• David Strittmatter

How to set priorities & get more out of your time

Action expresses priorities. - Mahatma Gandhi

Summary:

  • We underestimate what we can really accomplish in every day's 24 hours

  • It's not that you don't have the time to do something, but you don't prioritize properly

  • There are so many things that steal our time; often, we aren't aware of them

Practical advice:

  • Be honest and don't tell yourself: "I don't have time for that." Instead say: "That is not a priority for me at the moment."

  • Decide what is really important to you; think about the long-term value of it

  • If you really don't want to do something, say no right from the beginning


Dear friend,


How often do you tell others that you don't have the time to do something?


For instance, you're asked why you don't sleep more since you're appearing very tired; you're asked why you always eat out or order food delivery; you're asked why you don't read the news or books; you're asked whether you'd like to come to a party or join a pub crawl, etc.


We often use the excuse of not having enough time. Actually, though, it's never a matter of time but priorities.


In today's blog post, I'll illustrate why you're lying to yourself and others when use the I don't have time for that - excuse, why you need to prioritize better, and how you make more out of your time setting the right priorities.


Don't lie to yourself - you've more time than you think


When I was in high school and did my Abitur (A-levels), it felt like I was busy all day long. Later though, when I needed to prepare for the first exams in my bachelor's, I made a realization: "Wow, I have to study at least double the amount compared to high school and I'm still able to do sports, read, meet friends, and do everything else I was doing during high school."


12 months later, the very same realization: I was mainly responsible for a student organization with almost 100 active members, had at least 2 meetings per week, went to conferences to meet potential sponsors and talk to speakers to get them for our organization, was a working student and worked 16 hours a week, did even more sports, went out even more often, and somehow I managed to not only have the best finals in my whole bachelor's but also accomplish the most credits (study workload) in one semester.


This anecdote isn't intended to show off my time-management skills, but rather I want to expose my/our failure to adequately estimate what we can accomplish in every day's 24 hours. If you told me in my early years as a high school student that I was able to accomplish so much work in so little time, I wouldn't have believed you.


I'm sure that you've already made similar realizations. Once we start working or going to college, we need to learn to use our time more efficiently and cut out things that prevent us from accomplishing our endeavor.


In today's world, there are so many things that steal our time, and often, we aren't aware of them: Social Media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, etc.), coffee chats, watching TV & Netflix, ...


I don't want to persuade you that these things are generally bad (I love coffee chats!); however, I want you to think about that it's not that you don't have the time to do something, but you don't prioritize adequately and waste a lot of time.


Prioritize properly


Just imagine a very good friend is calling you and tells you that s/he is about to die, needs your help to take him/her to a hospital, and it needs to happen very fast. No matter what you're doing in this exact moment, there's a 99% probability that you'd drop everything and drive to your friend.


Another mental game: Your doctor tells you that you're going to die in two weeks unless you go for a 30-min-run every day from now on. Would you still tell yourself that you don't have the time to do sports?


When we manage our time, we often use "urgency" as a key metric to decide whether we do something. The higher the urgency, the higher the priority: Work is urgent; studying two days before an exam is urgent; eating when you're starving is urgent.


Various crucial things in our life, though, don't seem to be urgent: Cooking healthy meals, doing sports, meeting friends, going to sleep early, etc. They only become urgent when it's already too late: For instance, people not doing regular sports have a substantially higher chance of dying early because of cardiovascular illnesses or sleeping shortage kills your immune system, hormone levels, affects your psychological, and physical well-being adversely.


When you make a conscious decision whether you have to time to do something, don't only evaluate the obvious short-term value/urgency of something but also contemplate the long-term consequences of (not) doing something. This is easier said than done. Thus, I'll give you a few ideas to get more out of your time and better set priorities in the following.


How to set priorities & get more out of your time


From now on, you shouldn't tell yourself or anyone else: "I don't have time for that" but "That has a too low/is not a priority for me at the moment." Learn to be honest with yourself and clear to others.


Moreover, decide what is really important to you and be more disciplined about getting the most vital things done first, especially if it involves family and friends. Work or university will always be there but children grow up and friends will find other people to spend time with.

When deciding whether you do something, think about the long-term value of it and the concept of momentum. Getting something started might take a lot of effort and feels inconvenient (doing sports regularly for instance), but the long-run value of healthy habits will often outweigh this initial inconvenience by far. Vice versa, you should keep in mind that bad habits that don't seem too damaging at first might have a substantial impact on your life in the long-run. Drinking a glass of wine from time to time has almost no negative consequences on your physical well-being. Drinking a bottle of wine on a daily basis, though, can have severe effects on your body.


Set yourself clear boundaries. If you really don't want to do something - for whatever reason - say no right from the beginning. And if realize that you using the "I don't have time for that" excuse too often, identify the factors in your life stealing you the most time and set clear limits (no Netflix during the workweek, no social media past 9 pm, etc.).

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