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How-To Have a Life and a Career When Time is Tight

Written by Vicki Hinze

On November 14, 2007

©2007, Vicki Hinze

If you want to do something, you’ll find time to do it.

I’ve believed that my entire life. Which is not to say that I lack sympathy for the challenges in actually making it happen, especially when you’re juggling a home/life and a career.

Yet even with challenges, you will find time to do those things you most want to do because your desire to do them will entice you to give them “high priority” on your to-do list.

Desire breeds determination. Want it badly enough and you move heaven and earth to make it happen. I recall seeing in some magazine once a comment about Madonna. The author said long before Madonna became a hit, she’d seen Madonna in a club and “her ambition was shining like a second skin.”

Madonna knew what she wanted and went after it.
The author knew what Madonna wanted and recognized it.

But recognition isn’t enough when you’re looking at your life.
The key to doing more of what you want to do requires understanding–your own.

You must identify what you want and understand why you want it.
Understand what it takes to get from where you are to where you want to be.

Understand a simple truth about time and that is, we’re not going to find time because it isn’t lost.

We all have twenty-four hours in each day. No one gets any more or any less. So our first step on this how-to path is to realize that we have a set amount of time in which to do the things we want to do–and that time (and those wants) fall right behind the things we have to do.

Some will tell you that wants hold equal importance to needs. I won’t debate that, but I will say that the majority of women functioning in real-world situations tend to do what they must and then whatever is left over is used on wants.

Want time is scarce and we don’t want to squander a second of it. Others rarely consider it but how we spend that available “want” time is significant–very significant–to us and our state of well being and contentment. (How happy would anyone be doing just the command performance things in life?)

Available want time holds the keys to understanding the dynamics of what we’re doing now and how we can reclaim or reallocate to better utilize our available want time.

Some considerations that might be helpful for you in identifying dynamic keys that will afford you the ability to accomplish this follow. This listing isn’t inclusive, or a cure-all. And it will take a little commitment from you to actually implement. Namely, an hour or so to prepare the first listing, and a few minutes each day for a month to note the second listing.

The first listing is one on where you “think” your time goes.

Each day, just jot down what you do and how much time you spend doing it. Simple enough, but don’t be fooled. The reality in this list will surely surprise you.


The second, daily listing compiled over a month, is one where you’ve jotted down where your time actually went.

The comparison of the two might not just surprise it; it might shock you. But it also might enable you to more efficiently distribute your time on things that most matter to you.

Prepare a list, as if you were dealing with one month of your life. Tag it “Think” list. (Because it is a compilation of where you think you spend your time.)

• We all have responsibilities. To family. To our “other” careers. List those responsibilities and the time you feel you spend each day fulfilling them. Be specific. Whether it’s paying bills, working on the job, attending the kids’ ball games. Commute time to and from work if it’s significant.

• We all have commitments. (Volunteer jobs, classes you’re taking, teaching. Studying. Critiquing others’ work, heading PTA or other organizations..) List those responsibilities and the time spent each day fulfilling them.

• List hobbies, recreational pursuits, time spent exercising, or anything you do on a regular basis which requires your time. (Include time spent reading for pleasure, time spent watching television, etc.)

• List all other obligations that require your time on a steady basis.

Now put this list away for one month. Don’t look at it, and don’t think about it.

Start a new list. Tag this one “Actual.”

• At the end of each day, note what you did and the time you devoted to doing it.

• Do this every day for one month.
Draft a chart to use to track some of the repetitive tasks. Amend it to suit your personal life. Charting makes deciphering the data easier.

All right, now you’ve got “Think” and “Actual” lists and you can compare notes.

If your results are anything like mine were, you’re going to be stunned. I found that I was wasting a lot of time. And I’ve developed some methods to help me counteract that. I’ve also developed a mindset that helps me stay focused on what I most want.

Before I go any further, I want to interject here that there is nothing wrong with having free time and there should be free time included in every day. Our mental health requires it, as do our creative and spiritual selves. So what I’m about to impart must be taken with that thought in mind.

Don’t schedule yourself so rigidly that you lose spontaneity or overwhelm yourself. Take time to smell not only the roses, but also their leaves and stems.

Others originally said these things but, in my opinion, they hold a lot of wisdom, and deserve consideration:

1. You can’t have everything you want.
You can have those things you want most. (Norman Vincent Peale.) What do you want most? Think about it. Decide. Often we drift and do things without ever stopping to really weigh what we want, and then we suffer these god-awful feelings of being dissatisfied. So think about it, and then focus on obtaining what you want.

