How I Schedule My Life: Evaluating Time (part 1)

How I Schedule My Life: Evaluating Time - a metaphor

Finding time for your passions is a tricky subject.

I do a lot of things. Most of these things aren’t really built around the idea of generating income. In fact, most are little niche craft hobbies (I call them artistic endeavors, which may or may not be self-aggrandizing). On top of that, there’s just general interest stuff that I want to make sure I keep up, like regular meditation, new language tactics, etc.

And on top of that top, I’ve got a full-time job, kids, chores, etc, that demand my time.

If you’re here, much of this probably sounds familiar.

This isn’t a post about efficient processes, how to learn something quicker, or any of that shit. That stuff is important, but that’s not what this is about. If you’re interested in that, I’d suggest you check out Tim Ferris’s classic The 4 Hour Work Week.

Instead, this post is about how to budget your time. More specifically, how I budget my time. I’m hoping you’ll be able to use some of my techniques to help you develop your own strategy to make sure you’re regularly and routinely working towards the passions and skills that are important to you.

Inertia is a bitch

So if you want to get reductive, there are two kinds of people in this world.

  • Those that can’t seem to start
  • Those that can’t seem to stop

The Laze

The first, and most common, are those that can’t seem to start.

How do you know if you’re one of these? Well, do you want to — write a book, start a blog, play an open mic night, get a business idea going, learn a language etc — but it never seems like the right time? There’s just always too much stuff to do, or maybe you don’t have the right equipment?

An object not in motion tends to stay not in motion. And listen, it’s totally understandable. Maintaining life in our world, like the bare min, is hard.

If this is you, you need to find a way to carve out daily and weekly time rooted in the tasks you really want to accomplish. Most people just don’t give themselves a space to do what they want. You need a system for incrementally taking back portions of your time to pursue your ideas incrementally without causing detrimental harm to those things they really NEED to do (a.k.a. paying the rent).

The Burnout

The second kind of person is the polar opposite. Here’s how to know if you’re this person. You’re always going in 15 different directions, running back and forth between projects, ideas. You’re all over the place. People look at you and think you’re productive because you do so much, but you don’t feel productive because you’re not doing anything well or meaningfully.

This person is just as bad as the first. I know that because I am this person. You get snagged up by inefficient tasks, or maybe you work for the sake of work. You often try to multitask and inevitably fail at everything. And the worst of all, you get burnout.

Breaking Inertia: A solution for everyone

If you read my earlier post Values, Passions, Goals, what we’re talking about here ties together the Passions and Goals categories.

Below is the real system I use and have used for a while, to make sure that in my day in and day out, I’m incrementally working towards my long terms passions. It keeps me from lapsing into inactivity when “real-life” gets the better of me. It also keeps me from jumping too deep into any one activity and getting burn out.

My process is simply the agile software development method reframed for the purposes of regular life tasks. For those of you who don’t know about agile, the basic idea is to rope off a small window of time to create some outcome. In software development, this normally means you have 2 weeks to build a piece of functionality in a software tool. After 2 weeks, you have a new outcome to complete over the next 2 weeks.

An Example

A good way to think about the benefit of this system is to think of the alternative. Let’s image you had a big plan that outlined perfectly how your project would unfold over the next 2 weeks, 2 months, and 2 years down the line. Well, anyone who’s ever lived in the real world knows life just isn’t that stable. Things come up, setbacks arise, and new opportunities emerge.

The idea behind agile is to allow flexibility. If ideas, plans or even problems emerge, you have a way to deal with them immediately.

I use this same method to partition use of TIME towards my passions using 2 weeks sprints. For example, I have to complete 80 minutes of meditation per 2 week period. Another might be working on songwriting for 2.5 hours per 2 weeks.

So that’s the basic idea, but before we get too deep into the sprints, I’d like to talk about how I decide how much time I have to play with per 2 weeks.

Evaluation of your time

If you don’t have a good grip on how much time you have to spend per week on hobbies, you’re going to set yourself up for failure. The first thing I do is understand my available time.

To that end, the first thing I do is understand my available time.

Brace for math.

Let’s look at my life over the course of a regular week.  168 hours.

First, the major time sucks

  • Work – 40 hours
  • Commute – 5 hours
  • Sleep – 52.5 hours (7 1/2 hours a night)
  • Total = 97.5 hours

Life tasks (showering, dressing, eating dinner with the fam)

  • 14 hours, 2 hours a day (being liberal here)

All in, that gives me 111.5 hours, or about 66% of my week. Luckily, we’re left with 56.5 hours a week to work with.

Now, don’t mistake me. I know there are other things going on in that 56.5 hours. You’re taking kids to soccer, you’re going on dates with your spouse, you’re cleaning your gutters. We’re about to account for that stuff.

When I consider how much time I want to commit per week to my passions, I create it from a percentage of that remaining  number: 56.5 hours. I can’t tell you exactly what that percentage for you is because I don’t know you, what you want to do, or how you prioritize the various things going on in your life. (Again, I’d suggest you take a look at this post Values, Passions, Goals, for a primer on how to consider prioritizing your values).

2 Things

What I can tell you are 2 things.

  • Start slow.
  • I typically do well between 12-17%, which translates in the above example to roughly 6.75 hours to 9.5 hours per week. Or thinking at a daily level, almost 1 hour a day to almost 1.5 hours a day of work towards your goals.

This is the time I MANDATE, towards a handful of goals I’m working on.

Next Steps

Okay. Get your figures worked out for your own life.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how I use these numbers tactically in my 2-week sprints, the rules I put on myself to keep me in check, and the benefits and possibilities I’ve seen from this approach.

How I Schedule My Life: Evaluating Time (part 1)

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