Every single person on the planet is mortal. Our days, hours, and minutes are numbered. When you are a child it feels like summers last forever and when you get older you start feeling the pressure of not enough time to get life’s ambitions done. I know for myself finding the time to write and do art is not always easy. These activities that are very important to me easily get pushed down the “to-do” list by a whole assortment of meaningless, mind-numbing, but necessary tasks. Things like doing laundry, cleaning the house, grocery shopping, cooking, etc. On top of that while my writing earns me a helpful side income, I still have my regular job. The number of hours that I can devote to writing or doing art gets swallowed by all of this even though the writing and art are central to my life’s ambitions.
Over the course of the last couple of months I have been taking a hard look at where I spend my time. I have been thinking more and more about how precious my time is and where I want to spend it. I have come to a few conclusions about how to save time to have time available for doing writing and art. I have created these guidelines for myself.
1. Really think about how you are spending time and if it is how you want to be spending time.
If you are doing something you really enjoy and you want to spend time on it, great. I think spending time talking to friends, exercising, etc. are all worthwhile investments of time. I think the greatest way to let someone know you appreciate and care about them is to be willing to give them time. Just make sure what you are doing is a conscious choice. The flip-side is that if you are bored, frankly that is a sign that you are squandering the precious time you have on earth. This has lead me to re-evaluate a few activities. For instance if a book doesn’t grab me, unless I am editing it or critiquing it for someone else, I don’t keep reading it. There is no law that says I have to finish every book that I start. If a movie isn’t any good, leave or stop watching it. I have never been one to watch television but I have made a rule for myself that I only get to watch dvds or stream movies and television shows when I am doing something else. If I am working out or folding laundry, then I can watch television– otherwise no. I have also cut back on the amount of time that I spend on social media like facebook, I have reduced the number of blogs that I read, and I have cut back on time spent aimlessly cruising the Internet. All of these things can eat time. The point is to be conscious of where I am spending time. If you don’t know where your minutes, hours, and days go try logging your activities for a few days. Write down everything you do and specifically how much time you spend doing each thing. You might be surprised.
2. Plan out how you are going to get those mundane activities done in the least amount of time.
For instance, I live out in the middle of nowhere. To go grocery shopping is a 20 minute drive one way. To go to the next bigger town where there are department, clothing, electronics, office supply, etc. stores, it takes 45 minutes to get there. I plan my grocery shopping so I don’t have to keep making additional runs for one or two items because it wastes time. I also go to the library on the way. I only go shopping to the bigger town once a month. Another thing I do is that I make soup in my crock pot on Sundays and I eat it through out the week so that I don’t have to cook every night. I like to cook and I like the creativity of cooking, but it isn’t where I want to spend my time right now. Try to think about how you could organize your errands to do them without doing multiple trips or inefficiently covering a lot of geography. Try to think about how you could get a task, like cooking, done for the whole week. Further it might sound crazy but de-cluttering your life ends up being a huge time saver. It makes cleaning the house easier. If you only have enough dishes for everyone for a meal, then dishes can never stack up into an Herculean task. If you only have enough clothing to get through a week or so, then laundry is not such a huge thing to do either.
3. Quit procrastinating.
I don’t care if the procrastinating is rooted in nervousness about taking on a project or if it is simply avoiding work or whatever, procrastinating wastes time. If I really do have an ambition to get something done, then the proof is just in the doing. Procrastinating is just silliness and a squandering of my time.
4. Quit moaning and causing unnecessary drama.
I remember when I was an undergraduate in college, I would moan about how hard an assignment was and putter around and then finally finish it in a rush at the last moment. Usually what I would turn in for that assignment would be far inferior to what I was capable of. That drama is an incredible waste of emotional energy, talent, and time.
5. Breaks are a good and necessary thing.
Sometimes I get myself into a groove and I am writing and writing and writing and then I am not as efficient and my writing is not as good. This actually ends up wasting time when I try to continue and push forward when I am tired. If I take a break, specify in my own head how long the break will be, and then start up again promptly, I actually end up improving my writing and not wearing myself out. When I am home and have the luxury of writing all day, I plan out my day knowing that I will need breaks. During the work week, I plan out my writing projects for the evening and try to make the plan as realistic as possible. I write, read, research, or do art for 2-3 hours per night after dinner and I allow some down time before bed.
6. Let others help out and do things.
If you have a spouse, children, or a housemate, they can help do things around the house. Just give up on the cats though. You cannot get them to do anything useful. However, a spouse can cook and do chores. Children can make their own lunches, put away toys, etc. Housemates you can work out a system of cooperative cooking and housework with.
If you were handed $2000 and told you had a week to spend it all before any that remained was taken back, you would make specific choices about how to spend that money. We each get only a certain amount of time. Dreams and ambitions are only fantasies unless we invest the time to make them happen. Are you spending your time in a way that reflects your priorities?