The Secret Ingredient to Successful Time Management

How many times have you made a promise to yourself (or otherwise) to start doing something, only to end up backing down shortly after? Have you ever stressed yourself out by trying to incorporate too many stress management tactics? Have you lost sleep trying to fit more into your sleep routine?

It’s easy to get wrapped up in hobbies, habits, life hacks, and new commitments.

Sometimes, to squeeze more time out of the day, we sacrifice some less-celebrated yet vital habits, like sharing an evening routine with my wife or being present with my kids when I get home from work.

But the more you try to scramble to fit it all in, the more you find yourself diminishing the effectiveness of each practice.

It’s important to remember that every decision has an opportunity cost. Your actions don’t just consume energy or money, they consume time. Time is infinitely more valuable than money because, unlike money, you can never get it back. First, when you give your time to something, you’re taking it from something else. Second, while we may be awake for a good 16 hours, research suggests that in an eight-hour workday, the average worker is only productive for two hours and 53 minutes. That’s right–you’re probably only productive for around three hours a day. With so little time actually disposable to us, prioritising what we start with, and what we actually do, becomes fundamentally important.

Habits like family dinners are not traditionally categorized as personal-development practices, but they significantly impact my well-being. Too often, we neglect the benefit of these seemingly mundane habits when we are setting new goals.

One of the best solutions to figure out your way forward is to make a list of all the things you’d like to be doing, for example:

  • Exercise
  • Mobility
  • Meditation
  • Naikan gratitude/reflection practice
  • Family dinner
  • Spend the last hour of each day with my wife and go to bed at the same time
  • Call a family member
  • Take a 20-minute nap
  • Go biking
  • Go on a walk or hike
  • Spend time in nature (grounding)
  • Wim Hof breathing
  • Cold shower
  • Sauna
  • Write for a few hours each morning
  • Learn to play the piano or guitar
  • Play chess, solve riddles (cognitive development)
  • Sleep eight hours
  • Study
  • Read educational non-fiction
  • Read fiction or easy non-fiction at night
  • Do Brazilian jiu-jitsu, play tennis, or play some other active game with/against other people

There’s no way you can do all the above in one day, so the first is to prioritise. What are the activities that can wait until a time where they can fit better? And what are the activities that you absolutely should not miss?

For example, daily walks get you out in nature, provide mild exercise, and have a similar effect to meditation.

Identify what habits are essential and, thus, must be prioritized. Four habits—exercise, quality nutrition, time in nature, and time with family—offer more benefits than all the others combined.

For anyone who has more goals than time, I highly recommend taking the time to list out everything you want to do.

Get it all down in a journal or on a computer document so that you can add to it when new ideas come to you. This process will give you a sense of perspective when times are overwhelming, and you lack motivation, or when life seems stagnant.