6 key principles for making the most of your time on this planet.
Plenty of people spend their time as if they’d never die. They say yes when they should be saying no. They get dopamine shots from social media instead of fostering deep human connections. They chase what they haven’t instead of enjoying what they have.
“I wish I could, but..” is one of the sentences you hear them say often. They waste their time on low-quality activities that don’t add happiness or meaning to their lives. And yet, you hear them complain about lacking time to pursue the things they always wanted to do.
As best-selling author Grant Cardone wrote:
“Most people have no clue what they are doing with their time but still complain that they don’t have enough.”
Many people could live better lives (if they made their time work for them), but instead, continue to repeat the same patterns all over again, which leaves them feeling unhappy, ineffective, and stuck.
But what if you made your time work for you?
How would that change your life, your relationships, your future?
What things and people would you say no to?
What activities would start doing?
1) Schedule Health Blocks in Your Calendar
When asked what surprised him about humanity the most, the Dalai Lama once said:
“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
In our current economy, self-worth seems to be tied to productivity. Sitting curled up in a desk chair and answering emails is worth more than going to a yoga class. Making phone calls during our lunch break looks better than taking the time for a proper self-cooked meal. I used to feel guilty and unproductive when I cared for myself.
But prioritizing work over health is toxic.
We only have one body to live in. When it breaks or stops to function, we downgraded our life. That’s why putting your health first is one of the most important time management principles.
How to do it:
- Schedule regular walking and stretching breaks.
- Plan time slots for grocery shopping, cooking, and eating.
- Block out non-negotiable time for sport sessions a week in advance.
2) Set Achievable To-Do Lists
Many people confuse to-do lists with wish lists. They write down any item that would love to have resolved without factoring in the time it takes. At the end of the day, they feel drained, restless, and anxious. In moments like this, it’s valuable to keep Shery Sanberg words in mind:
“You can only do so much. There are five more projects you want to do, but you pick the three that are really going to matter, and you try to do those really well, and you don’t even try to do the others.”
Don’t even try to do the others. You’ll soon realize life is more fun if you set realistic expectations. Instead of rushing after unachievable to-do’s, start living life at your own pace. Your life, your rules.
How to apply it:
- Include time estimations after listing the to-do item.
- Differentiate between must-dos and nice-to-haves.
- Find fulfillment in knowing what can’t get done today will be done tomorrow.
3) Stop Prioritizing Work Over Relationships
“Many relationships and moments of inner peace were sacrificed on the altar of achievement.”
We fail to acknowledge that work-related achievements won’t make us happier or healthier. We cancel friend meet-ups because of tight work deadlines, skip a family call to complete another task, or skip vacation altogether.
While many of us think fame, fortune, and hard work will bring us happiness, science proves us wrong. Robert Waldinger, psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School analyzed the longest study on human happiness. Having high-quality social connections is the best ingredient for long-term happiness. According to the study, good relationships even elevate our mental and physical health.
How to apply it:
- Initiative regular meet-ups with the people you care about.
- Postpone your work instead of social appointments.
- Keep in mind that relationships, not achievements make us happy.
4) Reflect on Your Day Before Falling Asleep
One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to time is only looking forward. By not pausing to reflect, they don’t reap the lessons learned from past experiences. In a book on learning, neurologist Doug Larsen and neurosurgeon Mike Ebersold write:
“Cultivating the habit of reflecting on one’s experiences, making them into a story, strengthens learning.”
And Jack Mezirow, a former professor at Colombia University, adds:
“By far the most significant learning experience in adulthood involves critical self-reflection — reassessing the way we have posed problems and reassessing our own orientation to perceiving, knowing, believing, feeling and acting.”
How to apply it:
Every evening, before falling asleep, ask yourself:
- What went well today?
- How could I have spent my time better?
- What strategies will I use tomorrow to use my time wiser?
5) Stop Saying Yes When You Should Be Saying No
We often forget that every ‘yes’ means a ‘no’ to a million other things. By saying no to 95% of all requests, you’ll make your ‘yeses’ a lot more meaningful.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
— Warren Buffett
How to apply it:
- Remember that every “yes” means a “no” to a million other things.
- Browse through respectful ways to say no and choose your favorite ones.
- Know that saying no will become easier every time you do it.
6) Spend Less than One Hour on Your Phone
For a decade, I was among the 80% of smartphone users who check their phones within 15 minutes of waking up. I started every morning with thoughts about the news, my inbox, and other people’s social posts.
Our phones evolved to life-shortening devices that take our time without consent. Engineers did a great job of designing apps that capture our attention for as long as possible. Mechanisms like infinity scrolling, pull-to-refresh triggers, social validation cues, and push notifications to keep us glued to the screen.
Without realizing, many of us spend hours every day in front of your phone screen. Time that’d be better spend on meaningful activities. Since I limited my screen time to one hour a day, I reached my goals. And if I, a former tech-addict, can do it, so can you.
How to apply it:
- Charge your phone outside of your bedroom.
- Use flight mode whenever you do deep work.
- Delete mail and social media apps (you’ll be faster from your desktop).
The Bottom Line
Making your time work for you doesn’t need to feel hard or exhausting. There are no complex techniques you need to master.
All it takes are six simple principles:
- Schedule non-negotiable health blocks in your calendar.
- Aim for achievable To-Do lists.
- Make your relationships matter more than your work.
- Reflect on your day when lying in bed.
- Say no to things that dilute your focus.
- Minimize the time you spend on your smartphone.
Your life your rules. Choose the ideas that resonate with you and screw the rest. Eventually, you’ll find a pattern that helps you maximize your time on any day.
And, remember what Steve Jobs said about his time on earth:
“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
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