Minimalist Time Management

Let's get real, shall we?  We are finite beings living in a finite world.  It's a wonderful world, but it's the only one in the vicinity that can support life, and it's not unlimited.  And we are intelligent, adaptable, capable beings, but we also have limits to what we can do and endure.

So no matter what advertisers and wish-sellers tell you, you can't do it all.  You can't have it all.  It just isn't possible.

We are very good at comparing ourselves to others.  We've invented some clever ways to do that, and it has become a more ubiquitous part of our lives than ever.  We look at someone's Instagram or Facebook feed and wonder how on earth that person can work full time, have a profitable side gig, maintain a beautiful home and garden, exercise regularly, produce amazing home-cooked meals, raise such talented children, take such exotic vacations, and maintain such a large and vibrant circle of friends.  We wonder why we can't seem to manage all of that.  What's wrong with us?  What are we missing?

Well maybe that person has a house cleaner, a yard service, a personal assistant, tutors for the kids, home-delivered meal kits, and a large income (or a ton of debt).  There's no way to know, and we don't talk about that.  We might be comparing apples to oranges, but we still make the comparison.

Here's the truth:  There is simply no scenario in which anyone can do it all.  But we can do everything that deeply matters to each of us personally.

When we manage our time based on what matters, we start to think differently.  We act differently.  We stop scrambling to fit in just one more task or obligation.  We stop comparing ourselves to others (and maybe we spend a little less time on social media).  We get down to what matters most.

3 Steps to Happier Time Management

1.  Choose

Grab a piece of paper, and write down all the things you do, all the things you want to do, and all the things you think you should do.  Next, highlight what matters to you and cross out what doesn't.

What do you think about during this process?  What gives you energy (and maybe even excitement), and what feels like a drain?  Where do you want to focus your time and energy?  What would you like to delegate, share, let go of, or even approach more lazily?  Choosing what matters gives you clearer direction for your life.

When I did this for the first time almost 25 years ago, I realized that I would rather put my teaching career on hold and learn to live on one salary so I could homeschool my children.  I discovered that I was willing to live in a smaller house and make do with one car and a simpler wardrobe in order to accomplish this.  Thus began my journey into minimalism, and an extremely productive, enriching, and rewarding phase of my life.  

Without examining how I wanted to spend my time, I might have followed the path I was already on – the one that society and my educational background told me I should follow.

2.  Redefine

There are some things we simply must do.  There's just no getting around certain responsibilities.  In those situations, we need to redefine the tasks so we can think about them differently.

For example, we all have to eat.  Your body needs food, and you have to feed your family (if you live with one).

This could mean home-cooked meals from scratch, delivered meal kits, lots of takeout, sharing the task with other family members, weekend meal prep and utilization of freezer meals, slow-cooker meals, ten simple recipes that you rotate through, or something else.  There are many ways to feed people.  But if you think there's only one way, and that way doesn't fit well with what really matters to you, then you're going to see it as a chore.

If you redefine the situation, it's possible to find a solution that works better for you.  And you can change the way you relate to the task by letting meals become possibilities for connection, adventure, learning, frugality, or something else that matters to you.

Redefine any of these necessary tasks:

  • Cleaning house is tending to your space so that it's pleasant and useful for what matters.
  • Decluttering is making space for new and valuable things and activities.
  • Doing laundry is refilling closets and drawers with clothes that help you and your family feel comfortable and attractive.
  • Grocery shopping is gathering the items you need to make interesting, nutritious, or even just basic meals that fuel your body and facilitate gathering and sharing.
  • Exercising is body and health care.
  • Lawn and garden care might be exercise, or a chance for creativity, or a connection to nature, or tending a space that you can use for relaxation or entertaining.

3.  Prioritize

You may have heard the adage that most tasks fall into one of three categories:  the necessary, the urgent, and the desirable.  The best situation is when we tend to necessary tasks before they become urgent, leaving plenty of time and energy for desirable activities.

For example, doing laundry is a necessary task.  Everyone needs clean clothes.  An urgent task is doing laundry right now because you don't have any clean underwear.  When laundry becomes urgent, you may have to sacrifice time you wanted to spend enjoying a leisurely meal or meeting a friend for coffee.  You're also more likely to do that laundry feeling full of resentment or anxiety.  When you have to run out to the store because you have no milk, bread, or diapers, you may not only lose time to read that book you've been looking forward to, but you're also going to feel stressed and discouraged.

Putting out fires, constantly playing catch-up – that sense of urgency makes you feel overburdened and out of control.  But when you prioritize necessary tasks, you actually use less energy completing them because you're not frantic, and – bonus! – you wind up with more time to do the things you desire.

Most of life's necessary tasks are not one-time events.  They're cyclic and regular, so we can find a rhythm that lets us accomplish them without burnout and frustration.

Kendra Adachi, author of The Lazy Genius Way (paid link), likes to ask what she calls the Magic Question:  What can I do now to make something easier later?

For example:

  • What can I do now to make paying bills easier?  You could have a basket or a file specifically for time-sensitive mail and set a phone alarm to remind yourself to go through it every two weeks; you could automate bill pay; you could write the check and stamp the envelope as soon as the bill arrives in the mail.
  • What can I do now to make tomorrow's workday easier?  You could make a list for tomorrow's work before you leave today, or simply tidy your desk and leave your priority project front and center.
  • What can I do now to make vacuuming the floor easier?  Enlist two minutes' help from your family to put everything on the floor in its proper place.
  • What can I do now to make laundry easier?  Have separate baskets for jeans and towels, underwear, and outside clothes, and teach everyone to sort as they go.  Or give everyone their own mesh bag for socks, and wash and return the bag without having to sort, match, or search for missing items.

The more intentional we become about how we use our time, the more relaxed and satisfied we will be.  We don't have to be robots, or superheroes, or apathetic, muddled messes.  We can have freedom based on what matters most to us.

Photo by Cade Martin on Unsplash


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