If you don’t know what you want, you’re apt to never get it. That leads to regret, and regret can be merciless.

If you don’t have a map for getting where you want to go, you won’t know which road to take to get there and, worse, when you get to your destination, you won’t know you’ve arrived.

Where do you want to go? If you’re a writer, is it your objective to be a star bestseller? Or do you want to be a steady producer with a low profile? What’s the plan for getting there? What decisive steps are you taking toward reaching this destination?

Whatever you are doing, know your objective. Concretely define what you want to achieve and how you plan to achieve it. Develop that plan and then enact it. The best plan in the world is useless if you never take action to implement it. Only one thing is worse: not having a plan.

Without a map (or a long-range plan) you flounder, take wrong turns, get side-tracked at roadside attractions that might be fun (and might should be done for that purpose alone, but should be identified as such so that you don’t fool yourself into believing these things hold value to the overall plan).

You must know where you’re going to go to get there and be content. You must take concrete, positive steps so that you move in the direction of your goals and dreams. Think of this as plotting your life, because that is what you’re doing. Plotting moves you steadily toward something, ever forward from where you are to where you want to be. In this case, to be content, that goal or where you want to be should be a place or state that you’ve specifically chosen. It should not be just how things turned out, or the way the cookie crumbled. Choice is empowerment, it’s also empowering, particularly when discussing your life.

2. Be wary of advice.
Advice is a wonderful thing. Respect it. Listen to it. But in the end, follow your own path and judgment.

Only you know all the inner-workings of your plan, your dreams, and your vision. Only you, ultimately, know your entire plot, or story–all of everything in your mind and heart.

So be grateful to those who advise you. Appreciate their time, their consideration and concern and interest. But weigh the advice given into your plans and use only those parts of it that you feel are beneficial to you. And, for pity’s sake, never alter your plans because so-and-so is where you want to be and s/he says your way won’t work. These maps and travels are life journeys, and they are as individual and unique as life itself.

That said, don’t feel you must reinvent the wheel. If so-and-so has traveled this path successfully, and you feel you can travel this same path to success, then don’t feel you must alter that path just for the sake of altering or being different. Coloring outside the lines is fine, if you feel you need it do it. But coloring outside the lines for the sake of coloring outside the lines is counter-productive. Bottom line, use what works for you and ditch whatever doesn’t.

3. If your ship hasn’t yet come in, then swim out to the sucker.
If you have a particular weakness, focus on it. Plan study time so that you overcome the challenge. If you want something specific, then you can’t wait for it to come to you. If you aren’t qualified for something you want, then get qualified for it. If you want a particular job, ask for it, apply yourself to getting it by making it a priority to learn as much as you can about the job and the likes and dislikes of performing it. Take decisive steps to acquire what you want.

4.Learn to say “No.”
This was a particularly hard challenge for me. I love doing volunteer work. I love being involved. I love giving because it makes me feel good. But I learned the hard way that one person can only give so much before that person depletes themselves and can’t give at all. This, too, is a loss—for oneself and for those one wishes to help.

Remember that you are one person. You can’t help everyone, nor can you do everything. I know because I tried. The results? Slivered focus. Nothing much accomplished. Mental and physical exhaustion that required months of medical treatment.

Have you ever had a doctor tell you “Slow down or die?” That is what you’re courting when you take on too much. The lesson I learned is to do what you can comfortably do. We all have an obligation to help others and we should help others. Do this, no less, but no more. Think TNSTAAFL. (There’s no such thing as a free lunch.) You accept too much, you lose everything. Then everyone loses, most of all you.

5. If you reach for Mars, you’ll never reach Pluto.
Don’t be afraid to dream, to set your goals high. This is subjective, unique to each individual, but don’t be timid of wanting too much, of going too far. Often we let our insecurities keep us from really stretching ourselves. I mean creatively, imaginatively, here, not over-extending, as in over-committing.

If you reach for Mars, the next planet in our solar system, then how do you know you couldn’t have gone farther? But if you reach for Pluto and you get it, great. Say you only get to Uranus, well, you’ve gone two planets farther than you would have had you set your sights on Mars.

The important thing here is that you acknowledge your right to fall short of your ultimate goals. That you don’t browbeat yourself for traveling to Uranus and not to Pluto. There’s a fine balance here, and you have to look at each success and enjoy each success along the way. You must not fail to enjoy the successes because you’re so intently focused on the goal, in this case, Pluto. Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn hold value and the joys found in them deserve savoring, too.

