Do you often find yourself at the end of the day wondering what happened to your time? Does it feel like you never have enough time to do the things you most want to do? If your answer is yes, you’re not alone. Most of us are struggling to live with intention through the din and distractions of the digital age.
Connection Theory teaches us how to recenter our lives around what matters most. Below are some of the many tools we’ve discovered to help you wisely allocate your daily time, and unlock the immense satisfaction of living in alignment with your values and priorities.
Prioritize Your Priorities
One of the most helpful ways to align your values with your actions is to make a habit of prioritizing your priorities each day. Prioritizing is one of the most energy-consuming activities our brains perform, so it pays to do it early in the day when our minds are fresh. We recommend organizing priorities for the day first thing in the morning, before the many demands for your attention burn through the energy you have to spare.
Writer David Rock compares the brain’s processing (and prioritizing) ability to a toy helicopter. Once you get it off the ground a few times, it no longer has the power to lift off; the more you try, the less power it has to do anything else. Keep this in mind when you get out of bed and grab your phone…do you really want to spend your precious mental energy skimming an overloaded inbox, instead of planning for a successful and richly rewarding day?
You’re likely to have a long list of things you think you should get done each day. Running certain errands, doing certain work tasks, and parenting activities are probably on this list. By identifying and ranking these with fresh eyes and mind, you can see what’s really the most important, and launch yourself into a day of rewarding, meaningful activity.
Another bonus of writing out priorities each day is the satisfaction of crossing them off the list when you’re done. Recognizing that you’ve accomplished something meaningful is an incredibly powerful and important key to lasting well-being.
Another of my favorite techniques for reclaiming your life is time chunking: designating big blocks of time to focus on a single activity, and then shielding that time from intrusion by other activities.
For example, you might try scheduling all of your in-person meetings and appointments on a particular day, instead of letting them get scattered all over your week. This can save you a lot of driving or travel time, and allow you six other days to devote to more meaningful activities. Plus, because you’ve carved out this time solely for these in-person meetings, you’ll find it easier to focus entirely on the people you are meeting with, and to connect with your planned projects.
Chunking is also enormously helpful for completing projects that need sustained focus, like strategy analysis or creative writing. Many people find that they can complete something that would ordinarily take them a week to do in just one multiple-hour chunk. The quality of thinking we can achieve when uninterrupted also tends to be higher. The key word here, though, is uninterrupted…make sure your phone is on Do Not Disturb and you’ve blocked yourself from other intrusions on your attention.
Another strategy to reduce the amount of time you spend on meaningless tasks is called pairing. This is a fantastic tool for dealing with the meaningless chores of life that we can’t cut out of our schedules.
As the name suggests, pairing involves combining complementary activities – either doing two necessary things at once to maximize your payoff for the lost time; or matching a meaningless chore with a fun or meaningful one to make the time spent enjoyable as well as productive.
Think about the unavoidable activities in your day that you dislike, and see if there is a way to make them more satisfying by pairing them up with another activity. Consider using your daily commute time to learn (or just laugh) with podcasts or audiobooks. Turn on music you love as you’re cleaning, cooking, or doing dishes. Break out your kindle or an old-fashioned book you’re eager to read while you’re waiting for appointments or kids’ pickup. Maybe invest in a treadmill desk so you can answer emails and clock in your daily steps at the same time.
With a bit of creativity, pairing can help you make significant strides toward living with intention. At the very least, pairing frees up time in your schedule for other, meaningful tasks. And you never know – the chores that you used to dread might wind up becoming your favorite time of day.