Setting time goals is a good way of setting your priorities. You can specify either in your mind or on paper, which areas of your life you want to devote time to, and how much time you want to give them. The act of setting goals automatically makes you more aware of your time, and more aware of where it goes. And simply being aware of your time can often help you allocate it wisely. What aspects of your life are most important to you? Take a few minutes to write out the seven areas you find most important, in order. (This may take a while. That’s okay. Give it as much time as it needs.) These could include Family, Spiritual, or Career. Where do you want your time to go?

Once you have that written out, spend some time thinking about where your time goes now. If you can, keeping a time map – writing down how long you spend doing things – can be an excellent way of determining where your time goes, to the minute. But if you simply don’t have the time to keep that detailed of a time map, then set aside a few minutes at lunch and at the end of the day, to write out the estimated time spent on various activities. While nowhere near as accurate as a time map, this method can still be helpful.

Examine any discrepancies between your time map or your time blocks and your time goals. Are you spending 9 or 10 hours a day on your career, for example, when your career ranks 6th or 7th on your list or doesn’t rank at all? Of course, you have to spend a certain amount of time working; that’s a given. But if you find yourself regularly spending an amount of time at work that’s disproportionate to the importance of your career in your mind, it may be time to cut back on your work habits. If your career isn’t important to you, don’t treat it as though it was.

It’s easy to justify the extra time spent at work. You want to put in overtime so that you can save up for that trip to Disney World, for example, or so your kids can take ballet or horseback riding lessons. But stop and ask yourself if that time spent working in order to provide your kids with activities might not be better spent chasing them around the backyard with a garden hose.

It’s easy to point out career vs. family because that issue seems to be one that many people struggle with. But in fact, any area where you’re spending time can be a problem if it isn’t an area that’s important to you. Maybe you spend so much time doing things for your friends because you can’t say no, that you consistently miss deadlines at work, even though you listed Your Career as more important than Relationships on your list. Perhaps Spiritual was high on your list, but you’re so busy taking care of your family that you never have time for it. Set your priorities, then bring your time into line with them, whatever they are. Some things, like sleeping and working, are a given. But even so, there will be a time when you’ll have to choose how you spend it.

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