In the Broadway musical “Rent,” there is this great lyric: “In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes — how do you measure a year in the life?” It has always stuck with me. Why? Every single one of us has a finite time here on earth. How you spend it can either be magical or meaningless. You can love what you do for most of your days — or wallow in misery. We all have that choice.
Ending the old “I do not have time for that” problem is, therefore, much easier than you think!
Are You Getting the Right Things Done Every Day?
As lawyers, most of us are required to track our billable time. It’s rote, routine and annoying. But have you ever really looked at how you spend your billable time? In his Productivityist Workbook, my friend and fellow productivity evangelist, Mike Vardy, says that smart task management is not “just ‘checking off boxes,’” it is “checking off the right boxes.”
Granted, many of us have goals for annual billable hours or other targets to reach to qualify for bonuses. But the question really is whether you are spending time at the office (or at home) on the right tasks to meet your goals.
In my post “Understand Your Goal and Work Backward,” I talked about the importance of understanding your goals — what must go absolutely right, what obstacles you face, what resources you will need — so that you can plan appropriately. Once you do that, you can place the end date in your calendar and plot backward the “next action items” so that you constantly have milestones to hit.
It sounds rough, but it is the only way to ensure you get the right things done.
Is It a Time Problem or a Priority Problem?
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “We find in life exactly what we put into it.” If that is true, why do we perpetually waste time on the wrong things? In our lifetimes, we spend more hours at our job than we do with our families. (I hate thinking about it because it is quite depressing.)
Let’s say you need to wake up by 6 a.m. every working day, hurry to shower and dress, make breakfast for your family, possibly make lunches as well, sit in traffic, and arrive at work around 8:30 a.m. I wager there isn’t much time to have meaningful conversations with your partner or your children.
When you’re ready to leave the office, let’s say at 6 p.m., you sit in traffic again, and may not get home until 6:30 p.m. at best. By that time, you have roughly two hours until your children go to sleep. During those two hours, time is dedicated to getting dinner ready, cleaning up, homework and bedtime rituals. Truly, by the time the young ones go to sleep, you’re left with about an hour to speak to your partner (or just “veg out” in front of the television because the two of you are so exhausted from the day).
So, how do you chart a course for your life that allows you to spend meaningful time with your family — and still check all the right boxes at work?
Laura Vankerkam, author of “168 hours,” makes the point that we all have the same number of hours and it is up to each of us to prioritize those hours. In fact, while her book is quite impactful, she bolsters her point with more evidence in her follow-up book “What the Most Successful People Do,” in which she interviews CEOs of major organizations. Among the things they share in common? They start their days at around 4:30 a.m. (I could not agree more — I am drafting this post at 5:23 a.m.!)
What you do with your time, how you spend each minute, is truly up to you. I’ve consciously made the choice to have a full-time job that takes up much of my life. But I also rise early to write blog posts that don’t contribute to the overall Gold household revenue bucket, but do contribute to my own sense of self-worth.
My 50,000-foot goal, as David Allen would say, is to make a difference in peoples’ lives. I like to say that my goal is to become a “difference maker.” To achieve this, I work backward, plot out the hours I have in my days, and make the time I need fit into my 168 hours.
Time Doesn’t Care Who You Are
Time does not care who you are, your gender, whether you are a law student or partner at a top law firm. No matter our occupation or socioeconomic status, time is the great equalizer. It is a finite, non-renewable resource. How we choose to spend each one of the 525,600 minutes in a year will either be to our detriment or a step toward living a life fulfilled.
So, my question to all of you is this: Will you take the next step and chart out your 168 hours? Ending the “I do not have time for that” problem is an easy one to solve — it just requires the discipline to get it done!