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The only time management trick you really need

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Instead of schedules and strategies, it's all about "the big rocks."

Over Christmas break, I finally finished an Audible book. I’ve been listening to books on Audible for almost 2 years, and I’ve never finished a single one. As a lifelong bookworm, listening to books is a difficult transition for me — I don’t process information well when I hear it as opposed to reading it, and my attention span is significantly shorter when I’m not actively reading.

But between work and shuffling kids to various sports and activities, I don’t have much time to read anymore. What I do have is a lot of time stuck behind the wheel. So I’ve been trying to make the most of it, trying out various audio books and podcasts.

Nothing stuck until I came across Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Doing Less. I didn’t just finish that book — I devoured it. It was like water on a sweltering summer day. I didn’t realize how desperate I was for someone to tell me it was okay to do less, but better.

Here’s a powerful video I found around the same time that explains the entire concept of essentialism, using big rocks and little rocks.

All those time-management techniques and tips and tricks and hacks that we’re constantly flooded with are equally exhausting, because they all point to one inevitable truth: we are way too busy.

Part of it is the pace of modern life and the constant connectivity made ubiquitous by smartphones and the internet. But another part of it is the work ethos that Americans seem to have internalized to an alarming degree — the belief that hard work is the same as constant work.

They are not the same. Constant work is usually scattered and ineffective work — something I learned the hard way over the past year. In 2018, I spent so much time trying to do everything in every area of my life that I ended up burned out and exhausted. Even worse, I came to the crushing realization that in trying to do too much, I had neglected the vital things in my life — my faith and my children.

Since the New Year, I’ve been trying something different. Instead of exhausting myself with detailed schedules and constant work, I start every day with one question, and it’s really more of a prayer: What do I need to get done that will allow me to take care of myself so I can take care of my kids?

Usually, that’s work that needs to be completed before I go to bed. I do that first, so I’ll be free to say bedtime prayers with my kids and go to bed myself, to get the sleep I need to be healthy and happy. Then I do everything else that needs to be done so I can focus wholly on my kids when they get home from school. Sometimes I don’t finish, but you know what? If I don’t finish something that feels urgent before I pick my kindergartener up, I just don’t finish it.

Shockingly, I’ve been finding that all those “urgent” things aren’t so urgent after all. I can get by with doing a lot less than I think I have to, and it doesn’t mean I’m shirking my responsibilities. It just means I’m prioritizing where I spend my time.

It’s been an incredible change for me. I’m not exhausted and frantic all the time, I know what’s going on with my kids academically and socially, I’m rested and energetic, and I don’t feel lost in the stew of my own life. The time I do spend on work is of a much higher quality because I can focus without being distracted. I might be working less, but I’m working so much better.

More than anything, though, I’ve found a sense of peace and balance between that prayer at the beginning of my day and bedtime prayers at the end. They’re bookends that give me direction and connection with God, something I lost in the busyness of the last year. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and constantly busy, just remember to put the big rocks first.

 

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