day 677 | july 1, 2013 | The Power of Lists

Stuff that make me happy: Roo and Red, Travel, Financial Independence, and Passing It On
Life's single most complex challenge is that of mastering your time. We all have 365 days in a year, 24 hours in a day, and 60 minutes in an hour. When quantified that way, it's actually pretty simple. It should be no surprise where time goes, yet most days, I find myself feeling the inadequacy of hours. I wish there was a 'pause' button on life. Time just trickles by, and more often than not, we are caught unawares that it's run out.

Nowadays, I'm juggling "play and learn" with my little ones, a challenging full-time Finance role, and a thriving photography business, which I greatly enjoy. I travel whenever I can, make time to meet with friends, and organize gatherings. Recently, I've signed on for a 150++ hours Intensive Mandarin course. I love stories and images, and blog regularly (at least a couple of times a month). A few friends have asked me how I do it, and I respond back with "very little sleep and probably a lot of things falling through the gaps."

As I get more stretched for time, the idea of unknown time has nagged at me. How can I not be in complete control of where my time goes? I wanted the reassurance that what I'm 'investing' on now are aspects of my life that are truly important and meaningful. If I want to maximize my time, I need to actively choose what I do.

So I sought out to get a quantitative answer to the question: "Where does Time Go?"

This is a first step of many. But it is a very important step. Because you can't fix what you don't know. 

One evening, I sat myself down and accounted for every half hour increment of the week in an excel sheet (complete with assumptions). I tagged them to specific tasks, and rolled them up into categories which were meaningful to me. It wasn't a straightforward exercise. Some weeks are drastically worse that others. But even if I simply assumed an "average" week, there were plenty of insights, and clear implications when my average week goes extraordinary.

Insight 1: The way I categorized things reveals my priorities. Simply grouped, I have Roo and Red (always ranked #1 in my priorities), Work which can be spliced out between Finance and Photography, Time for Me (which includes taking a bath, dressing up, coffee breaks, and Mandarin lessons), and of course, Sleep. At first glance, it doesn't look very far off from how I'd like things to be, except for more sleep, please. When I shared my "time map" to friends, they immediately asked "What about your husband?", to which I jokingly responded, "Oh, that usually doesn't take longer than 15 minutes." Yup. Instant red flag. "And what about friends and all that travelling that you do?" Another red flag.

I'm going to make sure there's dedicated time for people I care about, and my bucket list. Sometimes, when we're too focused on the everyday tasks, we forget to invest time into life goals, and important relationships which need to be nurtured.

Insight 2: Despite being #1 priority, Roo and Red have a relatively small share of my time. I was surprised to find out I spend about 25 hours with them. Somehow, it feels so much less... When I'm working, either in the office or in a shoot, I can say I'm in the moment. However, I'm not always 100% when I'm with the kids. It's hard to unplug. Qualitatively, my 25 hours with them is likely halved as I respond to emails, plan out sessions, create to-do lists, and stalk friends in facebook. I also suspect that as my weeks get busier, or when I sleep more than my usual, Roo and Red get a smaller piece of me.

While I'm happy with my 15% with the little ones, I do need to make sure I am giving them the quality of time by "unplugging." Being together does not necessarily mean attentiveness or engagement. There's always pressure to multi-task, but it's important to know when to juggle multiples, or when to focus on the people who need you to be fully present.

Insight 3: There are some things that NEED to be done, to enable one to do a reasonably good job on everything else. One of them is sleep. The other is to eat. Higher up in the hierarchy of needs is inspiration. I'm working on being mindful of my health and taking care of basic needs first. Irregular sleep and irregular meals does not make a happy (or healthy) Steph.

Awareness is a precursor to choice. Knowing the full picture empowers you to make informed decisions. It feels good even if you decide not to change anything, because it only means you've actively chosen what are important in your life.

I've shared the first three "tweaks" I'm choosing to make with my time. There are plenty more, and I'll likely be sharing updates on Project 168 once a month. I'm sharing this as an open invitation to to find out where your time goes, and think about the first three things you'd change...

It's been a mind-opening exercise, and a balanced, sustainable "time map" is still a work-in-progress. At the very least, now, whenever H suggestively asks if I have 5 minutes, I can empirically say, "Don't worry, I have 30."

This kicks off what will be an an ongoing introspective on Mindfulness, called Project 168:
Project 168


Ally said...

hi, steph..interesting post, i am surprised by the little hrs u sleep. I guess for me, the percentage of time i sleep is higher.

libpuritan said...

Hi Ally, It's actually not 6 hours every night. Some nights it's 3-4, and sometimes it's 10-12! I was told consistency in sleep pattern is important; and that erratic, irregular sleep is not nearly as helpful as sleeping at a regular time and getting your body used to a rhythm, so i'm trying to work on that. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi steph,
Very inspiring thought...I'd like the way you still have 12% of your photography business while doing challenging finance role. Yes, life is about an option and it's good to prioritise thing before it's too late....I'll do mine soon.. :)


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