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How to Gain Control of Your Free Time

01 Mar

How to Gain Control of Your Free Time

Posted By: 
Kaitlyn Guay

“So much to do, so little time.” There’s a reason why this is a clichè. When you’re a passionate, driven student with great expectations for your life, it can often seem there just isn’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything you want to do.

Laura Vanderkam is an author and time managment expert. In her popular TED-Talk, she tells us: “We don’t build the lives we want by saving time. We build the lives we want, and then time saves itself.”

She tells the story of an incredibly busy entrepreneur who participated in a study where she was required to keep a time log. During this time, her water heater broke. The aftermath of cleaning, replacing the rugs, and gutting the basement, took seven hours out of her week. Vanderkam points out that if you’d asked this woman at the beginning of the week if she had seven hours to train for a triathlon, she’d likely have laughed and said: “um... no?” “What this shows us is that time is highly elastic. We cannot make more time, but time will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it. And so the key to time management is treating our priorities as the equivalent of that broken water heater.”

Here’s how we do this. We start be recognizing there’s a difference between not having time to do something (i.e. dusting your blinds) and it not being a priority. Vanderkam suggests turning our inner dialogue away from “I’m so busy; I don’t have time” to: “I can’t do this now, it’s not a priority.” This shifts the message from stressed and overwhelmed to helping us consider what’s really important to us, whether that’s a big project, a hike on a gorgeous spring day, or having a staring contest with a cat. (Newsflash: the cat will win, and even if he doesn’t, he won’t care.)

Vanderkam gives us a strategy to accomplish this:

First, teleport yourself a year into the future. Think on your academic/professional trajectory. Then give yourself a “performance review,” much like you’d get at the end of the year at a job. It’s been an amazing year! Write down three to five things you did spectacularly. Got it? Good. Now study what you wrote down. More likely than not, the things that made your life amazing on paper are the things you prioritize. Huzzah! Now you know what priorities to focus on over the next year. You can do this for both your academic/professional and personal goals. For personal goals, Vanderkam suggests writing a “holiday letter” for the following year. You know the ones: where Aunt Tildie brags about her little darling Sheila getting the gold ribbon for the long jump. In this letter, detail three to five amazing things you did that year. This will give you six to ten priorities overall. Now brainstorm how you can break them down into doable steps.

Here’s the key to actually doing making your priorities priorities: Vanderkam says: “we treat our priorities as the equivalent of that broken water heater [by] putting them into our schedules first.” This means planning the week before we’re in it. Studies suggest Friday afternoon is the perfect time: we’re running low on steam from the current week, but we’re able to think ahead to the next. She says, “take a little bit of time Friday afternoon. Make yourself a three category priority list: career, relationships, self. Making a three category list reminds us that there should be something in all three categories.” (Looking at you, driven work-a-holics!) Once you have two-three in each category, look through the week and see where you can plug them in.

After all, as Vanderkam says, “We have time for what matters. And when we focus on what matters, we can live the lives we want in the time we’ve got.”

Online high school students have the opportunity to dream big and explore their paths in unique and creative ways.

Today, ask yourself: What does your dream life look like a year from now?