What stops you from spending more of your time on the stuff that really matters to you? If you can figure out the answer to this question, you'll have taken a big step towards leading the life you really want.
Where do you start with a question like this? I find it helps if you break it down. Take a look at the mind map.
Needs, Wants and Demands
Let’s work through it logically. First, there are all of your intrinsic (i.e. internally derived) needs or wants. These are things ranging from ‘I’d like a new car’ to ‘I need to go to the bathroom’ and everything in between.
True needs — that is those which are biologically necessary — we have little control over. We assume that we have agency over the rest — that our brain is running the show and we are rationally selecting everything else.
However, by evolution, we are hunter-gatherers. Your mind is highly attuned to notice when things around you change. This acutely developed sense allowed you to stay alive by attending to the signals that nature sent us. That tree over there is blossoming now so there’ll be fruit before long — that kind of thing.
The problem is we now live in a calorie dense, technologically bright and glimmering world of almost unlimited possibility. Anything and everything can and probably will claim your attention sometime soon, and so hot-wire you into reflexively responding with cravings that you all too readily confuse with real need.
On top of the cravings which make large claims on us, there are also the many extrinsic demands for your time and attention. Unfortunately these rain down on us in an unrelenting deluge that never ceases. There’s your boss, your work colleagues, your family and friends and many others, all of whom would like a piece of your action please, now if possible.
Many people’s first conscious action each day is to look at their mobile phone (I’m own up to this one). The modern-day equivalent of a plague of locusts, our always on and super-hyper-active information technology, swarms around us, gobbling up our capacity to choose what we think about or pay attention to.
Any of this sound familiar? Yeah, me too.
Goals and Other Priorities
Over on the other side, there are all those things you know you really should be doing if you want to get to where you want to get to. Do you ever get that nagging feeling that tells you you’re now doing what you said you would? You know — going for that regular run, or getting home in time to play with the kids before bed? Maybe it’s saving for the holiday, or putting aside something for a rainy day?
Whatever, it’s all those things which represent your goals in life.
When you allow the first two categories (needs/wants and demands) to swamp you, there’s little chance you’ll focus on your goals.
It’s crucial to develop a system to manage your needs/wants and demands. With a system in place, you can prioritise. Remember, whenever you say yes to one thing, you are always saying no to something else. That’s why this is so important — when you give your time, energy and attention up to your needs/wants and demands, you’re saying no to spending it on your goals. Many people do this all their lives without realising it.
The kicker is that when this happens, you intuitively understand that’s what’s going on. This intuition is what drives your awareness into the future — ‘I’ll do that [select important task] when I’ve done a, b or c’. You end up thinking things will be OK, one day in the future, on the day when you’ve got the time.
Basing your life on what might happen one day in the future, is one sure way of ensuring you stop yourself from doing something now that brings that future day closer to you.
That’s ironic, isn’t it?
When do you live your life? Not someday in the future, it’s right now. You can’t smell the freshly cut grass on your lawn next week. You can savour it now. The taste of that ice-cream reaches you as you lick the drip as it runs down the cone, not tomorrow afternoon.
Take Action Now
Here’s my recipe for spending more of your time on the important stuff.
- Build a system to regulate your needs and wants and for capturing the demands being made of you.
- Prioritise regularly and use the system to ensure you choose what to spend your time on.
- Clarify your goals, the things you want to achieve in life. Put them in your system and commit some of your time to these each day.
- Use the moments you free up each day to notice you’re in the moment and you’re alive, right now.
To complement this article why not read about developing a healthy attitude here.