4 Strategies For Becoming Ruthless With Your Limited Time

Everyday someone or something is out to take time away from us with no intention of returning it, in fact time can never be returned. Once it’s taken it disappears instantly.

Everyone and everything demands our time: Mum, Facebook, advertisements, new fashion trends, the weekend sports game, FIFA [insert whatever the current edition of the game is], countless text messages and emails, phone calls, food, work colleagues etc.

It’s all really hectic.

Indulging in such activities can take up your whole day giving rise to one of the most chanted lines in modern human history: ‘Where did my day go, I haven’t completed anything yet?’

If you keep saying this every day of your life what are you going ever achieve that’s significant and meaningful?

This makes it extremely important to get a grip on your time because time flies and can never be gained back. Therefore, we must all exercise ruthlessness with how we use our time to ensure we are applying ourselves fully to our personal causes and are on course to achieving our personal goals.

Many people have no sense of time; they may have a watch on their wrist, or have clock on their wall, and can read the time but the way they spend their time indicates that they’re unaware that their time will be up sometime soon (even for new born babies, their time will be up soon – life is a very short whatever stage of life you’re at).

They live as if they’re guaranteed to be alive tomorrow, next week, next month or in the next six months. I was literally hit with the realisation of how little time I had left after surviving a hit-and-run road traffic collision. This compelled me to dedicate myself to finding ways to help others to make the most of their limited time.

I listened to a speech from one of my favourite motivational speakers, Les Brown. He described a situation where a group of people only decided to live life to the full when a doctor told them they only had six months left to live. Insane! Most people prefer to spend their time idly until something tragic or serious happens.

We can’t live our lives this way!

Time is the most important and valuable asset we have.

Most people have no sense of urgency and have no drive to make the most of the little time they have. Irrational fear of most things is very likely to hold you back but I say what you should definitely fear, with a Scooby Doo reaction, is wasting your time.

Wasted time means more stress, as things you should have done a long time ago begin to bite you, regret and poor satisfaction with life.

Fortunately, there’s a remedy for all this if you find yourself stuck in a time-wasting cycle. Your time doesn’t have to wasted anymore, you can take full control of how you allocate time to improve the quality of your life and make your dreams a reality.

The bottom line is you have to be ruthless with how you spend your time with no apologies to anyone or your lazy comfort-seeking brain.

I have previously written about the importance of starting any projects or plans you have right now without waiting for the ‘perfect moment’.

However, I acknowledge that it’s important to have a look at how you spend your time to ensure the process is as smooth, efficient and productive as possible.

In this post I suggest 4 strategies you can implement to use your limited time wisely.

1. Assess how you currently spend your time and make changes accordingly

Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days. – Zig Ziglar

To get back in control of your time you need to know how you currently spend it.

You can do 3-day time audit (I know it’s boring writing down what you do and may feel like waste of time, but it’s needed to make a decent assessment of your time usage). Pick two weekdays and a weekend day to get an idea of how you spend your weekdays and weekends.

Write down what you do for every 15 minutes or 30 minutes and use category names to group similar kinds of activities (e.g. checking Facebook and Instagram can be placed in the category as ‘social media use’ (or ‘dilly-dallying around’ – whatever you prefer); going to the cinema with friends can be categorised as socialising (or ‘full-time procrastination’ if you’re always at the cinema – again, whatever you prefer); a Netflix marathon can be catergorised as entertainment (or ‘mindless staring’ – again, whatever you prefer); studying and completing assignments can be categorised as work( or ‘making my dreams a reality’ – once again, what you prefer).

Also, record the amount of time you spend having a shower or bath and asleep – these all take up time and the time spent doing these may need to be cut down. My time spent having shower varies wildly between 6 minutes and 40 minutes. The lower end represents a day where I have a sense of time and the higher end represents a day where I’m day-dreaming.

Use the information collected to create a pie chart (Microsoft Excel can help to create a pie chart). The values you input as your chart data will be an average of the number of hours spent in each category over a 3-day period giving you the percentage of time spent, over a 24-hour period, in each category.

From this you’ll be able to see what tasks you can pay less attention to because let’s face it, they’re a waste of time and you know it and you probably feel bad about it.

You can use the pie chart to see what tasks or activities need more of your attention. Adjust things accordingly and reasonably and again, be ruthless with your limited time.

Another tool I’ve found extremely useful is Stephen Covey’s time management matrix (read more about the theory here).

I’m so glad I found this while procrastinating during all-nighters at university without a clue about self-management; it really changed the game for me when it came to my time management.

To use the time management matrix, you draw a grid of two lines (one vertical and one horizontal to form a cross) to create 4 quadrants.

Then label and fill out each quadrant:

Top-left quadrant (Quadrant 1): urgent/important (write your current crises, emergencies and last minute preparations in this quadrant).

I call this the ‘when hell breaks loose’ quadrant. You should do everything in your power to minimise the number of tasks in this quadrant as much as possible; tasks here usually arise because of poor handling of ‘not urgent/important’ activities).

We can’t eliminate all emergencies because a lot of them come out of nowhere but we can certainly take steps to reduce the probability of avoidable and stressful emergencies coming up.

Top-right quadrant (Quadrant 2): not urgent/important (write down activities or tasks that will take you closer to your end goals in this quadrant).

