Every day, there are demands on our time. People, projects and distractions compete for our valuable time. If you don’t pay attention to how you use your time, it’s easy to wake up to discover that you’ve been wasting your life.

Before you say yes to that next commitment, stop and think about your priorities. Consider how you want to use your time. Once you know yourself it’s easier to rank the demands on your time and energy and focus on what really matters.

“Know Thyself”

One of the ancient Greek maxims is “know thyself.” This is the first step to understanding your priorities and deciding where to invest your time. Think about what matters to you. Determine your values. What are the things in life that provide you with happiness and fulfillment?

Some of the items that many people cite as important to them include:

  • Doing meaningful work
  • Spending time with family and friends
  • Caring for children
  • Contributing to the community
  • Being acknowledged by my peers
  • Living a flexible lifestyle
  • The ability to relax on the weekend
  • Being an early adopter of technology and/or ideas

There are no right or wrong answers when you start thinking about what matters most to you. You might not care about some of the items on this list, and there is a good chance that I’ve left off something that you feel is important in your life.

Knowing yourself requires that you look internally — and that you go beneath the surface. Stop thinking about what others think the answers “should” be, and get to the nitty-gritty of what really matters to you.

Evaluate Your Current Time Use

Once you have honestly looked at what matters to you, it’s time to be brutally honest about how you currently use your time. Do you say that you value spending time with your kids but find that you are always bustling off to the next meeting? Do you claim that you want to be an influencer in your community but you avoid spending the time it takes to market yourself and make connections that will help you raise your visibility?

Perhaps the biggest waste of time in your life is mindless entertainment. You say that starting your business is a priority, but are you like the average American — who spends almost three hours a day watching TV? Is TV (or surfing the Internet or playing a MMORP) really where you want to spend your time? If you derive great pleasure from these activities, more power to you. Keep enjoying them. However, if you say that a bigger priority is developing a closer relationship with your spouse, or if you claim you want to do more in your community, these activities could be holding you back.

Even ostensibly “good” activities might be siphoning time and energy away from higher priorities. Learn to say no when another committee meeting or bake sale commitment threatens one of your higher priorities. Look at where you are truly spending your time, and then compare that to your priorities.

Put Your Priorities First

After you track your time use and compare it to your declared priorities, you can begin making changes that allow you to put your priorities first. I started applying this principle in my own life, and I’m much more productive as a person, as well as happier in myself.

I began applying the old object lesson of the rocks in a jar. If you fill a jar with sand, you don’t have room for larger rocks. However, if you put the bigger rocks in first, you can still usually pour sand around those rocks. I started taking care of the most important items in my life first. Do I always have time for three hours of TV a night? Most of the time, I’m lucky to get in a half-hour episode. But that doesn’t matter so much to me because the other things that matter enrich my life more.

Understand your priorities, and how to make them happen. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

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I'm Miranda and I'm a freelance financial journalist and money expert. My specialties are investing, small business/entrepreneurship and personal finance. The journey to business success and financial freedom is best undertaken with fellow travelers.

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