Free Time

When my wife and I got married, we had the unfortunate compilation of two educational loans, colliding to create an actual sum bigger than its parts. We knew we had to dress this head-on in our marriage.. Thankfully, I was already familiar with this guy named Dave Ramsey who was famous for his 7 baby steps to becoming debt free. We immediately purchased his online class which initiated our life of cash budgeting which we still practice five years later.

The greatest lesson we learned from Dave Ramsey was that if you want your dollar to have the greatest impact in your life, you need to assign every dollar to something intentional and concrete before it is spent.

Initially we thought this would make our life incredibly inflexible and rigid. Not only were we mistaken, the result was exactly the opposite. It immediately felt like we had received a fifteen percent raise. If that wasn't satisfying enough, we also felt an enormous amount of freedom knowing that all our financial responsibilities were being cared for through the month. We could spend our "recreation" money completely guilt free. If something came up, we could always renegotiate the budget in five minutes time.

What Dave Ramsey does for people financially, I do for people who are in debt to time. Nothing provokes more anxiety than seeing a laundry of things that must get done with no time to do them.

If we really want to have the best month of our life, it must start with creating a "time budget" where we become more intentional about how we spend our time.

I have often heard, "I don't like that kind of structure. I don't want to be held to a schedule. I want to be able to be free to do what I want to do." The irony is that those same people never end up doing anything they really want to do. In the same way that budgeting puts you in control of your money rather than money in control of you, by budgeting you now control your time rather than time being in control of you.

So, if you are tired of looking back month after month with regret, wondering if you did anything meaningful, then it is time to make a change. These five steps, I believe, will feel like you have earned a a fifteen percent raise in your time.

Step One: Allocate Time to The Important Stuff First

It is amazing how our calendars fill up with meetings and obligations before we even get to plan our our day. The best way to prevent this is to allocate time to the important things first, before a day is filled with the other less important things .

Before the month begins, assign dates and times to the important things of your life. Carve out time for exercise, prayer/meditation, reflection, reading, relationships, and recreation. Once inserted into your calendar, these events become immoveable barring real emergencies.

If you have a family, make sure this approach is shared by your spouse and children. In that way, your family will operate from the same basis. By the time you have finished your monthly overview, you should be excited because it includes plenty of time for yourself, family (i.e. date nights, family excursions), friends, and anything else in which you may want to invest your creative energies.

Step Two: Fill In Daily Blocks of Time for Your "One Thing”

While we haven't spoken about what your "one thing" is, don't worry. For now, just block out an uninterrupted time each day (or at least each workday) for doing some creative work. (Again, don't worry about the content of this yet.) We are reserving this time now so that no one or nothing else takes its place and priority. This block of time should be at least two hours with four hours being the ultimate goal. All the calendar event needs to say is "One Thing."

Step Three: Determine Three Outcomes for the Month

Now that our time for the month has been protected, let’s think about what we would like to get out of this month. What are three results you would like to see by the end of this month? The goal is to have only three per area of responsibility. Generally, try to keep areas of responsibility broad enough not to exceed three for this purpose (i.e. personal and work).

Step Four: Narrow the Lens with Three Outcomes for the Upcoming Week

Now that we have a frame for the month, let's look at JUST this upcoming week. In light of the three outcomes above, what are three outcomes for the week that you would like to see which help fulfill the outcomes for the month?

Step Five: Determine the One Thing for Tomorrow

It is always helpful to review your calendar for the next day the night before. In that way, you are not not blindsided by time specific obligations. This is a time too for setting setting any additional reminders for events to ensure smooth and stress-free meetings, and transitions between meetings. I write more about this habit in another post here.

In reviewing your calendar, this is also the time to review your tasks for the following day. In particular, this is a time to determine what your "one thing" is going to be. Find something that requires creativity and needs a block of time investment. Never use the "One Thing" time block for administrative work. This is all about investing in something great that you never have time for. You do now!

Alright, let's do a quick review:

  • Before the month begins, assign times and days to all the important things in your life (i.e. reflection, recreation, relationships, etc.). These are immoveable.
  • Assign general blocks of time for your daily "One Thing," not worrying about the content yet.
  • Determine three outcomes for the month.
  • Determine three outcomes for the week.
  • Review next day’s calendar and tasks, and assign the one thing for tomorrow.

With the holidays in our midst, now more than ever is the time to begin working on this life changing habit! I would love to hear feedback at the end December about how your month was different because of this.

Of course, if you have any questions don't hesitate to leave a comment. I would love to help to make this December the best month ever!!

Triggering Timeliness: The Art of Being Present to Yourself and Others Through Time Commitments

Are you an adrenaline junkie? If so, this post may not be for you. If you are anything like me, the “rush” of suddenly realizing I agreed to be somewhere ten minutes ago is NOT . . . is NOT the kind of rush for which I’m searching. The amount of energy I spend stressing, fretting, worrying, and assuming feelings of guilt zaps me of any mental capacity for the rest of my day. Combine the mental stress with the physical stress of running all out, trying to reset the clock by showering at lightening speed, does not help create proper conditions for full engagement at an appointment. How on earth could anyone live like this on a consistent basis?

