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  • When people find out I write about time management, they assume two things.

  • One is that I'm always on time, and I'm not.

  • I have four small children, and I would like to blame them for my occasional tardiness, but sometimes it's just not their fault.

  • I was once late to my own speech on time management.

  • (Laughter)

  • We all had to just take a moment together and savor that irony.

  • The second thing they assume is that I have lots of tips and tricks

  • for saving bits of time here and there.

  • Sometimes I'll hear from magazines that are doing a story along these lines,

  • generally on how to help their readers find an extra hour in a day.

  • And the idea is that we'll shave bits of time off everyday activities,

  • add it up,

  • and we'll have time for the good stuff.

  • I question the entire premise of this piece, but I'm always interested

  • in hearing what they've come up with before they call me.

  • Some of my favorites:

  • Doing errands in a way where you only have to make right-hand turns --

  • Being extremely judicious in microwave usage:

  • it says three to three-and-a-half minutes on the package,

  • we're totally getting in on the bottom side of that.

  • And my personal favorite, which makes sense on some level,

  • is to DVR your favorite shows so you can fast-forward through the commercials.

  • That way, you save eight minutes every half hour,

  • so in the course of two hours of watching TV, you find 32 minutes to exercise.

  • Which is true.

  • You know another way to find 32 minutes to exercise?

  • Don't watch two hours of TV a day, right?

  • (Laughter)

  • Anyway, the idea is we'll save bits of time here and there, add it up,

  • we will finally get to everything we want to do.

  • But after studying how successful people spend their time

  • and looking at their schedules hour by hour,

  • I think this idea has it completely backward.

  • We don't build the lives we want by saving time.

  • We build the lives we want,

  • and then time saves itself.

  • Here's what I mean.

  • I recently did a time diary project

  • looking at 1,001 days in the lives of extremely busy women.

  • They had demanding jobs, sometimes their own businesses,

  • kids to care for, maybe parents to care for,

  • community commitments --

  • busy, busy people.

  • I had them keep track of their time for a week

  • so I could add up how much they worked and slept,

  • and I interviewed them about their strategies, for my book.

  • One of the women whose time log I studied

  • goes out on a Wednesday night for something.

  • She comes home to find that her water heater has broken,

  • and there is now water all over her basement.

  • If you've ever had anything like this happen to you,

  • you know it is a hugely damaging, frightening, sopping mess.

  • So she's dealing with the immediate aftermath that night,

  • next day she's got plumbers coming in,

  • day after that, professional cleaning crew dealing with the ruined carpet.

  • All this is being recorded on her time log.

  • Winds up taking seven hours of her week.

  • Seven hours.

  • That's like finding an extra hour in the day.

  • But I'm sure if you had asked her at the start of the week,

  • "Could you find seven hours to train for a triathlon?"

  • "Could you find seven hours to mentor seven worthy people?"

  • I'm sure she would've said what most of us would've said,

  • which is, "No -- can't you see how busy I am?"

  • Yet when she had to find seven hours

  • because there is water all over her basement,

  • she found seven hours.

  • And 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.

  • To get at this,

  • I like to use language from one of the busiest people I ever interviewed.

  • By busy, I mean she was running a small business

  • with 12 people on the payroll,

  • she had six children in her spare time.

  • I was getting in touch with her to set up an interview

  • on how she "had it all" -- that phrase.

  • I remember it was a Thursday morning,

  • and she was not available to speak with me. Of course, right?

  • But the reason she was unavailable to speak with me

  • is that she was out for a hike,

  • because it was a beautiful spring morning,

  • and she wanted to go for a hike.

  • So of course this makes me even more intrigued,

  • and when I finally do catch up with her, she explains it like this.

  • She says, "Listen Laura, everything I do,

  • every minute I spend, is my choice."

  • And rather than say,

  • "I don't have time to do x, y or z,"

  • she'd say, "I don't do x, y or z because it's not a priority."

  • "I don't have time," often means "It's not a priority."

  • If you think about it, that's really more accurate language.

  • I could tell you I don't have time to dust my blinds,

  • but that's not true.

  • If you offered to pay me $100,000 to dust my blinds,

  • I would get to it pretty quickly.

  • Since that is not going to happen,

  • I can acknowledge this is not a matter of lacking time, it's that I don't want to do it.

  • Using this language reminds us that time is a choice.

  • And granted,

  • there may be horrible consequences for making different choices,

  • I will give you that.

  • But we are smart people,

  • and certainly over the long run,

  • we have the power to fill our lives

  • with the things that deserve to be there.

  • So how do we do that?

  • How do we treat our priorities

  • as the equivalent of that broken water heater?

  • Well, first we need to figure out what they are.

  • I want to give you two strategies for thinking about this.

  • The first, on the professional side:

  • I'm sure many people coming up to the end of the year are giving or getting annual performance reviews.

