Try these tips to feel accomplished when you head to bed.
We live in a world with very few certainties, but one of the few remaining ones is that every day of our life has 24 hours. Some say everything is relative, but if tomorrow is the last day to pay my taxes and I don’t do it, I can assure you that nothing is as absolute as the fine I’ll be getting in the mail. Does everything depend on my opinion? Well, no. The time to cook a hard boiled egg is what it is. If I don’t boil it long enough, I get a runny egg … and if I go too far, maybe I’ll burn the house down.
I say this because, like it or not, the human condition is subject to time and space. And time is marked out in hours of 60 minutes and weeks of 7 days. It doesn’t go fast or slow, but sometimes we get the sense that it’s flying by, and other times it seems like the clock has stopped. But there is no worse feeling than that of having wasted time. It is the bitter feeling left by something you can’t go back and change. Did you lose the morning? There is no way to get it back. Did you waste your weekend? Better start thinking now about how not to waste the next one.
Look, we’ve all wasted time. We have even done it consciously. Haven’t you ever gone into one of those big box stores (Target!) to do a five-minute errand and left two hours later? Haven’t you planned to spent a Saturday cleaning the house from top to bottom, only to go to bed that night practically begging Peter Pan to exist and come do a load of laundry for you?
When we spend time observing ourselves and talking about our struggles with others, we come to realize: I’m not the only one! This happens to 101 percent of the population. But for our own success, and for the sake of others, let’s work on it.
Here are some tips to help get you started:
1. The night before
You will feel so on top of things if you take a look at your list of tomorrow’s tasks before you go to bed the night before. It’s not meant to make you feel overwhelmed: if it does, check your list again and cross out anything that you realistically won’t be able to do. When you go over your list, you’ll be able to prepare material, check transportation schedules, make sure you have the travel tickets in your bag, etc.
2. When you wake up, get up
Yes. Get up. Don’t just look at the alarm clock and hit snooze to get 10 more minutes. Have you ever thought of how much time in your life you lose by rolling over in bed in the morning? Over a lifetime, you could have lost four and a half months! I know this is especially hard for us night owls. And that’s why it’s called the “heroic minute.” Up and at ’em! A personal recommendation: give yourself a good reason to get out of bed without negotiating it.
3. First thing in the morning, check your to-do list
Check what you have to do and if there is an obstacle (if it’s raining so you can’t plan a visit to a construction site or a photo shoot), make the necessary changes. Think again about the material you need so that you don’t have to return home: keys, ID, insurance card, work tools, dress clothes, a second pair of shoes, sports clothes, the dress you have to return to the store, the dry cleaning … I always keep in my car a recyclable shopping bag and a cooler. You can make your trunk your great ally.
4. During the day, fit the pieces together. Some fit inside others.
If you remember that you have to call your friend right when you’re working, take note and use your lunch break or your ride home to make that call. If you’re in the car, you can stop by the dry cleaners before going to work and pick up the cleaned item again on your way back home. Use your lunch break to talk to that old aunt who lives alone and whom you know you have to visit.
5. Break your dependency on your cell phone
If you notice that your life without a cell phone would be “impossible,” and if you get anxious if your phone disappears from view for more than two seconds, then you need a disconnection program. The cosmetics company Natura Boissé offers two technology-free spa hours and a regenerating treatment for 300 euros. My proposal is more economical: start by turning off your cell at meal times (lunch and dinner). And dedicate that time to talking with your family, colleagues, friends. You’ll see how much you were losing when you didn’t talk to them or when you were just looking at your Twitter or email. Little by little, you’ll get up to date on what’s happening in their lives, and on what you can do together. You’ll see how you use your time well talking with family and friends.
6. Control your thirst for social networks
Everyone knows what they need and why they use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat … But we can all learn from other people’s experience. The creative director and photographer Berta Bernad closed her Instagram account this year because of anxiety. So did the deputy director of a fashion magazine. Berta had 95,000 followers. Maybe you don’t have that many, but the sensation of “I don’t want to miss out” is something that hits you from the first moment on a social network. How can you get it right in your own case? A very simple solution: before going online, decide how many minutes you’ll dedicate to it and be inflexible with yourself.
7. Do you know how you use your time?
Of course you do. You’ll say, but I’m talking about those “dead” moments: a waiting room at the dentist or doctor’s office, time spent on a metro or a bus, car trips, a jog … Fill that time with an activity that you struggle to find time for otherwise: studying a language, reading literature, updating your knowledge of your profession. Audio books have helped increase the reading index in the United States since the 1990s: they were given to drivers who had a two-hour commute (or longer) every day. And Random House had the great idea of launching a collection of classics narrated by famous actors and actresses. Little Women in the voice of Julia Roberts: interesting, isn’t it?
8. At night, keep your cell phone out of reach
Not on the night table. And not because the radio waves will give you a brain tumor, but because our phones steal hours of sleep from us. In the “Inferno” of Dante’s Divine Comedy, he doesn’t talk about cell phones because they didn’t exist yet, but if they had … Let’s just say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Other reasons: 1) The light of the screen activates your brain and causes insomnia, which can make us more tired and less productive the next day, another absurd way of wasting time. 2) Late at night, our willpower is weaker, and we are not able to even want to shut the phone, so we keep scrolling through Facebook or reading web pages in a kind of lethargy. 3) We can accidentally make embarrassing calls because we fell asleep and dialed someone by mistake. Would anyone like to hear their colleague snoring? Well, it can happen, folks.
Remember: sleeping is an excellent way to use your time.
9. Bring your agenda. Classic advice, but it works
It doesn’t matter if it’s on Google or rice paper; the thing is just that it helps. We all have our own mental structure and our order, and it’s worth finding an agenda where we can see our day written down: what’s coming and what we did. There we can cross things off, move things to a different day or time, and also review. It’s useful for doing an evaluation of how we used each day and whether we really did the most important thing.
10. Determination. Jot down what you’ll do and don’t change the plan.
Do we have to be so rigid? Of course, life is full of unforeseen things. Ordinary life is often full of extraordinary events. But that doesn’t mean we can’t guide ourselves by a scale of values. When deciding what to do, think about what’s most important. Careful: not the most urgent, but the most important. The most urgent can wait, but the most important shouldn’t wait. Will there be changes of plans? Tons, and you will be the one to decide what category they belong to.
11. Direct your schedule toward the goal you set, and don’t get lost in secondary things.
When you’re studying for your tests at school or college, how often did it happen that you suddenly noticed that your sock drawer desperately needed to be reorganized, or that your closet should be rearranged? Who hasn’t suddenly thought of reorganizing the furniture right when you have a pressing deadline to meet? When this happens to you, be like Ulysses with the sirens: he tied himself to the mast and heard them sing until the boat had passed them by. Keep studying or working and remember that the sirens weren’t charming and beautiful women: they were only half woman, and the other half was a monster that devoured sailors. That’s what you’ll do with your time if you stop concentrating on what you’re supposed to be doing.
12. Do you have other ideas? Great. Write them down.
If you’re creative, that’s good, but you have to channel your ideas and imagination. If they are interrupting you while you’re in the middle of an important task, write them down. When you finish what you’re doing, then you can decide how to follow through on them. But don’t ever stop being a volcano of ideas. It’s just a question of knowing how to channel the lava …
This article was originally published in the Spanish edition of Aleteia and has been translated and/or adapted here for English speaking readers.