The biggest mistake people make is trying to fit in everything and either running out of time, getting stressed or sitting frustrated with the massive pile of tasks and activities to attend. There is no focus and if you are training in spurts you won't get much better if at all.
So how to we combat this? First take a deep breath and relax, then grab something to write on either paper or electronic. You will need to make a list with three columns for Activity, Current Time Spent, and Ideal Time Spent. Leave enough space on the sides for some notes and another column left blank for now.
Write down all the activities you are currently doing and how much time you currently spend doing them. This inclues work, sleep, time with family, training, watching TV, house work, hobbies, social events and anything else that takes more than a few minutes to achieve. Now fill out how much time you would ideally like to spend on the activities each week. This is YOUR ideal timeframe, don't take into account any external factors. We are aiming to improve your happiness and you can't let others dictate that for you. We will address your external pressures shortly, for now we focus only on you.
You should now have something that looks like this (there are 168 hours in a week):
|Activity||Current Time Spent||Ideal Time Spent|
|Work||38 hours||38 hours|
|Sleep||60 hours||45 hours|
|Martial Arts||3 hours||12 hours|
|Time with Family||5 hours||12 hours|
|Watching TV||20 hours||18 hours|
|Gardening||2 hours||3 hours|
|Video Games||20 hours||20 hours|
|Home improvement projects||2 hours||5 hours|
|Hanging with friends||6 hours||10 hours|
|Social media||10 hours||2 hours|
|Indoor Cricket||2 hours||3 hours|
Already you should be seeing things you can rule out or modify. As a start I recommend investigating your sleeping habits. I sleep anywhere between 35 and 49 hours a week, that is 5 to 7 hours a day. Checkout my three part series on improving sleep starting here. With this aspect sorted out, which should only take a week or two, you should have more time to allocate to your other activities.
I can't help with reducing your work hours, sorry. The unfortunate reality is that we need money to live in this society so we have to put in time to earn it. I'm going to assume a standard 38 hour work week which is what I do. Your lunch time and travel time is on top of that so don't forget to add it into your calculations. I use my 30 minute lunch time each day to read whatever novels I'm immersed in.
I spend about 20 hours at the gym each week either training myself or teaching others. So far I'm up to about 105 hours of my 168 per week. Remember though that you can't fill every waking moment with activity or you'll burn out. You need a buffer which I actually schedule in. I'll continue this thought soon, but for now we do some cutting.
Cutting out the chaff
With your list of activities, what is essential to your life? What MUST you do to maintain your important relationships and finances? Put an asterisk beside them on the table. Everything else can be cut to some extent. For me this is time with my wife and for most of us we can't change our work hours.
Next we are looking for the highly important activities. I mark these with a plus sign. These are things that if I didn't do I would go crazy, be unhappy and will be spending my time looking for ways to do more. For me this is my martial arts training. Without it I would probably go on an Archer-esque rampage (If you don't get that reference go watch every episode of Archer, twice... right now).
|I like your hustle, that's why it was so hard to cut you|
Now we go through the remainder and mark down with a question mark any activities you really love doing but aren't critical. For me this is video games and watching TV. Both activities feed my love of stories and help me unwind after a busy or difficult day. If I don't do them or do them less I am not going to lose sleep, family or money.
Anything left over can be dropped. Add up the Ideal Time Spent for all the activities you have an asterisk, plus sign or question mark for. If you are under 168 hours great. If not we have a bit more work to do.
Reduce the time spent doing the question mark activities first. To start with reduce them by half. If that reduces them to under 2 hours a week I would suggest they are worth cutting entirely. You want to be brutal here so we fill our time with exactly what is important and makes us happy. If we end up with spare time we can add them back later. I'm sure at this stage you will have a couple that you are hovering over, uncertain as to their importance. Cut those ones for now.
If you are still over 168 hours move to the plus sign activities. Cut their time by a quarter. Unless you were unrealistic or overly optimistic with your ideal timings you should be able to fit everything within the confines of a weely schedule.
