When we’re serious about achieving our goals, we need to be aware of how we spend our time. That means prioritizing our goals and setting aside time to work towards each of them.
This post won’t be about how to be efficient at work or how to “maximize” your days. Instead, it’s about being effective with the time that you have (it’s about working smarter, not necessarily harder), with proper time management: putting in deliberate practice when applicable, finding pockets of time, and giving yourself time to relax.
You don’t need to plan out each and every waking minute of your life, but it is definitely important to focus your time each day so that your attention isn’t too scattered on so many different tasks in one sitting. For example, if you want to learn to play banjo and improve your writing, you shouldn’t be dedicating Mondays to learning banjo, training to run a 5K, and practicing writing after work; it divides your attention too much and doesn’t allow you to fully immerse yourself in each task.
Instead, look at your week in advance and plan out what you want to work on each day so that you’re giving equal attention to each goal without compromising on results. The better you are at sticking to your schedule, the more well-rounded you will feel at the end of the week.
If there’s one hard lesson I learned from my childhood, it’s that deliberate practice differs in efficacy and usefulness than just simply running through the same exercises over and over again. It’s about keeping your eye on the goal and putting your efforts into improving or becoming closer to your goal.
For example, when I was a kid, I played flute. My music teacher during elementary school, Staci Snider (a really strong-willed, marvelous woman who died from ovarian cancer back in 2009), tried to instill the idea of deliberate practice in my friend and I. But for me, it was difficult to comprehend at the tender age of 10 when I started playing. I thought it had to do with just running through the practice book a few times, never putting in the full effort to getting more dextrous, to hone the ability to tune by ear (because I thought it would just all one day come to me).
Of course, it’s 20/20 hindsight, so instead of wallowing in the “what-ifs” of the past, let’s focus on the goals that you want to achieve in the coming months. Work towards your goals full steam ahead, with the fullest intentions of improving yourself, because without the purposeful motivation driving you forward, you’re simply treading (or possibly flailing) in water.
Finding Pockets of Time
As mentioned before, it’s not about scheduling out every waking moment that you have, but rather, making use of time that would otherwise be unused or that could be better spent. Like if your commute is long, why not use that time to work towards your goal? Instead of listening to music the whole ride (whether you’re on public transportation or driving in your car), a language podcast or an audio book would be worth a try.
Don’t be confused with the purpose of these pockets of time, though; they should be used to supplement your goals, not as your main practice times (those should be scheduled out properly and given your full attention). They’re helpful for us to, perhaps, find new ways of practicing or thinking to achieve our goals.
Give Yourself Time to Relax
Especially when your goals involve a bit of creativity, you can’t necessarily force yourself to be creative. There’s a time and place for everything, including relaxation. So as you schedule out your week, make sure there’s at least a bit of time scheduled for you to kick back and relax. Sometimes inspiration will hit if you let your thoughts flow freely.
But it’s not just beneficial to those creative goals. There are huge benefits to working uninterrupted at no more than 90 minutes at a time, including higher productivity, more energy, and better focus. Some people need less relaxation or find activities that are relaxing that others would find stressful, but as long as it’s relaxing for you, pay no mind to what others think.
There’s a lot of articles out there about time management, about taking advantage of every waking moment that you have, but you have to remember that every person is different. If you’re the type of person who finds it relaxing to learn Japanese in her free time, then all the more power to you. But don’t force yourself to cram an activity into your schedule and insist it “relaxes” you, when in fact it’s something that requires your full attention and focus. For some people, it’s better to allow themselves those few hours a week to binge something on Netflix (but obviously don’t get too carried away if binging shows is your thing…).
If you’re successful with your time management, then I don’t doubt you’ll be able to achieve your goals in the coming year. Just make sure you’re always keeping an eye on the prize (your goals) when planning out your weeks, and don’t let time slip between your fingers (you’ve got this!).
Until next time,