The good news is you can fix it easily, starting today.
The other day, I happened to catch a Facebook post from a long-time friend (whom we’ll call Tom to protect the innocent). Tom’s a fellow writer, and he struggles a lot when it comes to productivity. He’s also convinced that his chronic lack of output is a time problem, so he was asking his friends how people actually find enough of it to consistently do the things they love.
Now, I’ve known Tom for a long time, and he’s a great guy, as well as a very talented writer. However, he rarely finishes anything he starts, and very little of what he does finish ever gets sent anywhere for consideration. Despite also asking me repeatedly over the years for professional advice on how to start editing or copywriting on a freelance basis, he’s never gotten around to giving that a try either.
According to Tom, he just doesn’t have time for those things between his day job and his personal life, but that’s a lie. I know it, and more importantly, Tom knows it. He just hasn’t admitted it to himself yet, because he’s not actually ready to do things differently.
Are you like Tom too, or are you ready to find out what’s really been holding you back so you can finally do something about it?
It’s not your motivation. It’s your approach.
Don’t worry. I’m not about to accuse you of secretly not wanting to succeed. The real issue is your inaccurate belief that people who are more productive than you also have more free time.
Highly productive people who consistently reach their goals don’t find the time for the things they love; they make it. And believe it or not, you already know how that’s done. You do it every time you squeeze something like a doctor’s appointment or a visit to the DMV into your schedule despite being just as busy as anyone else.
That’s because you view appointments, requirements, and deadlines as important, meaning not doing them simply isn’t an option. The minute you start seeing that second language you want to learn or that novel you want to finish in the same light, amazing things will start to happen for you. Absolutely guaranteed.
We always have time for things that are priorities.
Before you can make progress, you need to be aware of what you really mean when you say you don’t have time for something. “I don’t have time for that” is actually code for “that’s not currently a priority for me”. In other words, it’s an excuse, and it’s one we’ve all made at one point or another in our lives.
Try rephrasing the things you tell yourself as to why you’re not actively working on your passions, and see how they sound. It’s a lot tougher to say “my health isn’t a priority for me right now” instead of “I don’t have time to work out and eat right”, isn’t it. Or to admit that maybe you’re not working on your art because creating isn’t currently the priority it should be.
Putting things that way has a way of kicking you in the pants. It makes you want to do better so you can prove yourself wrong, and it makes you want to take action now. Prove your passions are priorities by making them priorities.
Start small, but be consistent.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to establish a new routine is doing too much too soon. Going all out might work for a while, but it’s not sustainable over the long haul, especially when you’re already having trouble fitting something into your schedule.
You don’t need to free up hours of time to make progress toward a goal. Smaller chunks of time can be just as effective when training yourself to prioritize your passions, and they add up. Try 10 minutes to start with. It’s long enough to make a difference, but short enough that you’ll be able to stick with it.
Where you make room for that 10 minutes in your schedule is up to you, but I personally recommend starting your day with it. You’re freshest first thing in the morning, so that’s a great time to focus on something important to you. You probably also already have an established morning routine that includes lots of other tasks (e.g. showering, making coffee, or brushing your teeth).
Adding a 10-minute workout or free-writing session to the mix is as easy as getting up 10 minutes earlier. It may not seem like much, but by the end of the week, you’ve spent 70 minutes actively working on something important to you. By the end of the month, it’s 4 hours and 40 minutes — enough time to have made real progress. Plus, 10 minutes is easy to squeeze into your schedule elsewhere if you oversleep or forget to do it earlier.
Really look at how you spend your time, and reclaim what you waste.
Most people spend an astronomical amount of time each day doing completely unnecessary things that really serve no purpose at all. They sit around gossiping, channel surfing, or mindlessly scrolling through their social media feeds because that’s how they’ve trained themselves to deal with downtime. Activities like those eventually add up to multiple wasted hours that easily could have been spent working on a passion instead.
Over the next couple of days, take a look at how you really spend your time and identify activities that don’t actually bring anything to your life. Consider either cutting those things out of the equation altogether or coming up with ways to make them more enriching and less of a time suck.
Set limits on the amount of time you spend sitting in front of the television. You’re a lot more likely to choose shows you find stimulating instead of flipping channels in a daze for unlimited hours on end. The same goes for social media or time spent chatting with friends. When you know you have a limited amount of time to spend on Facebook or Instagram, you’re more likely to use it for meaningful interactions instead of gossip, trolling, or mindless scrolling.
Spend the time you save pursuing your goals, developing your skills, and actively focusing on your passions instead. Not only will you make amazing progress, but you’ll love how much more productive you feel, especially once you start seeing the results.
Make random pockets of “wait time” more productive.
Most people’s daily routines come complete with little patches of time that seem too small to be put to much use. We lose five minutes waiting in line for our morning coffee or wind up with 10 extra minutes to kill while we’re breaking for lunch. We spend time waiting for the bus, waiting for the pizza delivery to show up, or waiting for it to be time to pick the kids up from school as well — more time that could easily be put to better use.
The next time you find yourself in a holding pattern waiting for someone or something else, don’t reach for your phone and start scrolling the way you normally would. Do something small that pushes you closer to really accomplishing something instead.
Trying to get in shape? Do a few squats, push-ups, and jumping jacks or research a new lifting technique you’ve been wanting to experiment with. Looking to beef up your blog? Start a new post or jot down some possible titles and headlines for future consideration. Trying to master a language? Open up your learning app of choice and breeze through a couple of quick practice sessions.
Get comfortable with saying “no”.
Learning how to make more productive use of your own time is only half the battle when it comes to making your passions the priorities they should be. The rest is largely about setting boundaries with other people. If you’re a capable, productive person, other people will try to get you to turn their priorities into your priorities. While it’s commendable to want to help friends and loved ones where you can, it’s important to be mindful of where (and on whom) you spend your energy.
People are conditioned to believe a nice person, a good friend, or a loving family member never says “no” when asked for their time or the use of their resources. It’s time to dismantle that thinking.
You have the same 24 hours each day that everyone else has, so saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to something else. Make sure you’re saying “yes” to what’s really important to you.
There’s nothing wrong with agreeing to help a friend who always helps you or spending some extra time with a beloved family member who really needs your support right now. Do you often find yourself making plans with people you don’t actually like though? What about making up the difference for a lazy roommate who really needs to be pulling their own weight? Or doing endless favors for people who make you feel used?
It’s not just OK to say “no” to favors you don’t really want to do and interactions you don’t actually want to have. It’s necessary if you’re serious about keeping the things you love front and center in your life. Even when you do want to say “yes”, it’s worth really evaluating whether or not you can afford to make the sacrifice right now.
Time is precious and limited.
You can always earn more money or buy more things. What you can’t do is magically buy yourself more time. Each of our lifetimes comes attached to a time limit. You may not know how generous your personal limit is, but it’s there just the same. The more mindful you become of that fact, the less sense it makes to frivolously waste time.
Do the things that really matter to you, and do them now. Make ample time for them by getting your priorities straight and keeping them that way. Even the small decisions you make about how to manage your time every day count, so choose wisely.