Five Things You Should Make Time For This Year
You've got 525,600 minutes and a few spare seconds to work with in 2011. You know the speed at which they'll fly by. Grab a few of them for real reading, "Quiet Time," goal-setting, and other important things.
Reading—Actual Sit-Down-and-Focus Reading
Right now, you do a lot of reading. In fact, you're probably reading more per day than you did in college (or maybe that's just how I feel). You're engaged every day in light communication with friends, relatives, and coworkers, over email, IM, SMS, Facebook, and Twitter.
But try and recall exactly three emails from yesterday—not just who they were from, but what they actually said. Think of three friends, and try to recall what they posted to Facebook or Twitter yesterday. Three IM conversations you had yesterday. You get the point.
If you're all about the paperless, less-stuff life, you can read a Kindle or PDF ebook on pretty much any screen you own. But commit a little time each week to actually reading—books, long magazine articles, journals related to your fields, anything. Scanning tweets and emails and IMs and updates gives you a quick jolt of short-term awareness of what's happening inside the realms you frequently travel. Reading, actual reading, provides you with an intimacy with an author, familiarity with ideas, and lots of new stuff to talk about to friends, bosses, and potential clients.
It's not what you think, and it doesn't involve napping. "Quiet Time" is time you spend with IM shut off, your email app or tab closed, your door closed, and no get-up-and-do-whatever breaks. It's a pledge to get actual work done, and it's a time when you've trained people to know you're not available.
If you've got the kind of micro-managing boss that can't understand why you haven't read their email 10 minutes after sending, then you'll have to schedule your Quiet Time around them—earlier than they get in, during their times in meetings, or whenever. Then again, there's a good chance your boss (or clients) will appreciate the more details you're able to focus on, and output you're producing, during your Quiet Time.
I'm shamelessly stealing this concept, or at least this application of it, from Mike Canzoneri (@mikecanz) and Buffalo's own Synacor, where at least one department instituted heads-down, IM-off, email-down Quiet Time for actual coding in the afternoons. Substitute coding with the thing you're actually supposed to produce every day, and that's your Quiet Time.
As Adam Pash pointed out earlier this year, side projects are all about "grout." That is, they're something you should try to do in those little moments of idleness in your day, or your work, if you've got a pretty flexible work environment. They're the stuff you put in-between the big, responsible bricks of your life.
Unless you're working air traffic control or another extremely hands-on gig, you can't really pretend you're going to stare at one particular task for eight hours a day. In those moments when you need a quick break, and in those times at home when you've got just a little bit of time, pick away at your thing. Maybe your thing is software and web development, like Adam. Maybe your thing is slowly gaining confidence in your home repair skills, like this editor. Or maybe you've got a novel, blog, garden, cooking style, DIY project, or foreign language you'd like to work on, but you feel like you'll never get a good long stretch of time to work on. You're right—you might never get it, so cobble that time together from all your little space-filling times.
If you're a dedicated follower of GTD/Getting Things Done, you set aside time once a week to go through your "capture buckets" and figure out what you're going to do with those snapshots, notes to yourself, and tasks without a specific to-do date (yet). But maybe you're not a GTD-er, or you roll with Simplified GTD. However you get things done on a day-to-day basis, set aside some time on Friday to look back at what you've done, what you didn't or couldn't do, and take a stab at outlining what you're going to do next week.
This is the simplest of all these take-time suggestions, but perhaps the most helpful. Reading, Quiet Time, and little bits of work on your side project can sometimes occur by happy accident; nobody is going to review the week that was except you. Then again, maybe your boss wants to review your past week, but you definitely want to beat him or her to the punch. Original image via stephenyeargin.
Personal, Written-Down Goals
Ugh. Just thinking about being that person, the "Bucket List" type, the kind who you think is secretly, constantly plotting to land on the moon by the age of 40—it makes you cringe. But you should risk dweebhood, suck it up and write down your goals. Writing down things you want to improve in your life transforms them from vague, nagging notions into things you've actually (gasp) thought about, and when you think about it, it's not all that different than the loose collection of ways you tell other people, and yourself, that you're going to change something. As Gina wrote a few years back:
Goals mean you're trying to be better. Ask anyone if they want to be a better person, and you'll get "Of course!" as an answer. Ask them what better means and how they're getting there, and you'll probably get a pair of blinking eyes in response. Setting a goal is simply articulating an improved state of being, thinking through the steps in between where you are now and where that better place is, and taking them. Setting goals means you're actively trying to be better. Frankly, it's a rare occurrence in a world where most people get up, take a shower, pour coffee, and go about their business as usual in exactly the same place they were yesterday.