Life is an interesting, unfolding collection of experiences. Some are shorter than others. We can be born into a family that has many means of opportunities while others have to be scrappy from the very beginning. What I want to think about and discuss today is one of the things we do tend to have a bit more in common: what we can choose to do with our time.
Take Elon Musk, for example. He is said to work 42 hours per week at Tesla. Oh, and he also is the CEO of SpaceX. That’s another 40 hours right there. Without being too precise as his work time will fluctuate, for the sake of simplicity with math, that’s like working 2 full time jobs everyday. Take that away and he has less than 8hrs for everything else. He says he likes to sleep 6 to 6.5hrs a night at that, leaving maybe 2hrs or less. That’s daunting. And wouldn’t work for me. Hard pass.
Let’s be clear here. Many of us are not like Elon Musk. Nor, from a philosophical point-of-view, should we want to be. While I admire his tenacity and his drive, we do have to accept we’re all a bit different from a needs perspective. And we prioritize as such. For example, my life’s work is heavily biased towards my children. From an evolutionary standpoint, they are to replace me. Therefore, I feel, it’s important to simply spend time with them to help not only educate and set them up for success, but to also help shape their character with great memories and a positive attitude towards life, regardless of circumstances. In other words, I receive so much joy with spending time with them and it’s worth the cost of time.
This brings me to the point that balance is simply a myth if you think of it in terms of equal time. That’s not rational nor realistic. If your goal is to further your education, you’re likely going to have to work AND spend time educating yourself. If you’re like me and have a family to support, you start to dip into that leisure time. If my objective is to better my economic status, I have to accept that it will be more than just the current economic cost as time is another factor that must be considered. Let me try to provide 2 brief examples.
The first will be a likely approach for many. You do great work and you too want to improve your economic circumstances. You take on some extra projects as a stretch goal. You stay after work to mingle with a few coworkers who have the relationships needed to gain a bit more internal influence. You attend meetings that are outside your scope for better understanding while acquiring broader visibility. These are all great ways to position ourselves. If we think these could be done within the typical work week without any further sacrifice, we’d be naive and grossly mistaken. There’s always a cost. It may not be monetary, and if you’re like me, you’ll have more time than cashflow. If you want to be extraordinarily at what you do, the key word is there in bold. There’s no way around the extra effort needed to propel yourself.
I too have tried to take a new approach. I want to be more visible and more expressive. I often ponder 💭 my own situation as I see others that aren’t necessarily any more intelligent than myself getting ahead, and yet, here I am stuck in time. Do I not reach out enough? Have I taken a wrong turn in my career? Are there self-doubts that I’m not fully aware of limiting my motivation to put myself out there? Am I truly talented to begin with? While I strongly recommend self reflection, there seems to be a more obvious, painful reason why we tend to get stuck. We have this fantasy that we can have it all. Work 8hrs a day. Spend time with friends. Take our spouse out for dinners. Play with our kids after a matinee. One simply cannot have their cake AND eat it too. You’ll have to rarely say yes and just as important, more often say no.
What’s that painful reason I was referring to above? It’s simple. We haven’t made our life and desires a priority. It’s more than just labeling it as being lazy. We have self-medicated by drowning out these desires with a reason in the form of a pain killer tablet. We let our desires to push ourselves to be greater than go adrift. My favorite, the edible, from a professional form, is what we ingest as our way to have our minds continue to be in the matrix of having it all. Often we take the blue pill, staying in contented ignorance. We have the illusion of we will find the time. We’ll make up ground tomorrow. Or, even worst yet, we settle. God or somebody else in always in control. This circumstance followed by that circumstance. So on and so forth until your story finally is coming to a closure and you’re left with regrets of not so much what you have done that you wish you could right, but mostly haunted by what you didn’t do. You didn’t take a chance on you. That, to me, is simply depressing.
Let me make another thing clear. I am certainly NOT the expert here. I just happened to be keenly self-aware to a fault. Life had to rock me not once or twice but many times that has gotten me to the state in which I choose can see the world. Are all situations controllable? Of course not. However, it’s on us to be able to identify where we can have influence. To reiterate, we do have control over our time. It won’t be easy. There will be arguments with the spouse, and isolation from friends. There’s no real balancing here, again, if you think on the terms of equal time. But what you can attempt to balance is your mindset and how you approach spending your time. Better yet, I should stay spending your efforts. Communicate what YOU need and ensure your desires are also front and center. That is where the efforts of balancing is dynamic and can best serve you, your family, and your friends. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself either in constant struggle or choosing to remain oblivious as life is easier this way.
Here’s an overly simplified bulleted list of suggestions that has worked for me that you may find useful:
- Communicate: State your needs and desires to those around you and attempt to be as clear as possible. Your inner circle of family and friends should want to see you succeed. Help them help you by being vocal of your goals. This will also help you with accountability once you put it out in the open. Also, be prepared to make some accommodations yourself for others as you seesaw life’s needs.
- Clear Calendars: Plan, plan, and plan. It’s OK not to be productive, especially when planned. In other words, plan time for family and friends. Have time to yourself. To brainstorm. Waste away time on games and/or social media. We all have the need to do some mindless things from time-to-time. If you structure your education, take on a work project, or have an all nighter with friends, it’s much easier when you set that time aside holding yourself accountable. Be weary towards overcommitting. Just make sure to be realistic with your time and have gaps for when life just happens. Personally, I live by the calendar and control my time as we’re only allotted so much. It’s finite, therefore, extremely valuable.
- Commit: Likely one of the hardest within my list. Don’t say one thing and do another. When you follow the other two steps above, it really forces you to stay on track. Commit to that night out with friends and if work tries to drop another project on your plate, state that you already have plans. No need to state the plans, as it’s not their time nor business. For example, I can work on this first thing Monday morning and have this to you by Monday before EOB (End-of-business), does this work for you? Always negotiate to get the best value of your time. I often put important things on my personal and work calendar to ensure time blocks are never (or rarely, because, life does happen) violated. Just remember when you do have to be flexible and pivot, that is the except and NOT the rule. As a coworker Macey Moore once said to me and I will never forget, “If the organization will fall apart because of my absence during PTO, we need to renegotiate my pay.” Another way to restate, how is someone else’s constant sense of urgency or importance a priority over mine? Like I said above, there’s always a hidden cost. If you stay on top of the other two items, you’re more than likely to feel less guilt when you do inevitably say no. Give yourself permission to say no, please, FFS. Certain individuals seem to have a mutant ability to sift those out who do not control their time and delegate those tasks to them. Don’t be that person.
As I close my thoughts here, I would LOVE to hear from you! Have a different perspective or a tip you can share with the community? Please do so here. Like Google or Maps, there’s many ways to one destination. Some prefer the streamlined highway with the fastest route, while others may prefer the slower, shorter backroads with an exceptional view. Either way, it’s your life and decision. Whatever you choose to do, just make certain to have the courage to divert when YOU have the need. Besides, the best roadtrips I’ve taken have also been the ones where we took an off-road path or unexpected turn. Your success, however you define it, really may just be around the corner. It’s a journey and one you want to celebrate and remember.