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A matter of time

Everyone gets the same 24 hours each day. Here’s how to make them count. 

It simultaneously flies, drags and heals all wounds. Time, it seems, is either too fast, too slow or under a lot of pressure to deliver. But it’s up to us—and not the numbers on the clock—to make the most of the 24 hours we get each day.

“I think time is one of the great equalizers of the human race,” says Daniel Brunnert who provides training and coaching at Floyd Consulting based on Matthew Kelly’s book Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction.

Here’s how to use your time to get what you want.

Study how you use your time
The first step in getting a handle on your time is to look at what you’re doing with it. “Take a typical 24-hour period and, as best as you can, list out how you spend your time,” says Brunnert. “What does reality look like?” Include as much detail as possible, being honest with yourself about your productive hours and distractions.

Next, map out what your ideal day looks like. Would you knock out a big project at work, spend more time with your family or pursue a passion you’ve let slip away? After this exercise, compare the two lists, noting which actions energize you and which drain you. “We really encourage people to be mindful,” asserts Brunnert.

Set clear priorities
In planning your ideal day, you likely penciled in things that are important to you. Use this information to create a written record of what you value most in your life. “People have a good idea of what their top one or two priorities are,” explains Brunnert. “After that it gets pretty murky pretty quick.”

“People have a good idea of what their one or two top priorities are. After that it gets pretty murky pretty quick" – Daniel Brunnert

By devoting some of your precious waking hours to identifying what fulfills you, you’ll prepare yourself to make better decisions about how you choose to use the rest of them.

Take charge
Reflecting on how you use your time and what your priorities are can help you shift from a perspective of helplessness to one of authority. “It reminds us we are in control,” Brunnert says. “The whole ownership piece is really empowering.”

It also helps you take back time that might otherwise have been lost. For instance, if you “waste” an hour commuting each day and one of your priorities is to read more, spend your travel time listening to audio books. If you’re trying to stay fit and keep your relationships alive, you might try exercising with a friend. The point is that you can maximize these flexible moments to honor your priorities.

Brunnert finds that plugging everything into his calendar helps him find the time he needs to focus on his priorities, but that might not be the scheduling solution for everyone. “I encourage people to find what works for them,” he says.

Beware the technology time warp
While technology can be our friend, it also can be a time-sucking distraction. Quickly checking the score of the game or your email can turn into an hour of wandering around cyberspace. If you do want to peruse the Internet without losing sight of your priorities, schedule time for that, too. Set a limit for yourself, and when the time is up, get back to the task at hand so what you value doesn’t suffer for it.

Don’t forget leisure
When we have competing priorities and commitments, it’s easy to take time away from your personal pursuits to make up any deficits. But Brunnert cautions against giving up everything you enjoy. He’s a firm believer that focusing on what energizes you will enrich your life.

“If we don’t, we have less to give professionally,” he insists. “We have less energy to give to our families, to our primary relationships, to our kids. We have less to give to community organizations. We wind up doing a disservice to those around us.”

Track your progress
As you practice being mindful about how well you are using your time in accordance with your goals, it’s important to check in with yourself regularly. “At the end of the week, can [you] look back and say that you honored your priorities, that you had them show up in your life?” Brunnert asks.

If not, it’s time to take a closer look. “If we identify something that is a big priority but we don’t make any progress, it’s time to try a different approach,” he notes. After all, it’s a work in progress.

In the end, Brunnert says, “The idea is that we are trying to build a life that’s satisfying. “When we take ownership of our time, it puts us in a more positive, proactive and hopeful mindset.”

And that’s time well spent.