps You Figure Out What's Essential

Before you can manage your time, you need to know what matters to you. Otherwise you waste a lot of time on things that don't. One way to figure out what really matters is with Ryder Caroll's 3 question framework. Ask these about any activity that takes up your time.

  1. Does this matter?
  2. Is it vital?
  3. What would happened if I didn't do this? 

The answer to the third question will make your to-do list much smaller.  At the moment, I'm working on a new book called The Scenic Route and have set a goal to publish a blog post every day. If I run my goals through the filter of the 3 questions above, I learn that:

  • Uploading pictures to Instagram doesn't matter, it isn't vital, and nothing would happen if I didn't do it.
  • Tweets don't matter, aren't vital, and nothing would happen if I didn't tweet.

But sitting down to write matters, it's vital, and if I didn't do it I wouldn't accomplish my goal to publish a post every day or make any progress on my new book.

2. It Increases The Likelihood of Accomplishing Your Goals

A lack of clarity is the biggest inhibitor of progress towards your goals. If you know how you're spending your time, you'll know whether or not you're on track to accomplishing a goal.

  • Say you want to write a book. The metric that determines if you're on track to reaching your goal is the time you spend writing. If you know how much time you spend writing, you'll have a clear idea of how long it will take to finish a first draft of your book.
  • If you have a fitness goal (i.e weight loss), the metrics that matter are the time you spend at the gym and the calories you consume. Following fitness celebrities on Instagram isn’t going to help you with that. 

There are usually one or two critical metrics that determine whether or not you're on track to accomplish a goal. Those are the ones you should prioritize.

3. It Results in Visible Progress

Our biggest source of motivation to do anything is visible progress. Typically we think of visible progress as the result we're seeking.

  • If it's an exercise program, it's losing weight.
  • If it's a book, it's the number of copies sold.

The problem with these markers is that we we don't see them early in the process. Because of this we might be tempted to conclude that our efforts have failed. This is why people quit blogs, diets, and everything else they attempt. If we just shift how we measure progress, we'll also increase our motivation to finish what we start.

  • Instead of measuring weight loss, you count the hours you spend at the gym.
  • Instead of measuring book sales, you measure the time you spend writing each day.

The only thing I track religiously when it comes to my writing is my daily word count. I don't look at traffic, comments, shares or retweets. I can't control those things. Tracking progress with a metric you can control lets you focus on the process instead of the prize, and increases the likelihood of a favorable outcome


Figure Out How You're Spending Your Time

If you want to get better at managing your time, you have to know how you're spending it. This is the reason it's the first exercise in our distraction mastery course. If you track your time for just one day, you might be surprised to learn just how much of it you're spending on things that are unnecessary.

Rescuetime is my favorite tool for this because it allows you to block distractions, shows you how much time you spend on the web sites you visit and the apps you use. It also gives you a productivity pulse so you know how productive you are each day. As you'll see from the screenshot below, my productivity pulse from a few days ago was at 75 because I spent a bit too much time on web sites I've categorized as distracting.

Create a Time Budget

Based on how much money you make, you know where you can afford to live, and what you can afford to buy. If you don't have a time budget, you're much more likely to waste it. 

  • Give yourself a time budget every day for things that matter most to you. Maybe all you need is one focused hour a day of uninterrupted creation.
  • Give yourself a time budget for less important things like email and social media.

By giving yourself a time budget, you tap Parkinson's law, which states that we complete a task in the time we've allotted for it. This is paradoxically why you're so productive on the days when you have the most going on. When you condense timelines for anything, you get more done in less time.

Set Aside Distraction Free Hours

Attention is the currency of achievement and the state of your attention determines the state of your life. The opportunity costs of social media and sources of distraction are countless hours and thousands of dollars in lost productivity. If you want people at your company to become more productive, it's vital that you have time blocks during the day without any distractions.

The ideal time for distraction free work blocks is early in the morning. It's the time of day when your brain is in one of its most creative states and your willpower is at its highest because you haven't made decisions.

When you start the day by visiting a dozen web sites and responding to 10 emails, you're out of the gate with a self imposed handicap because you've made decisions that deplete your willpower. Nobody has ever changed the world by checking email, so it's insane that anybody would go to their high paying job and start their day with it.

Design An Environment that Makes your Behavior Automatic

It's hard to overstate the impact that environment has on behavior. That's why I dedicated an entire chapter to it in *An Audience of One*. There's nothing that has helped me make changes to my life as much as the changes I've made to my environment. 

  • When you use distraction free writing tools like Notion and blockers like Rescuetime, you're designing a distraction free digital environment.
  • When you don't have anything on your desk other than what you need for the task at hand, you're able to increase your attention span by reducing the competition for it.

As Jim Bunch said in his interview on The Unmistakable Creative, "If you design the right environment, the environment will do the work for you. It will pull you into the next version of you."

Set Goals for How You Want to Spend Your Time

This is where knowing how you spend your time turns into a productivity superpower. When you set goals of how you want to spend your time, it becomes a lot easier to say no to everything that's not aligned with your essential priorities and focus on what matters most.

One of my goals is to spend at least 90 minutes writing every day. If I do that, I'll easily be able to write 1000 words a day, make a dent in my book projects, and end up writing an article.

  • Another goal is to spend less than 30 minutes on communication (i.e. email, slack, etc).
  • Above all things, one of my goals is to value the time I have left with the people who matter most.
  • As you'll see in the screenshot below, Rescuetime also lets you set goals for how you want to spend your time.

Time is the most valuable asset you have. If you don't know how you're spending it, you might miss out on what you have left of it with the people who matter most to you. If that's not an incentive to know how you're spending your time, I don't know what is.

Note: Rescuetime Premium is offering 30% off 


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