Yet, we do. I’ve learned a lot these past eight years on how best to use a calendar to create one incredible week after another—even in the midst of chaos. By committing to the following five best practices, you will not only avoid being late, but you will leverage your week to work for you rather than you working for your week.

The Unschedule

We seem never to have enough time to do the things we want to do. Part of the problem arises from wasting time on trivial matters, and, therefore, reducing the time available for important work We rarely schedule the important things in our life first, allowing the unimportant “obligations” to use up our available time. The best solution I have found for both these problems is called the “unschedule.”

With the unschedule, the important things are scheduled first. In other words, before the week begins with a blank calendar in view, I begin adding those things that are truly important first: working out, time with friends, prayer, meditation, date nights, family nights, get aways, vacations, and blocking out time for creative work. Once these are set in place, I then fill up the remainder of my time with the extra stuff: meetings, appointments, errands, chores, etc. This way I gain control of my week, allowing it to work for me rather than me working for it.

One caveat is that I often have to schedule “unimportant” meetings and appointments weeks in advance. To get over this hurdle, I don’t just plan my next week, but try to advance the calendar each week for the next four to six week period.. In this way I’m nearly always ahead of the “unimportant obligation curve.” My wife and I incorporated this into our weekly routine by planning two weeks in advance each Sunday. It has been a liberating experience. Previously we struggled with finding time to do enjoyable things, because we always felt burdened to stay in and “get things done.” Once we scheduled the important stuff first, we worked extra hard to ensure those scheduled events were kept firm.

I also highly recommend scheduling the each day’s most important thing. Each evening I choose one thing for the next day to work on which for me is most important. I have a general block in my calendar in the morning that says “One Thing.” This is a sacred time for investing my best daily energy in something that is creative and gives me life. I do this in both my personal and professional life. After the time of working on my “one thing” is over, I then move along to the more trivial matters of the day. I believe that if you want to take control of your week, incorporating the unschedule and the one thing into your routine is absolutely critical.

  • If you started your “one thing” tomorrow, what would you choose to work on?

Record Every Event! Seriously, Record It!

This requires little explanation. If we are hap-hazard about what we add—or fail to add to our calendars, they become useless for all practical purposes. We need to have one calendar system in which every event has a set time and day. It may not sound romantic to schedule “date nights,” but the truth is that whatever is on the calendar is a reflection of what we view as important—so why not date nights?

Depend on Lots of Reminders

Every event recorded in your calendar needs to have multiple reminders set. When each event is recorded, think about where you might be before this event. If you will be home and the event is thirty minutes away, set a reminder for 35 minutes before the event, reminding you it is time to go. If you think you’ll need to get ready for the event and it takes you 30 minutes to get ready, set an additional reminder for about 80 minutes before the event, letting you know it is time to transition into getting ready.

For office meetings, I will often set two reminders: one for 15 minutes out, gently reminding me to begin closing up the conversation if I’m already in a meeting, or, if not, to begin last minute preparations for the upcoming meeting. I then set a second reminder for 5 minutes out for travel time to walk over, or to settle in my office. In this way, I am generally stress free when a meeting begins.

For some people, having multiple reminders is not enough. In this case, where reminders would normally serve well, add an actual event. For instance, instead of setting the reminder for 80 minutes before the event, serving as a reminder to get ready, add an actual event called "Get Ready." Then, set a "Get Ready" reminder for 15 minutes before the "get ready event" begins, providing transition time. Now, instead of seeing a reminder for the actual event 80 minutes before, you will see the words "Get Ready" which will serve as greater motivation to do just that.

Check Tomorrow’s Calendar the Night Before

The “rush” of suddenly waking up already late for a meeting is a “rush” better avoided. To prevent this, it is useful to spend five minutes (or less) the prior evening looking at the next day’s calendar events, mentally preparing for the day. This review is also the time that reminders can be quickly confirmed or changed if necessary. If time permits, sending confirmation emails to people involved in a forthcoming meeting prevents travel to a potential meeting at which no one is present.

Create A Calendar Per Area of Responsibility

One of the many advantages of having a digital calendar is being able to create multiple calendars within one calendar system. While not necessary, I have found it very helpful to have my calendars broken up into general areas of responsibility: Work and Personal life. In addition, I have created a shared “Family” calendar that contains all family functions, and a shared “Chores” calendar that distributes household chores within the family. If you are in school, create an “education” calendar to record separately all your classes, quizzes, projects, and exams.

Take the first step of gaining more control of your life by taking control of your time through a consistent use of a calendar, and prioritizing the important over the unimportant things. Next week, I will share with you how I maintain laser-like focus when bombarded with hundreds of tasks. This week we mastered our time; next week we master our tasks. See you then!

  • What is one thing you can do this week that will reduce the stress of rushing and/or being late? What’s one thing you can add to your calendar for next week that you’ve always wanted to do but simply haven’t had time?