Make time for what matters. Because if you don’t, your life will be wasted on things that don’t matter. The sooner you learn this lesson, the better.
You worry so much about making mistakes, failing, being ridiculed, being broke, losing. The truth is, all those things matter way less than you think if you spend your time on the things that matter to you.
Doing things right, succeeding, being respected, making money, winning—these things don’t matter if you spend your time on things that don’t matter.
It sounds so obvious, yet few of us live this truth. We lose ourselves in the immediate, we walk through life shortsighted, overly obsess over the next step, while missing both the present moment and the bigger future.
“But I’m busy and I have all these responsibilities and commitments!”
Yes, I know. Here’s a secret: The older you get, the more you’ll be drowned in things to take care of. That’s somehow in the nature of the beast.
(There are a few exceptions to this rule, but don’t count on being the exception. It’s much harder than you think to keep life simple. Being exceptional takes a lot of effort, and if you strive to be exceptional, then strive towards something more worthwhile being exceptional at than “being less busy”.)
So the best time to make time for what matters it today. Because today belongs to you.
Insidious distractions: The #1 Time Thief
There’s a great book by Michael Ende, the German author who wrote The Neverending Story, called Momo. In that book, there are the Men in Grey, who are paranormal parasites that steal people’s time. There are layers and layers of meaning to this, and I highly recommend you read this book, even as an adult. That said, I love the idea of a time thief.
The biggest time thief in your life are what I think of as insidious distractions. It’s not binge watching a Netflix show, or listening to a three hour podcast. Because when you know that, you’re aware that you’re giving a significant amount of your time to these activities, and for most people, there’s only so much of that you let slide.
Insidious distractions are the little things that you do dozens of times throughout your day without really noticing how much time they take out of your days. They’re bad habits. Insidious distractions are those that evade your self-awareness. I’ll start with some obvious ones: social media apps.
Let’s do some simple life math
Chances are that you’re using at lest one of the big social media apps:
- The average Instagram user spends 29 minutes a day on Instagram. Instagram has 1.47 billion monthly active users.
- The average TikTok user spends 32 minutes a day on Instagram. Instagram has 1 billion monthly active users.
- The average Snapchat user spends 31 minutes a day on Snapchat. There are 557 million monthly active users.
- The average Twitter user spends 31 minutes a day on Twitter, and there are 436 million monthly active users.
- The average LinkedIn user spends less than 1 minute a day on LinkedIn, so if you’re an average LinkedIn user… don’t worry 😆
Now, for the sake of simplicity, let’s just say this is 30 minutes a day, and let’s say you use only one of these apps. That adds up to 182 hours a year. That about 4.5 40-hour work weeks. That’s more than the average American has vacation time in one year.
Think about this: You basically spend a four-and-a-half week vacation every year on social media, a few clicks and scrolls at a time. Per app. Fortunately, phones make it relatively easy to figure out how much time you spend on various apps, so you can check the data in your own phone and calculate what’s a more accurate number for yourself.
Do you know what you can do with 182 hours in a year? You could write a novel. You could get in shape. You could learn to play the piano. You could spend time with friends and loved ones, and build deeper, more meaningful relationships, or heck, make new friends.
Dangerous to-do lists
I’m a fan of to-do lists, but they pose a risk too: You can get caught up in a loop of busyness, spending time chasing down to the bottom of that list, which you never arrive at, because to-do list items are a bit like the heads of a Hydra: for every head you chop off, two new ones grow.
Whether you use a simple to-do list, or an elaborate task management system like Asana, be mindful.
The email inbox vortex
The amount of time we spend on emails is mindboggling. You have to be rigorously disciplined when it comes to emails. Tim Ferriss wrote many years ago:
Robert Scoble observed long ago what is now standard: for each e-mail he responds to, he gets ~1.75 in response! It’s an unwinnable game of whack-a-mole.
He also had a great approach to managing email overwhelm that he shared in the 4-Hour Work Week (referencing this makes me feel a bit ancient, but hey, that’s where I first heard the idea): to only check your email at a certain time of day, and only for a clearly defined amount of time.
Saying yes to too many things
I get it—you’re a nice person, you want to help, it’ll just take you 10 minutes but mean so much to that person. But if you say yes to too many things for others, you automatically say no to too many things for yourself.
Prioritize what’s important for you before anything else. If you still have spare time left, then generously give it away, but let it cut into your YouTube watch time, not into “doing what matters” time. You don’t really lose much if you spend less time watching cat videos and standup comedians.
This isn’t just about time management
Time management is a good basic life skill to master, but you don’t need to measure your time as if you’re cooking up crack, nor do you need to rigorously schedule every minute of your day, like Noah Kagan does:
If you’re happy scheduling your days like this, of course, go ahead. But if looking at that calendar seems overwhelming, don’t do it. Simply be mindful about how you use your time.
A simple goal setting exercise
A simpler approach could be to simply ask yourself:
For this upcoming year, what’s the most important thing?
To make this year’s most important thing happen, what needs to happen next month?
For next month’s most important thing to happen, what needs to happen next week?
For next week’s most important thing to happen, what needs to happen tomorrow?
Work your way backwards from the big goal to the daily focus. Write it down somewhere where you’ll see it repeatedly throughout the day: a piece of paper over your desk, or make it your phone’s wallpaper, or whatever works for you. It’s much harder to waste time when you’re aware and conscious of your really important goal than it is when it’s not in the forefront of your mind.
REALLY can’t make the time?
If you already tried to make the time, but your days are really too busy, then keep a time log for a week. That simply means that you meticulously keep track of everything you do for one week. And yes, that means everything: How much time you spend in bed, how much time you spend getting ready to go to work, how much time you spend watching Netflix, cooking, reading, and so on.
Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think found out that people in general underestimate the time they spend on leisure activities, and overestimate the amount of time they spend working or taking care of necessary life chores. Vanderkam even provides a simple spreadsheet that helps you track time (printable PDF or online Google Sheet). Another good for tracking your time, especially the time you spend on your digital devices are time tracking apps like RescueTime, Toggl, or TrackingTime.
Believe me: We all (and yes, that includes you) have more time than we think. You can start carving out a little bit of extra time for what really matters.
Make time for what matters most starting today
Next time when you think you don’t have enough time for the things that matter, consider how much of your day gets eaten up by insidious distractions. And then be ruthless about it. Just kill them. And replace that with meaningful time and nothing else.
That’s how you make time for what matters. If you gave this an honest try and still struggle to find the time, drop a comment below, and I’ll reach out to you personally and help you.