e are spoiled for choice in today’s world. In every part of life, there are options to choose from. What we eat. What we wear. Who we spend time with. What we care about. What we spend time on. Who we work for. Why we do it.
All of these are open-ended and dependent on our choices. Some may seem trivial, but none of them are for a simple reason.
A man is worked upon by what he works upon.Frederick Douglas
All of these decisions culminate in making us who we are. These choices matter. We’ve all heard the premise that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
If you want to be a great novelist, spend time with other great writers. If you want to get in shape, spend time with athletes and runners and health nuts.
A similar form of thinking can be applied to everything. It’s not just who we spend time with, but how we spend that time. What we focus on and the choices we make are what creates the person we become.
If there is something you desire in your life, all you need to do is a simple assessment. Look at how you are spending your time towards that goal and you’ll know if it’s within reach. If you are attacking your goals with constant and consistent effort, you’re on the right track. If you’re daydreaming about it, think again.
If your day goes something like this, you probably need to change something:
1. Spend 8 hours at a job you hate.
2. Watch 2 hours of TV or Netflix or whatever you may be streaming.
3. Browse social media for 2 hours and be envious of other people’s lives.
4. Indulge yourself with greasy food for dinner.
5. Crawl into bed and spend 5 minutes thinking about the life you wish you had.
6. Go to sleep for 8 hours.
The only good thing happening on this list is getting enough sleep. You can’t just think about what you want. Thinking is not enough. It takes action, or as Frederick Douglas puts it, it takes work. You become what you work on, what you work towards.
This isn’t limited to just our jobs and careers, but all facets of life. Health and relationships and happiness. If you work for it, you become it.
So if you want to be a great writer, don’t just spend time with great writers, write furiously, every single day. If you want to be the next star athlete, practice day and night. Compete. Push yourself.
I believe the key to making any of this happen is taking stock of your time and where it goes. Doing so tells a story in a way that nothing else can. It’s not biased or opinionated. It’s cold hard facts that say a lot about who you are, more then you may want to hear. Here’s how you can do it.
Track your time.
The simple analog approach, of course, is getting a journal or notebook and tracking your time throughout the day.
If that’s not your cup of tea, there are a lot of apps out there that can make this process easier, one of my favorites being RescueTime.
The goal is to simply gain insight into where your time is going. As you do this day by day, patterns will emerge and realities will become visible. You may realize that you’re well on your way to becoming an expert in fantasy football or celebrity gossip, rather than the goals you hold dear.
When I did this I realized that I was spending far too much time reading about my favorite sports teams, especially during the off-season. There is absolutely no value in this, but I’d almost always have a tab open for ESPN or a Michigan Sports blog that would grab my attention intermittently.
This was a constant distraction that kept me from focusing on the work in front me. I ended up using a website blocker to keep me away from those sites during the work day, which made all the difference.
While tracking is valuable, it doesn’t have to be forever. I recommend doing it every quarter or twice a year, for a few weeks at a time. This helps you gauge where you’re at and see if you’re staying on track.
There’s also a hidden benefit: tracking time makes you far more aware of it.
When you begin tracking your time, how you spend it is suddenly under a microscope. You don’t want to know that you spent hours on mindless entertainment. So what happens? You start to change your behavior simply because you are tracking things.
It’s like you’ve incepted yourself, simply through measurement. In this way, tracking your time on a regular basis can actually be a powerful way to build better habits.
The way you spend your time is a result of the way you set your priorities.
Understanding how you spend your time is step one, but it’s essential. The hard part is changing your habits and actually understanding your priorities.
That I’ll leave for another post. For now, just remember that your time is who you are. Don’t waste it.