For A Successful 2017, Audit Yourself And Find A Purpose

There is a lot to be said for planning out a year. (If you still need to plan your year: this guide will help.)

At a certain point, though, you can only add so many things into your life before you need to start subtracting to make room for all the new.

One of the best ways to start doing that is to track your time.

Most people think they’re utilizing every single minute of every day, but if you actually track your time you’ll see plenty of holes.

When I spent time tracking what I was doing during every hour of every day, I realized I was wasting a lot of time waiting on responses from people. Once I realized this, I found productive things to do while I wait for edits, responses, or anything else that depends on someone else getting back to me.

So many people claim they don’t have time, yet can tell you every detail of what happened this season on Game of Thrones.

(On a side note: Consuming media isn’t a bad thing, but consuming media at the expense of your goals is where people start to get in trouble.)

Finding A Goal

The first step is to know what goals you want in your life.

If you don’t have goals, you have no idea if you’re using your time well or not and when you have free time, you don’t know what to do.

When you have a vision for your life, or at least an overriding goal for the year, it’s easy to ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing right now getting me closer or farther from that goal?”

Your time becomes clear.

This is what a lot of “productivity experts” overlook: having something to work toward.

Who cares if you meditate, clean your room, exercise daily, plan your day, or anything else if it’s all meaningless? I’ve seen on a lot of posts on productivity forums along the lines of, “My life is totally in order yet I feel empty inside… why?”

Simple: Because we humans are meant for more than to be tidy.

Being tidy for the sake of looking like you have it together doesn’t make sense. Being tidy because that helps you spend less time on clutter and more time on what matters makes sense.

Having goals, values, a purpose gives meaning to the small tasks.

You might not know what your life’s purpose is, but having literally anything to work toward gives meaning to the day-to-day grind.

Plus, it removes that, “What should I be working on?” feeling when you have downtime.

Track Your Time

There are multiple ways to track your time.

Some prefer digital tools like RescueTime that can track your web activity.

Some prefer paper, and what has worked for me is this planner, where I can track each day 15 minutes at a time. Plus, each day is blank so you can track the days you want without wasting paper when you miss some days. I don’t work at my computer all the time, so I had to find something else I could take offline.

Every 60 minutes I go back and write down what I worked on for the past hour.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to keep writing it down and I actually had to set a 60-minute timer to remember to do it, but it’s eye-opening.

When you complain about not having enough time to work on that creative project, but then write down “Facebook” as what you’ve spent the last hour doing, you understand where your time has gone.

Cut, Cut, Cut

Once you have an accurate look at your week and where your time went, this is when you need to re-prioritize.

There are a million reasons our time goes out the window. Not being organized enough, having too many things on our plate, saying “yes” to too many things, falling into time-wasting activities, and so on.

You can’t audit your life until you have an actual overlook at where your time goes.

This is when you can make plans for the time-sucks that eat away at your life.

For example, here are some things I’ve altered:

  1. I made my Facebook password ridiculously complicated and I sign out after being done. Having a complicated password prevents me from signing in at any moment. I also took Facebook, along with some other social media platforms, off my phone so I stopped burning time on those mindless activities.
  2. I meal prep as often as I can. One huge time suck was cooking every single day, so I’ve been working to change that. I don’t want to eat out every day, because that’s a financial drain, but just having things prepared has made everything so much easier.
  3. Stopped multi-tasking. I thought I was getting so much done when I would multi-task, but after tracking my time I discovered this wasn’t true at all. Doing multiple tasks took longer than me focusing and doing one at a time.
  4. I now only consume media I really enjoy. Sometimes we all get sucked in to keeping up with the “hot” things of our time, but that can be such a waste of time. I stopped watching a lot of TV shows for that reason.

Keep Modifying

It’s normal to fall off the wagon when you’re trying to build new habits or shift your focus, but if you keep tracking and trying to improve, you can make your life better with each passing day.

What have you realized was a complete time-suck, and how did you change it? Leave a comment!

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Live A Life Defined By Your Own Values

While stress is rampant among today’s society, particularly among today’s youth, everyone wants to point at technology.

It’s understandable, since my phone and e-mail seem to always be buzzing, but there’s another theory I’ve been thinking about that causes so much stress:

Living life outside of our values.

It’s not a flashy idea, but everyone has internal values they live by, whether they have taken the time to reflect on them or not.

Some examples:

  • Maybe you truly value a life of minimalism, but you can’t stop buying things. The stress then builds on your life because your heart wants less clutter but your home doesn’t give you that peace.
  • Maybe you value adventure, but your daily grind without a single break to get outside is wearing you down.
  • Maybe you value being self-reliant, and having to borrow from your parents is eating away at your self-worth.
  • Maybe you value your health, but you can’t stop drinking soda when you’re at work.
  • Maybe you value the strenuous life, and your comfortable living is clashing with your internal feelings.

While the modern living is stressful with all the new demands we never had in the past, the real stress comes from not harnessing this new technology to get us closer to what we value.

Instead, we constantly distract ourselves from what we care about and convince ourselves that it is everything we need.

We all value different things, that’s why there is no one lifestyle that is perfect for everyone, even though every “guru” out there tries to sell you something otherwise.

Yes, stress is a good thing every now and then. Stress of exercising your body, striving for your goals, asking someone on a date, but that’s a much different kind of stress than living a life outside of what we value.

A life outside of what we value is one that wears away at the soul. It’s a stress that will kill your spirit and make you feel empty inside.

Actually, science has determined a name for the different kinds of stress: eustress and distress. One is good, and one is bad.

We want more of the good stress and less of the bad stress.

Here’s how to get your life back on track:

1. Take the time to determine your values.

The Art of Manliness has an incredible post on how to take the time to find your values.

What I did was find a notebook and write down every time something made me feel irritated. I found a few common themes: eating food I knew was bad for my system, skipping a workout, buying cheap goods made in China, having too much clutter, not making any progress on my main goals… All of those made me feel irritated.

Yes, it will feel weird to have a notebook of complaints for a month, but this is valuable in order to determine what you actually care about. You’ll be able to tally up certain things to find the real underlying values that guide your life and why you feel so stressed.

2. Calculate how you’re going to live your values.

This is the hard step. You’re going to have to change parts of your life that might feel hard to change.

A relationship might have to go, you might have to cancel that online gaming account, you might have to start changing your career. Just make sure to start with one value at a time. Start with the easiest one first if it’s a huge change.

You might have years, or even decades, of living a life outside of what you truly value so give yourself the time to make slow steps toward what matters.

3. List your basic rules.

There will be a set of minimum rules you will not break at any cost.

Some examples include:

  • No phone at bed time.
  • No video games until all your work is done.
  • You will not sleep until you have done 100 squats.
  • You will not cheat on your spouse.
  • You will do something adventurous every month.
  • You will donate one box a week.
  • You will play outside with your kids 3x/week.

Understand some weeks will be better than others, but if you have a simple list of rules you follow, it will make life so much easier. It will also make your weekly planning much easier (A series on weekly planning is coming!).

4. Stay focused on what matters.

Don’t fall back into the trap of superficial distractions.

Sometimes we feel unnecessarily irritated and it’s important to let that feeling sink in until you find the root cause of the feeling.

Modern life makes it all too easy to distract ourselves when we’re feeling bad. There’s all kinds of stimulation to keep us busy and away from what we’re really feeling.

Benjamin Franklin is known for tracking his virtues in a chart:

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 9.46.12 AM

(Virtues and values aren’t exactly the same thing, but hopefully you get my point.)

This might be something worth doing yourself as well. Tracking each day whether you were closer to a life you value or when you made choices that didn’t help.