One of the biggest obstacle most people have towards achieving their goals and making fundamental changes in their lives is their perception of time.  ”I just don’t have enough time”, they say.  ”I come home from 9 hours of work and am exhausted.  I need the weekend to relax.  I have to meet relatives, watch TV, etc.”.

I don’t question that most people who say these sorts of things mean it sincerely.  They feel busy and work out because of the way they currently spend their time.  So they truly believe that, even though they have other things they want to spend their time on (going to school, starting a business, etc.), it just can’t be done.

There’s a huge problem with this perspective.  It implies that your current schedule is fixed and immovable, and there is nothing you can do to spend your time more usefully.  You act like your schedule happens to you, rather than your schedule being a reflection of the things you want or need to do.

Why feel like your time is being owned by something or someone else?  A few thoughts should help you put this into perspective:

  • You’re not too busy.  You’re just not spending your time well.

When I was a junior in college, I used to think I had no time to do anything.  Between all of my classes and other required work, I had no time to do what I wanted (which, at the time, was studying Chinese and finding a job in China).  Finally, my girlfriend had enough of my bellyaching.  Thoroughly annoyed, she glared and me and yelled “R.C., you spend half of your time ‘doing homework’ on Facebook or looking at CNN!  And you’re telling me you don’t have time do to anything else??”

I usually listen to her advice, and she’s usually right when she gives it.  And I realized she was right.  I wasted a tremendous amount of time on Facebook, which thinking about it more, it wasn’t even something I actually enjoyed doing.  I was just trying to stave off boredom.

I can’t say I never get distracted by Facebook and the likes today when I am working.  Actually, it’s still a habit I fight against.  But I realized the wisdom in what she said.  I was just wasting time, but trying to rationalize how busy I was.

When I talk to other people, I can tell others have the same problem.  They talk about what’s on MTV, what show the watched last night, the concert they’ll go to this weekend, etc.  I’m not saying those things are bad.  But if you have a big goal you want to accomplish, is it really worth sacrificing it in order to spend basically all of your free time on fleeting pleasures and things that stave off boredom rather than bringing you actual, long term fulfilling happiness?

  • Don’t see your schedule as being “absolute” and immovable.  Recognize the destructive assumptions you are making, and feel empowered to spend your time the way you want.  

Let’s attack the above point from a different angle.  If you’re like many people, you have to work from 8-5, M-F; then you have to do this and that in the evening.  Then, your only time to see friends is Saturday and Sunday.  So you have to go do that too.  By the time that’s said and done, by golly, you didn’t have any time to do anything else.

What’s wrong with the statements above?  It’s simple: you don’t have to do any of those things.  You just assume you do because of your mindset.  You don’t have to work from 8-5, M-F; plenty of people have much more flexible jobs and are quite successful.  You don’t have to spend your evenings or weekends watching TV or spending time with friends.

If you’re into making big decisions, challenge every assumption you make about the way you spend your time, including your job and current relationships.  You can determine those things are worth it.  But if they are not, you can try to look for ways to change them to better fit your needs.  This is what I did when I challenged my long-held assumption that the “best” and “only” thing I could possibly do with my future was to work in a public accounting firm for a few years.  Just think of how much time and emotional energy that would have burned if I felt compelled to go down that road.

If you’re still not convinced, start with the little things.  How do you spend your lunch break?   Talking with friends?  Or reading and studying Chinese like I did?  Is that football game really as important as you think?  Watching it comes at a pretty high cost, if you could be doing something more productive and more lucrative in the meantime.

  • Aggressively and relentlessly remove those things from your life that waste your time.

This is my favorite, but the one I think most of us will have the most trouble with.  But it’s really easy, and Christian Bale in American Psycho (playing Patrick Bateman) said it the best: “Just…say…no.

It’s easy to be afraid of change, and uncomfortable with the unknown.  Our daily routine is something we are comfortable with; it’s certainty in our daily lives.  But realize this: your daily routine is destroying your chances of success!  So you have a tradeoff: comfort, or results?

If you choose results, unapologetically eliminate things from your day that are a waste.  Watching MTV?  Throw it out.  Long lunches gossiping about friends or coworkers?  Waste of time.  Go clubbing Friday, Saturday and Wednesday night?  Not necessary (and a huge waste of money.)

See how easy that was?  Look at how much more time you have!

Don’t think I’m saying have no friends, family or pets; nor am I saying to spend every waking hour working on your goals.  We need those relationships in our lives, and we need to just goof off sometimes.  What I am saying is this: evaluate the value you receive from the way you spend your time throughout the day.  If you realize your time expenditures are unnecessary, or something you are doing to stave boredom rather than pursuing something fun, or your time could be spent better; get rid of it.  Do you really need to watch MTV every night?  Do you need to go clubbing three times a week?  Is it really actually fun gossiping about co-workers, or are you just doing it because there’s nothing better to do?  There could be something better to do: working on accomplishing your goals and bettering your life!

  • If you still think your schedule is too full, look at people busier than you that have been able to accomplish more.  Now what’s your excuse?

One of the people who works at ASU in an administrative support position is also pursuing her masters degree in education.  She works 40 hours per week (at least: she’s usually busy with after-hours events), and goes to class.  What’s more, she is raising two young children.  But she is making it work, and will be graduating soon.

I have a lot of respect for this woman.  One of the big reasons is because she is living proof to the rest of us that we could be doing more than we are now.  I can’t imagine the stress of balancing all of these things at once, especially while having children (maybe I will find out someday).  If your schedule is busier than hers and you think you can’t do it, we’ll talk.  But if not, I think your excuse just got owned.