I call this the ‘heaven’ quadrant – this is the quadrant you want to spend the most time in as it represents activities that will take you closer to your goals (e.g. spending time with family; completing school/university assignments; exercise; karate class).

If you don’t these activities regularly a crisis will soon arise (e.g. lack of exercise can lead to chronic health problems; regularly non-attendance to karate classes may get you robbed because you lose your self-defence skills; not seeing your family regularly may lead to family members cutting you out of their lives – yes, an extreme case but can happen nonetheless)

An abundance of crises will take away time from other things you should be doing as you’ll end up stretching yourself too thin unnecessarily.

Make sure you complete whatever you put in this quadrant regularly and consistently so it doesn’t become urgent – you can do this by blocking out time each week, to complete the activities, and sticking to your schedule religiously.

Bottom-left quadrant (Quadrant 3): urgent/not important (write down tasks or activities which are important in the sense that they’re inherently urgent, but you’re not obliged to do them and don’t really help your progression towards your personal goals. This is what makes the activities ‘not important’).

I call this quadrant the ‘helping others’ or ‘doing you a favour’ quadrant. This quadrant represents tasks which are urgent but don’t move you towards achieving your goals, instead they help others to achieve their goals. These are sources of unexpected distractions (e.g. answering phone call from a work colleague who needs your help on their side of a group project; a request from family member/friend to help them move out; if you’re not a charity worker, going to charity conferences because a friend invited you to one because they really wanted you to accompany them).

Only partake in these activities if you have time and are confident that you’re up to speed with your own projects and won’t fall behind. Remember you’re not obliged to do these as they aren’t part of your plans – see it as more of a favour you’re doing for someone else because you’re genuinely magnanimous).

Bottom-right quadrant (Quadrant 4): not urgent/not important (Write down what you know is killing your time BIG TIME in this quadrant).

I call this quadrant the ‘voluntary self-destruction’ quadrant. This is the quadrant for stuff you know that makes you a lazy clown – e.g. Facebook, Netflix marathons, playing Call of Duty all night long and other things that don’t help to get to your goals. Avoid the activities in this quadrant as much as you can).

Which ever of the above methods  you use (I recommend that you use both) to assess how you use your time, you’ll gain valuable information to help you eliminate what doesn’t help you and see what you need to prioritise and focus on to take you closer to achieving your goals.

Remember: take action now because your time is limited.

2. Write your goals down and create a plan

A goal without a plan is just a wish. – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

After you’ve figured out what activities will actually bring meaning to your life you can write your goals and plans on how you’re going to reach them.

I personally use a to-do-list to remind of what tasks I need to do. I put them in priority order to focus on the most important tasks first. Also, I use a calendar system to break down a group of activities or actions into manageable chunks.

Writing your goals down and planning your time will give a valid reason to say ‘No’ to people who want your attention for things that are not important.

3. Use a timer for work sessions

To put a healthy amount of pressure on yourself when completing a task always see things as a race against time. Set a certain amount of time for each work session (I think a minimum of 30 munites and a maximum of 90 minutes is ideal and the length of time you choose is dependent on the type of task at hand – human attention span is short; well I know mine is).

For some tasks, you’ll need a longer stretch of uninterrupted time because ‘getting into the zone’ will be necessary to produce your best work).

Within the time limit work as quickly as you can and then have a 5-20-minute break – again it’s dependent on the type of task and duration of your session. The rule I use is the longer the amount of time spent working the longer the breaks.

Remember to also time your breaks before a 5-minute break ends up becoming 6 hours.

Make sure you walk around as sitting down for long periods of time affects your circulation and concentration.

This method of time management will force you to be productive and accountable. The brain only works well when there’s pressure on it, you have to create that pressure for yourself – a great pressure is working against the clock.

4. Use radical or strict methods to protect your time with no apologies

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Leave your phone at home.
  • For those with food cravings or/and impulsive spending habits, leave your cash, debit/credit cards and cheque book at home.
  • Reply to text or chat messages once a week.
  • Check your email once a day (you don’t need to check it every 5 minutes).
  • Use a phone app blocker (I use AppBlock on my Android phone from the Play Store) or a website blocker (I use the StayFocusd extension on Google Chrome). These allow you to apply blocks for certain time periods.
  • Set rules for how you want people to access you (tell people to email you for non-urgent requests but call you if there’s a genuine emergency).
  • Tell people you’re broke and can’t go out on Friday night.
  • ‘It’s ‘me time’ from Friday evening to Sunday, sorry guys.’ – don’t say this too often or you’ll lose all of your friends.

DO WHATEVER YOU NEED TO DO TO PROTECT YOUR PRECIOUS TIME.

Conclusion

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. – Steve Jobs

You must take control of your time or other people will glaly control it for you.

You must be harsh with your time management; this is vital for getting things done and not letting things drag out longer than they need to, because this can lead to crises further down the road.

Remember you time is ticking away and will never stop ticking; it will continue to tick even when you’re long gone, time respects no-none.

It’s now time to act.

You only have one shot at life, make the most of it. It’s YOUR time so don’t let anyone waste it and don’t let yourself watch time fly away without you doing something meaningful with it.

Are you managing your limited time ruthlessly? Comment below.

If this post resonates with you why don’t you share it. Maybe the outlook of this message will inspire someone else to start living the life they were born to live.

Image credit: time / stefanos papachristou / Flickr

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