  • You look back over your successes over the year,

  • your "opportunities for growth."

  • And this serves its purpose,

  • but I find it's more effective to do this looking forward.

  • So I want you to pretend it's the end of next year.

  • You're giving yourself a performance review,

  • and it has been an absolutely amazing year for you professionally.

  • What three to five things did you do that made it so amazing?

  • So you can write next year's performance review now.

  • And you can do this for your personal life, too.

  • I'm sure many of you, like me, come December,

  • get cards that contain these folded up sheets of colored paper,

  • on which is written what is known as the family-holiday letter.

  • Bit of a wretched genre of literature, really,

  • going on about how amazing everyone in the household is,

  • or even more scintillating,

  • how busy everyone in the household is.

  • But these letters serve a purpose,

  • which is that they tell your friends and family

  • what you did in your personal life that mattered to you over the past year.

  • So this year's kind of done, but I want you to pretend it's the end of next year,

  • and it has been an absolutely amazing year for you and the people you care about.

  • What three to five things did you do that made it so amazing?

  • So you can write next year's family holiday letter now.

  • Don't send it.

  • (Laughter)

  • Please, don't send it.

  • But you can write it.

  • And now, between the performance review and the family holiday letter,

  • we have a list of six to ten goals we can work on in the next year.

  • And now we need to break these down into doable steps.

  • So maybe you want to write a family history.

  • First, you can read some other family histories,

  • get a sense for the style.

  • Then maybe think about the questions you want to ask your relatives,

  • set up appointments to interview them.

  • Or maybe you want to run a 5K.

  • So you need to find a race and sign up, figure out a training plan, and dig those shoes out of the back of the closet.

  • And then -- this is key --

  • we treat our priorities as the equivalent of that broken water heater,

  • by putting them into our schedules first.

  • We do this by thinking through our weeks before we are in them.

  • I find a really good time to do this is Friday afternoons.

  • Friday afternoon is what an economist might call

  • a "low opportunity cost" time.

  • Most of us are not sitting there on Friday afternoons saying,

  • "I am excited to make progress toward my personal and professional priorities right now."

  • (Laughter)

  • But we are willing to think about what those should be.

  • So 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.

  • Career, we think about;

  • relationships, self -- not so much.

  • But anyway, just a short list,

  • two to three items in each.

  • Then look out over the whole of the next week,

  • and see where you can plan them in.

  • Where you plan them in is up to you.

  • I know this is going to be more complicated for some people than others.

  • I mean, some people's lives are just harder than others.

  • It is not going to be easy to find time to take that poetry class

  • if you are caring for multiple children on your own.

  • I get that.

  • And I don't want to minimize anyone's struggle.

  • But I do think that the numbers I am about to tell you are empowering.

  • There are 168 hours in a week.

  • Twenty-four times seven is 168 hours.

  • That is a lot of time.

  • If you are working a full-time job, so 40 hours a week,

  • sleeping eight hours a night, so 56 hours a week --

  • that leaves 72 hours for other things.

  • That is a lot of time.

  • You say you're working 50 hours a week,

  • maybe a main job and a side hustle.

  • Well, that leaves 62 hours for other things.

  • You say you're working 60 hours.

  • Well, that leaves 52 hours for other things.

  • You say you're working more than 60 hours.

  • Well, are you sure?

  • (Laughter)

  • There was once a study comparing people's estimated work weeks with time diaries

  • They found that people claiming 75-plus-hour work weeks were off by about 25 hours.

  • (Laughter)

  • You can guess in which direction, right?

  • Anyway, in 168 hours a week,

  • I think we can find time for what matters to you.

  • If you want to spend more time with your kids,

  • you want to study more for a test you're taking,

  • you want to exercise for three hours and volunteer for two,

  • you can.

  • And that's even if you're working way more than full-time hours.

  • So we have plenty of time, which is great,

  • because guess what?

  • We don't even need that much time to do amazing things.

  • But when most of us have bits of time, what do we do?

  • Pull out the phone, right?

  • Start deleting emails.

  • Otherwise, we're puttering around the house

  • or watching TV.

  • But small moments can have great power.

  • You can use your bits of time

  • for bits of joy.

  • Maybe it's choosing to read something wonderful on the bus on the way to work

  • I know when I had a job that required two bus rides

  • and a subway ride every morning,

  • I used to go to the library on weekends to get stuff to read.

  • It made the whole experience almost, almost, enjoyable.

  • Breaks at work can be used for meditating or praying.

  • If family dinner is out because of your crazy work schedule,

  • maybe family breakfast could be a good substitute.

  • It's about looking at the whole of one's time

  • and seeing where the good stuff can go.

  • I truly believe this.

  • There is time.

  • Even if we are busy,

  • we have time for what matters.

  • And when we focus on what matters,

  • we can build the lives we want

  • in the time we've got.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

When people find out I write about time management, they assume two things.