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How To Figure Out What’s Worth Spending Your Time On

Do you feel like you’re on a nonstop roller coaster, unable to get off? Experts say thinking about time differently will shift your outlook.

How To Figure Out What’s Worth Spending Your Time On
[Photo: Flickr user Hash Milhan]

How should you spend your time?

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It’s a question you likely ask yourself every time you sit down at your desk. Whatever you choose, you could have chosen something else. This means the question comes down to values and priorities, and other things that make this a fraught matter to contemplate.

So what deserves your time?

In their forthcoming book out December 30, The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity, FranklinCovey time management experts Kory Kogon, Adam Merrill, and Leena Rinne suggest an exercise to figure this out that’s simple, but increases the likelihood that important things get on your calendar. “It’s a lens to determine what’s important and what’s not,” says Kogon, global productivity practice leader.

Making A List

First, list your main roles–the authors depict these segments as a Wheel of Life. Perhaps you’re a business owner, a father, a husband, and a runner. Or you’re an engineer, a singer, a friend, a daughter, and a volunteer. Four roles is good; don’t list more than seven.

“They don’t all have to be equal slices,” says Kogon. “You’re not going to spend as much time on even a much-loved hobby as you will at work. But they should be the roles that matter most to you, and that you might use to introduce yourself to someone.”

Next, for all these roles, write down what an extraordinary performance would look like. What would make you feel like you’re consistently making a high-value contribution in that role?

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In her role as a FranklinCovey practice leader, Kogon says she aims to help people in other organizations feel accomplished at the end of the day. In her personal life, Kogon’s role is daughter. “Right now … [what’s] extraordinary for me is making sure I am physically connected to my mother and constantly connected to my father,” she says.

Her mother has had Alzheimer’s for several years, so they can’t email or talk on the phone well. “I need to sit right next to her,” she says, which is complicated with Kogon based in Arizona, while her mother is in New York.

Checking It Twice

Once you have a broad statement of excellence, write down a small number of concrete actions that would lead to that excellence happening. For her practice leader role, “that could be that I have met with 20 to 30 key clients around the world in a given year,” says Kogon. In her daughter role, she says she wants to be in New York once or twice a month.

Given the travel required by the professional role, that requires some careful scheduling, but such clarity is also liberating, she explains. Two New York trips per month automatically go on Kogon’s calendar. That way she won’t start to worry; she’s prioritizing her schedule to help her parents in this stage of their lives.

Likewise, whatever concrete actions you have identified to achieve excellence in your main roles, they go on your schedule. Yes, life will get busy. Yes, you’ll have unexpected calls, trips, and snow days.

But when you have clarity about what matters most to you, you can take those things in stride. Whatever else you do with your time, what matters most to you will get its due.

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About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at www.lauravanderkam.com.

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