Make every minute count: live with meaning

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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Previously, we’ve discussed how to prioritise your time. Now we’ll focus on “important and not urgent” activities that you find fulfilling. Make every minute count, so that you can live with meaning and achieve your goals.

In the article mentioned above, we discussed a method to categorise tasks in your life. The aim is to reduce or eliminate activities that aren’t really meaningful for you, or are trivial timewasters. With awareness and good planning, you can also reduce the number of crises that derail you from doing what you really want to do.

Eliminating other activities as much as possible lets you focus on the ones that make a difference: the important and not urgent activities. 

Invest most time in this group

Important and not urgent activities provide meaning and purpose in life. They provide a greater sense of well-being and “flow” than other activities.

They also have fewer time pressures attached to them, simply because they’re not urgent. However, that can be a problem, as urgent but trivial tasks can push these more meaningful activities aside. 

So plan ahead to prevent yourself being caught up in crises. 

Make every minute count by focussing on the things that matter most to you. 

What’s important to you?

However, there are a few steps to complete before you start working on the important and not urgent tasks.

First, you need to know which values are most important and significant to you. 

1 Define your values

Defining your values lets you focus on the person you wish to be, and the life you want to lead. This can help clarify what you want to achieve both in the short-term, and over the course of your life.

And in turn, that determines how you’ll spend your time.

For example, if you value creativity and productivity, you probably won’t watch too many TV reruns in your spare time.

So which abstract values or guiding principles do you want to base your life around?

Some examples are fairness, creativity, courage, security, curiosity, independence and so on. You can find lists of values on the internet to help you identify your own.

To start with, list at least 5 of your top values.  

2 Use values to identify areas of interest

Knowing your values opens up a broad range of activities consistent with those values.  

For example, you may wish to live by the values of gratitude, kindness and compassion, and to be open-minded and sociable. From this, you could deduce that social connection is an important area or domain in life for you. 

So you may choose to do volunteer or paid work to help others in some way. Maintaining good links with family and friends may take priority over working long hours to gain promotion. Any goals you set in this domain will be in alignment with the values you believe are important. 

So next, decide which areas or domains in life are important to you. 

3 Identify which domains are important

Some possible domains could be:

work
family
relationships
personal development
creativity
health
leisure
social connections
education
volunteering
community development, and so on.

Everyone has a different view of which areas are most important. That’s because we all have different value systems.

So the values you just wrote down will influence which domains are most important to you.

List about 6 – 7 important areas or domains in your life. Give them whatever names you want.

Choose a couple that are most significant to work on. You can come back to the others later.    

Now you get to put all your dreams and wishes into workable, achievable terms.

4 What are your goals for each domain?

See if you can write answers to the following questions for each domain. Keep your values in mind as you do this exercise.

And don’t feel you have to have grand, sweeping goals. Small ones are just as valuable, and more achievable as ambitious ones. Be realistic and specific. 

So start with one domain first. 

What are the most important and meaningful goals you want to achieve: 

1 In the next 6 – 12 months? (Or even 1-5 years if you wish.)

2 What about in the next 3 – 6 months?

3 In the next month?

4 What small goal do you want to achieve in the next week?

5 What’s an even smaller goal you want to achieve today?

6 Tomorrow? The next day?

7 What would you most regret not doing in this domain?

For best results, make sure all your goals align with your values, and that your smaller goals lead to your bigger goals. 

If you’re finding this hard, don’t worry

If you’re struggling to write down your goals, don’t worry. Spend some time thinking about what you really want to do in life. Spread this process out days or weeks if needed.

But know that this is one of the most valuable things you’ll ever do. So decide to be one of the few who (a) writes their SMART goals down, and (b) actually achieves them.

If possible, review what you’ve written each month or so. As life changes, you change, and your priorities change. So be flexible, and tweak your goals as circumstances require.

Now you know what’s important to you, your plan of action becomes fairly simple:

Do more of what’s important, and less of what’s not important.

Now you’ve identified valued goals in each domain, you can move toward creating the life you envisage. You’ve already seen how to cut out or reduce activities that take you away from your more meaningful goals. 

To make every minute count, now focus on activities that are important and not urgent.

Here are some examples of important and not urgent activities. 

Important and not urgent activities:

upskilling to aid career development
establishing meaningful business networks
forward planning at work or home
analysing which activities provide greatest value
learning the language and culture of a country
volunteering in community organisations
promoting environmental issues
taking part in sport
developing crafts like leatherwork or woodwork
learning pastel drawing, life drawing or painting portraits
learning a musical instrument
mastering computing skills
decorating a house
establishing a garden
developing social networks
being a good parent or neighbour
fighting for better amenities in your area
writing and publishing poetry or a novel online
composing and recording your own music
working for animal welfare …..

The list is endless

When activities like these give you intense satisfaction, your life is enriched. 

In addition, working to master your own goals can have a ripple effect. The more fulfilled you are, the more you may engage with the world around you.

Common interests make it easier to connect with like-minded people. Or you could mentor others and help them appreciate these activities as well. 

By enriching your own life, you enrich the lives of others. So here are some tips to help along the way. 

10 tips to make every minute count 

1 Audit how you use time

Do a personal time audit for several days. See exactly what you spend your time on, both at work and during leisure time.

Of course, if you’re working and/or have a family, you often can’t choose your tasks. However, you can still limit repetitive timewasters. If possible, complete more complex, interesting tasks first.

