In her TEDx talk, “Founders Can’t Scale,” Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact, said something I’ve not been able to get out of my head: “Where you spend your time is also an investment.” (See the video below.)
After watching Goodman’s talk for about the fourth time, I decided I would track ALL of my time to see where I was “spending” it. “All” meaning as in 24 hours a day.
So six weeks ago, I set up a “Personal Time” project within Harvest (my project time tracker) and the “tasks” associated with how I spend my non-working time – everything from eating and sleeping to working out and walking the dogs.
The insights I’ve learned have been amazing, to say the least.
Insight #1: It takes time to live
After the first two weeks, I was rather astounded by just how much time is required for basic living: cooking and eating meals, walking the dogs, meditating, house chores, exercise, etc.
In any given day, I was spending at least five hours in this area of my life. On the one hand, that made me very happy. I’ve worked hard to create balance in my life. The data showed I’ve achieved it. On the other hand, after factoring in sleeping and work, I didn’t have all that much time left. More on that in a bit.
After a month of tracking my time, I realized why I’ve been exhausted for years: I wasn’t getting enough sleep (data says: 6.7 hours on average per night). That was pretty easy to fix. I stopped getting up at 4:00 and now get up at 5:00 AM.
Insight #2: My ingrained “yes” habit
As I began paying closer attention to my time, one issue quickly rose to the surface: the RUTGA – or what my colleague and master coach Sharon Teitelbaum calls the “Random Unconscious Time Giveaway.”
The RUTGA can happen any time but usually works this way: You’re talking with a client, a colleague, a fellow parent – it can be anyone – and you hear words fly out of your mouth: “Sure, I can help you with that,” or “Ok, I can do that,” or, “Yes, lunch that day works” (even though it really, really, really doesn’t).
Changing the RUTGA means changing your behavior – which doesn’t happen overnight. It means being hyper-aware of your speech.
Even with being aware that I have the RUTGA problem, I’ve still found myself saying “Yes” without even thinking about it. When this happens, I have to go back and graciously bow out.
I’ve learned that the RUTGA is due in part to having fuzzy or even non-existent boundaries. To create boundaries, it helps to build rock-solid routines. For example, I do my marketing from 7:00 to 8:30 AM each day. I work from 7:00 AM to 4:30 PM M – F. I have set exercise times. I work in focused 90-minute blocks of time with breaks in-between.
By building routines, you know what you have to do and when without having to think about it.
If my routine is to work 7:00 AM to 4:30 PM – and if my bike riding time follows right after, then I really cannot say “yes” to lunch, or phone calls or anything else – unless I want to work longer and give up my bike ride (which is my “reward” for a solid day of productivity).
While I’m far from perfect, I’m taking good first steps: At saying no, at suggesting times that suit me, and at learning to stick to my schedule.
If you have issues with boundaries or the RUTGA, I highly recommend the book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I’ve read it — twice.
Insight #3: I need time to focus on my dreams and goals
While I was happy to see my life is pretty balanced, I could see from the data that if I spent roughly a third of my life sleeping and another third working, then I had only a third left in each day for personal time.
Of that time, roughly two-thirds of it was being spent in basic living.
Which meant, I had about three hours left in any given day to pursue my own hobbies, interests and yes, my own dreams and goals. Seeing my time this way really hit home: I can “waste” these hours watching TV or doing mindless stuff on social media.
Or, I can invest those hours in achieving my dreams and goals — from traveling to New Zealand in 2015 to reclaiming my nights and weekends from the tyranny of our “always on” digital culture.
This insight by itself has had the most impact on my life. Why? Because it’s given me focus — and because it’s made it easier to say “no” to things that aren’t of high value. Knowing I have only three “free” hours in any given day has really put a whole different perspective in how I “invest” my time.
What do you think? Have you tracked your time? If you have, what have you learned? Feel free to share your insights.