Scheduling it all
You will now need a new table, ideally using something like Microsoft Excel so you can alter it easily and add pretty colours for a nice visual reference. Break it into hour long chunks starting from when you are ready to start the day. For example, if you get up at 6:45am and have a shower, start the day at 7am. You should be washed and dressed by then.
There are certain things we can't change the times of. These are things like work hours and scheduled classes for training. These we plot in first. You will find a lot of blank spots after this. These are where you schedule in your other activities. Depending on the task you may need a few hours straight or can get away with an hour here or there. Take this into account when plotting your time in.
Things like reading or watching TV can be done in hourly chunks so slot them in wherever. Video gaming is often difficult to fit in for less than a few hours at a time. This is contingent on the game
but you don't want to get stuck into a schedule that only suits one type. We want to future proof our schedules.
Remember when I stated we want a buffer zone so we are not active for every waking minute. Choose one or two of the question mark activities and use these as your buffer. Anytime you need a break where you simply stare at a wall. Do it in those times. If an important activity crops up like a birthday or doctor's appointment try to schedule it in those times. I can watch TV anytime as I stream it from the Internet. This means the time I schedule for TV is malleable and more important things can take over the slot.
Assuming you still have blank hourly slots you can now add in more time that you cut out before. Be very picky here however. Hobbies can consume an absurd amount of time. If you only have a few hours left don't add in anything new but increase the time doing existing activities. Don't commit to something unless you can give it the appropriate amount of time.
Sticking with it
So you have your shiny new schedule of how you want to spend the week, every week. Fantastic. Now we need to give it a dose of reality. Show your schedule to your closest loved ones. This is usually the partner in crime I call the missus. This process works best when both parties make a schedule together and can agree ahead of time.
The point you want to make is that doing it this way will make you happy, and show that you have thought of their needs by scheduling time with them. Ask if this is fine with them. We want the truth and you should understand your partner well enough to know when they are disgruntled but go along with it to avoid trouble. Don't allow this otherwise your schedule will cause conflict.
If you only scheduled a few hours with them a week then you need to alter your plans. My wife and I enjoy watching TV together so that time is spent with her. We don't have to watch TV though. We might go out for dinner or play board games. This is why that time is malleable. We can be spontaneous while having the time already scheduled in.
Once you are both happy, stick it on your fridge. Put reminders in your phones or whatever it takes to keep you on task. If someone asks you to pick up another activity with them you now have the knowledge on if you have time for it. Can you spend an extra three hours a week coaching your kid's soccer team? Is it important to you or do you think you can't give it the commitment it deserves? If not then say no. If it is important you have a method to reduce other activities and alter the schedule.
People will be far more impressed that you admit you can't give it the requisite attention and decline the offer, than agreeing and phoning it in.
Overlap areas where you can. I watch TV while preparing and eating dinner. When a video game is loading I check social media. Be creative but don't mix anything that requires too much thinking. It is too distracting and neither task will be done efficiently or effectively. This is why driving and checking your phone simultaneously is illegal.
With a little time you can figure out what is important to you, what you are going through the motions of, and reduce the clutter in your life. Below is how much time I schedule in for all my activities. There is no reason you can't do it too.
|Activity||Current Time Spent|
|Work (+travel and reading at lunch)||43 hours|
|Martial Arts||21 hours|
|Video Gaming||15 hours|
|Time with Family/TV||13 hours|
|Writing (novels, blogs etc)||12 hours|
|Hanging with friends||10 hours|
|Buffer time (meals, chores etc)||3 hours|
|Appointments (Physio etc)||2 hours|
As you can see sleep takes up the most time. I would gladly relinquish sleep for more time to do stuff. If you know of a way to sleep for 1 hour a week and not kill yourself please let me know. I'll pay you for solid proof. On days that I wake up a bit earlier I can add in a few hours of writing, gaming or TV which means I either accomplish more or have buffer time when they are actually scheduled.
As always ask any questions in the comments and please share your own experiences.