There’s a reason why most successful people agree that time is their most valuable asset: Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Unlike money, you can’t earn more time.
Unfortunately, most of us undervalue the time we’ve been given. We waste it by putting others’ needs ahead of our own. We spend an entire weekend doing absolutely nothing. And we constantly get distracted by things that aren’t important.
In 2018, a letter written by a dying young woman went viral. In it, she urged people to really live. It inspired me to start making decisions influenced by valuing my time.
Focus on the big picture.
With so many distractions thrown at us on a daily basis, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. Sometimes this is unavoidable—if you’re handling a business crisis or a family emergency, for instance. But if we constantly get distracted by things like social media, email and other people’s priorities, we become frustrated and stressed because we’re not attending to our own wants and needs.
To make sure you stay focused on the big picture, ask yourself, What goals do I want to accomplish? What would I regret not achieving? What are my priorities? What makes me get out of bed every morning?
Answering these questions gives your life purpose. And when you have purpose, you’ll be motivated to focus and do everything you can to reach your maximum potential.
Plan how you want to spend your days.
Just imagine waking up on a day without any plans. Sometimes that’s a welcome change, like when you’re on vacation. But what if it was a Monday morning? With no to-do list, you might aimlessly wander the office until you feel like going home, letting pointless distractions control your schedule. What a waste of a day.
Even worse, by not planning out our days, we can’t make progress on the goals that will help materialize the big picture we have in mind. While you don’t need to plan out every minute of your day, you do need to have some structure around how you spend your time.
I spend my Sunday afternoons planning out my entire week, then I review my schedule every night before bed. This typically includes the three priorities I must accomplish each day, as well as blocks for things like meetings, email and family time. I also make it a point to pencil in specific times for self-care, which often includes exercise, reflection, learning or just taking five minutes to catch my breath.
Spend your time wisely.
We’ve all been guilty of wasting time. Instead of following the path of least resistance and binge-watching Netflix, squeeze the most from your minutes and prioritize. I prioritize my tasks via Google Calendar. Remember when you’re scheduling to put a “1” or “2” before a task so you naturally prioritize things that are double-booked.
Ideally, when you have free time it should be spent on activities that are valuable, help you grow as a person or work toward your goals. For example: spending quality time with your loved ones, reading, learning a new skill, exercising, volunteering, organizing your office, updating your finances or preparing for the week by laying out your clothes or prepping meals.
Let others know that your time is valuable.
Because time is your most valuable asset, you can’t be willing to give it away to others freely. It prevents you from prioritizing your own wants and needs. It’s like making deposits in everyone else’s bank accounts and never putting anything in your own.
Whether you realize it or not, here are a few ways you’re signaling to others that your time isn’t valuable:
- You say “yes” to everything. If you accept every request that comes your way, you’re putting other people’s priorities ahead of your own. Start saying “no” more often. It’s the simplest way to start accomplishing your goals.
- You get easily distracted. You’re in the middle of deep work or just getting ready to start exercising when you receive a call, email, text or hear a knock on your office door. You immediately stop what you’re doing. Those interruptions add up. Schedule specific times throughout the day to block out distractions by turning off your phone and closing the door.
- You’re on-call 24/7. Thanks to smartphones, it’s expected that we answer an email or text as soon as it’s received. That’s just unacceptable—we all need time to disconnect. We can’t be “on” all the time without losing our edge. Establish boundaries like office hours so that if someone emails you at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday, they know there won’t be a response until later.
- Stick to time limits. If you have a meeting scheduled for 30 minutes, that’s the length of the meeting. If you go over by 15 minutes, that means delaying working on what you had planned. It also tells other people their time isn’t important either.
- You allow tardiness. Whether you’re meeting a client for lunch or calling your financial planner at a scheduled time, make it clear that being late is unacceptable. When others disrespect your time, you lose time to work on your goals.
Once time is gone, it’s gone—that’s why it’s so important to use what you have well. The best approach to life is to “leave it all on the field,” and that means making sure you did all you could. Prioritize the things that matter most to you. Otherwise, they might never get done—and you’ll never know your true potential.
This article was published in February 2019 and has been updated. Photo by @bezzznika1/Twenty20