Even if you can only find 10 minutes a day for your treasured activity, this will keep you in contact with what’s meaningful to you. Over time, slowly increase the time you carve out for your important activities.

2 Be aware of your choices

Every choice you make affects whether you use your time effectively. Decide if you want to continue as you have been, or if you want to change.

3 Don’t be too ambitious at first

Start small to begin with. You’re changing your mindset completely. In effect, you’re aiming to make every minute of every day count.

Be prepared to come across many obstacles. But persist in focussing on important and not urgent activities.

4 Realise others won’t want you to change

Other people will resist you changing your priorities. They’ll expect you to keep responding to them the same way you always have.

They may also get annoyed if you spend less time with them. You may feel guilty at not doing some of the things you used to.

Now I’m not suggesting you dump your friends, or give up helping others. But tell friends who hog your time how important your new projects are. 

5 Resist temptation

Don’t start the day by checking emails, making trivial calls or surfing the internet – no matter how much you want to. Be strict with yourself. You know you’ll get caught if you give in – so be determined not to let that happen. 

Instead, list your tasks for the day. Preferably do this the afternoon or evening of the day before.

Prioritise tasks in four groups, according to the urgent/important scheme explained in this and the previous article.

Be careful not to overload yourself, though. Be realistic as to what you can achieve in about 3 – 4 sessions per day of roughly 50 minutes. 

6 Begin with important and not urgent tasks

Spend the time when you are most alert on what matters most – the important and not urgent activities. 

Of course, at times there will be urgent situations that you have to deal with first. But the more you prevent these by good planning, the fewer of these you’ll have to deal with. 

Once you’ve dealt with any urgent tasks, and had a quick break, turn immediately to the important and not urgent activities.

7 Use trivial tasks as short breathers

Once you need a break, set a strict time limit of 5 – 10 minutes for one activity, like answering phone calls or emails.

Stop when your time is up. Then gently refocus on the more important tasks.

Keep a record of how many times you do this. Be honest. What makes it easier or harder to limit these timewasters? 

In addition, do routine hackwork only after you’ve done the important things.

When doing these more routine tasks, don’t sacrifice accuracy if that’s important. But don’t dawdle over these activities either.

Get them done efficiently, to allow you to spend more time on the important and not urgent activities. 

8 Protect your time jealously

If you can, negotiate with your partner to share housework or child care. Help each other free up time, so you can both attain important goals.

Choose carefully which events you’ll attend when asked. Rather than having to refuse on the spot, tell organisers you’ll get back to them with your decision. Then email them later.

If you must attend uninspiring and time-consuming events, go late and leave early. 

Learn how to say no politely and assertively to those who repeatedly ask for help.

Don’t let others dictate how you spend your time. If you do, you’re letting them decide the direction of your life. And chances are, they’re not headed where you are. 

9 Be proactive. Limit crises

At the start of every year, set up your diary or planner. Do this for the rest of the current year if you haven’t done it already. An hour or two spent doing this in front of the TV will reduce stress enormously.

Train yourself to check your diary a couple of times a day. 

10 Use a diary to transform your life

Over the next few months, follow this plan to get control of potential crises. Don’t expect to do all of these immediately. Work on one task at a time, then move on to the next.

A paper diary that opens to a week at a glance is best for this exercise. Trying to squeeze all this on a mobile phone screen just doesn’t work as well.

a) Enter all known events and commitments coming up

1 Enter birthdays, anniversaries, family celebrations and social events that you know of for the coming year. Two or three weeks before each one, put a reminder to buy presents, organise catering or make other arrangements needed. 

2 Write in other planned events, such as holidays or surgical procedures. List what you need to do beforehand on the appropriate days.   

3 Enter reminders to organise regular maintenance tasks for the year. These include health and dental appointments, house repairs, financial adviser appointments, parent-teacher interviews and so on.

4 Enter any study or work commitments. Make diary entries of the due dates for every assignment or project. 

Estimate how many weeks or months you’ll need to complete each part of each assignment or project. Record what you need to do each week to get them done.

b) Plan ahead for bills and financial payments

5 Enter the due dates of major bills for the year if you know them. If not, for the next 12 months, keep a master list of bills. As you receive each bill, note down the type of bill, the due date and amount. Next year, use this updated list to enter reminders in your diary.

Pay bills a few days before they’re due. Keep tabs on regular housing/rental payments and power bills.

If you’re experiencing financial strain, contact the relevant companies to organise payment plans. It’s better to plan for difficulties than wait for the inevitable panic.

6 Write a list of any other commitments or tasks for the coming year. Put reminders at appropriate times to get these projects moving.

c) Check your diary often

7 At the end of each week, see if any tasks left undone need to be carried over to the next week.

8 For the next week, take note of any commitments, bills to be paid, and so on. Note down anything you need to remember to do.

9 Each day, check your diary in the morning.

Prioritise all tasks, starting with the important and not urgent activities as top priority. This way you’ll make every minute count.

Keep checking to make sure you stick to your priorities through the day. Try to reduce the number of urgent but trivial tasks that push aside your priorities.   

10 At the end of every day, review the time you spent on important tasks versus preventable crises and non-urgent timewasters.

11 At the end of every week, tweak what you’re doing to improve your use of time.

Fewer crises = more time for important things

Spend some time to organise your life to make it run more smoothly. Aim to reduce or drop activities that don’t move you towards mastery of your goals. Transform your life by doing what inspires you every possible moment.

Achieve fulfilment by using your potential every day to live out your dreams.

Make every minute count, and live with meaning.

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