What matters most to you? It’s a big question to answer — given the fact that we have a limited time to live, it is natural to ask yourself what’s worth doing and what’s not.

Time poverty is a distribution problem.

Most people have time dilemmas because they have tasks to complete, workout routines to do, relationships to manage, new skills to learn, books to read, financial obligations to sort, goals to accomplish — not forgetting time to take an intentional break to restore energy and start over. Trying to get everything done can be overwhelming.

For many of us, the key reason we “don’t have enough time” is that we never adequately clarify how much time we should be devoting to the different things we most value. The expectations you require of yourself determines how you distribute your time both at home and at work.

If you are like most people, you want to nurture healthy relationships at work and at home and do your best work at the same time every day.

Leo Babauta, author of Zen To Done: The Ultimate Simple Productivity System, says, “By picking your tasks carefully, you’re taking care of the container of your time. You can pick important tasks or joyful ones, but you’re being conscious of the choices. You’re treating it like the precious gift that it is: limited, valuable, to be filled with the best things, and not overstuffed.”

Here’s an important approach to keep in mind — you can’t start letting things or tasks go until you understand what needs to stay. It’s the fundamental principle for deciding what’s worth your precious time or what’s important versus what’s just urgent.

“When you’re busy, you’re more likely to make poor time-management choices — taking on commitments you can’t handle, or prioritizing trifling tasks over crucial ones. A vicious spiral kicks in, your feelings of busyness leave you even busier than before, ” says Oliver Burkeman of the BBC.

If you keep running out of time, it’s typically because you are spreading yourself too thin

Too often, we’re so overwhelmed with too many things on our plate and fail to question whether they should even be occupying our time. You may be able to do something faster or better than most people around you, but not all things belong to your personal to-do list.

To determine what to focus on, Tiffany Dufu of New York Timesrecommends that you question every task on your to-do list. She explains;

For each task, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this an essential task, relative to what matters most to me?
  • Do I do this really well with little effort?
  • Is this something only I can do — or could it be delegated to someone else?
  • Does this task bring me joy?

Experts say thinking about time differently will shift your outlook and approach to tasks on your to-do list.

In the decision-making process, always remember — whatever you choose, you could have chosen something else. Pruning your list of things to do comes down to values and priorities.

In their book, The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity, Franklin Covey time management experts Kory Kogon, Adam Merrill, and Leena Rinne suggest an exercise that increases the likelihood that important things get on your calendar. “It’s a lens to determine what’s important and what’s not,” says Kogon, global productivity practice leader.

First, list your main roles, the authors write. They depict these segments as a Wheel of Life — example, you could be a business owner, a writer, a son, father, or husband.

“They don’t all have to be equal slices,” says Kogon. “You’re not going to spend as much time on even a much-loved hobby as you will at work. But they should be the roles that matter most to you, and that you might use to introduce yourself to someone.”

Next, for all these roles (not more than seven), write down what an extraordinary performance would look like — what will make you feel like you are making a high-value contribution in each role?

Once you have figured out how to be your best self for the roles, write down the concrete actions that will help you achieve the excellence you seek under each role. Add them to your schedule, and make time to get them done.

You will probably have a lot to do under each section, but when you have clarity about what matters most to you, do your best to get them done.

“Time is the most valuable coin in your life. You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent. Be careful that you do not let other people spend it for you,” says Carl Sandburg.

Whatever else you do with your time, what matters most to you will get its due. At the end of a day, can you honestly say that you’ve spent your time well? Are you proud of how you’re spending your hours, days and months? Aim to answer, yes, and you’ll never live with regrets.

If you have a time distribution problem, notice where time leaks, then declutter your routine. Revisit your schedule regularly. Check-in with yourself weekly to see if your schedule reflects what you expect of your self.

This article was originally published on Medium.

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