Now, enough philosophy and onto implementing practicality.

Prioritize. After you’ve studied your Actual list and seen where you’ve really been spending your time, consider how you can restructure your time to use it more efficiently. I do this with what’s commonly referred to as The $10,000.00 Plan.

This plan is no more than a simple Things-to-Do list. A daily list wherein the tasks that must be done are put in order of importance. Then you start at the top of the list and work your way down it. Those things most important are accomplished first. This is a flexible thing, because something always comes up. But if you work by priority, the most important things do get accomplished.
Incorporate. Into your daily plan incorporate the decisive steps that will get you where you want to go. In other words, add your long-range plans to these daily plans. This requires you set goals. I have them for the day, week, month, year, as well as a five year plan and a Master Plan.

My Master Plan is where I want to get long-term. It contains career aspects, but also emotional and spiritual aspects. Why? Because I have non-career aspirations as well as career ones and the master plan deals with the entire me, not just one part of me. I incorporate these emotional and spiritual aspirations on my daily lists as well. That helps me focus on everything without losing focus on any one thing.

Schedule. I know that many people are opposed to schedules. I’m not. They work for me. The key to this is to have a schedule only so rigid as to be productive and not stifling to you. Find your level, and use it for the good it can do for you. You might not benefit from set hours to accomplish set tasks. You might. Only you know this.

I schedule time to study, to critique, to work on my own novels, to work on articles, booklets, and other material. I have set days to pay bills, to look at and deal with personal business, correspondence, and errands. I schedule a great deal because I feel more in control and I’m focused. I gain a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction with each check mark signifying a task has been completed. I also schedule “free” time because I’m a workaholic, recognize that weakness, and know I’m prone to not taking free time. I schedule days off and vacations for the same reason. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t take them. I wouldn’t be balanced and that isn’t good for my mental, physical, or spiritual health. Robbing Peter to pay Paul leaves everyone busted and unfulfilled. So find the level of schedule (whether rigid or lax or somewhere in between) that is of greatest benefit to you, then utilize it.

Self-discipline. As the name implies, self must take matters in hand, analyze them, adapt them to make them work, then accomplish them. For example, writing is a creative pursuit, but if you wait for the muse to strike to work, you’re not going to make a career of writing commercial fiction. No one is going to stand over your shoulder, crack a whip, and yell, “Ass to leather, Writer!” You have to monitor and accept responsibility for what you do yourself. You have to put your backside in that chair and write.

Some time-saving points:

These are little things, but over the course of a week, a month, they add up to hours. Hours you can better spend on writing.

1. Look at mail once. Deal with it, and be done with it. Don’t stack it and be forced to review it again later.

2. Don’t procrastinate. If you know something is coming up in two weeks, give it priority on your list and get it finished and out of the way. Otherwise, you think about needing to do it, wasting time and energy, and worry about it when none of those things actually DO anything.

3. If you’re working full-time, utilize your lunch hours a couple days a week to accomplish a priority item on your list. Be that studying, answering correspondence, or writing–whatever you can feasibly do. When I worked full-time, I incorporated free time with lunchtime so that I could just relax and not feel guilty about all the things I should have been doing. I scheduled lunches with my husband several days a week. This was terrific all around.

4. Never cut corners if it cuts quality. In other words, don’t resolve to get up an hour earlier if in doing so you’re comatose. Comatose, you’re not accomplishing a thing. You have to have reasonable expectations on what your capabilities are and reasonable acceptance of your limitations. If you have 30 minutes a day to write, then it could be helpful to say, I write this particular thirty minutes each day. It could gear you up so that when that time arrives, you know you’re supposed to produce and so you do it. But if having a set time to write inhibits you or makes you anxious, then it isn’t beneficial, it’s destructive to have that set time. You must try methods and use that which works for you.
In closing, the phrase, Physician heal thyself comes to mind.

While we aren’t ill in the traditional sense, if we aren’t satisfied with our progress, our production—our lives—then we can in a sense be physicians who heal ourselves.

There are some things we cannot control. But there are many things that we can and should control. The first step is to recognize the difference. To understand those things we can change and then to change them in ways that are constructive to our entire selves.

In doing the lists, then analyzing them, I came to better understand myself, what I want and I reevaluated what’s important to me. I hope that in doing so you will find the same benefits I found. It is work, yes. It does take a little time, yes. But if you do it, you’ll have a firmer grasp on a higher quality life and career you want–even when time is tight.*




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