“If our thoughts shape our world, then we can decide every moment is valuable and then make it so.” – Lori Deschene
How many times have you looked back on your day and wondered where the time went? How often have you been so busy that you didn’t have time to simply live?
Similarly, how many times have you had to start over after putting hours, days, weeks, or even years into a project or venture?
In any of these cases, it’s easy to feel as if you’ve wasted a significant amount of your time on Earth.
But that’s only true if you make it so.
The truth is, your time and experiences are as valuable as you perceive them to be. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is completely up to you.
Valuing Day-to-Day Moments
How many of you reading this actually enjoy running errands or doing chores?
If you didn’t raise your hand, I don’t blame you. These daily maintenance tasks can leave us feeling like we’re stuck in a hamster wheel. Go to the store, buy food, come home, cook, wash dishes, clean up…and do it all again tomorrow.
It’s easy to feel as if you’re just going through the motions. That you waste inordinate amounts of time running these errands on a daily basis. That there’s so much else you could be doing with your life.Advertising
While there really is no escape from having to complete these daily tasks, you can escape the idea that completing them is a waste of your time.
Instead of approaching these tasks thinking “Okay, once I get through this, I’ll have time to relax,” aim to get as much as you can out of each experience.
Grocery shopping can become boring if you always buy the same old stuff. But there’s nothing that says you can’t spice things up a bit (see what I did there?). Actively seek out new ingredients for a recipe you’ve never tried before. Put a little extra effort into what used to be a monotonous task, and you might end up actually enjoying yourself. Ironically, this will all end up taking more of your time, but you’ll almost immediately see the value in such time well spent.
Doing laundry, sweeping the floor, and scrubbing the bathtub are most likely not on the top of your list of exciting things to do in life. But, of course, they must be done. And if you change the way you approach these seemingly menial tasks, you’ll find much more value in each of them.
Think of all that goes into these chores. It might not be glamorous work, but it is strenuous. Keeping your home spotlessly clean requires you to have a consistent vision of what you want each room to look like, and persevere through a ton of adversity – in the form of your kids, pets, and spouse. Understand how meaningful it is that you’re constantly fighting against the grain, but still have the intestinal fortitude to press forward.
You’ll probably learn some tricks along the way, too: better ways to keep grime away; an easier way to fold t-shirts (believe me, there is one); the best way to get your kids to clean up after themselves. These are all skills you picked up along the way while completing these Sisyphean tasks that seemed to be a complete waste of time.
That is, they seemed that way until you took the time to see the value in each of them.
Valuing Failed Efforts
When I first started writing on the web, I had no idea what I was doing. I pitched articles that had absolutely no value to my clients. My ideas were boring. I was overwhelmed by the many published writers and bloggers with hundreds of articles under their belt. I remember thinking I just “didn’t have it.”
If I were to have quit back then, then, yes: all of the time I spent trying to become a writer up until that point would have been a complete waste. I wouldn’t have learned anything, and certainly would not have grown professionally.Advertising
Instead, I started thinking: “How can I learn from these shortcoming? How can I use these experiences of failure in order to grow?”
I learned that failure is not an end in and of itself; it’s simply a bump in the continuum toward success.
Once I began to tie my failures into my journey as a writer, I began to see the value in each of my failed attempts.
I stopped deleting rejected pitches. Instead, I started reading over them to see how I needed to improve.
Rather than completely erasing drafts and starting from scratch, I began reworking them section by section until they were as close to perfect as possible.
Instead of completely ignoring a client after being rejected, I began contacting them to get insight into what they were really looking for, and how I could change my approach to better suit their needs in the future.
I’ve definitely faced setbacks along my journey as a writer. But, because I’ve improved the manner in which I approach these setbacks, I can honestly say that, as long as I’m writing, I never feel like I’ve wasted my time.
A Changing Wind
So far, I’ve discussed fairly minor incidents that might set you back a couple hours, or at most a few days.
But what about the setbacks that seem to erase years of your life?Advertising
I’m talking about those of us who have graduated college only to discover their degree is useless. Or those who have been laid off after twenty years at the same office. Or those who realize they’ve been stuck in a rut for years, but are afraid it’s too late to make a change.
When these revelations hit you, it can be a hard pill to swallow. You’ll probably feel as if you’ve completely wasted your life, and there’s no way to get back on track.
Well, it’s not true.
As with everything I’ve discussed so far, you’ve only wasted your time if you allow it to seem that way.
Throughout my college years, I studied literacy education. I wanted nothing more than to help struggling students become proficient readers every day of my life. I was, and am, good at it.
But, in a market in which hundreds of applicants vie for a single position, and those that do get hired are the first to be laid off when budget cuts roll around, I finally decided the educational field wasn’t for me.
I could easily look back on my time in college and working as a tutor and substitute teacher as a waste. I’m not working in the field, so how can I say my past experiences in the educational industry are useful to my current situation?
Thinking that way would be a complete disservice to my past efforts, and my current abilities.
Instead, I choose to focus on the strengths I’ve gained over the years, and leveraging them in my current occupation as a writer.Advertising
I absolutely love reading and learning about anything this world has to offer. That hasn’t changed. Learning new information provides me with more material to include in my writing.
I enjoy explaining complex ideas in relatable and memorable ways. I don’t need to be in front of a classroom to make use of that skill. In fact, as a writer, I have more time to ensure my explanation is comprehensible as possible before I publish it.
I feel fulfilled when I know my efforts have helped improve the lives of other people in some way or another. Writing on the Web allows me to reach many more individuals than I could ever imagine reaching in the confines of a single classroom.
Just because I never truly reached my initial goal of becoming a full-time teacher doesn’t mean my journey was a complete failure. I may have had to redefine how I use the skills I’ve learned along the way – but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost those skills entirely.
There will almost certainly come a time in your life when you need to leave the past in the past. But you should never forget what you’ve learned along the way.
Time is life’s greatest teacher. If you learn from its lessons, you’ll never waste a moment of your life.
Featured photo credit: Hourglass / Mustafa Awwad / Flickr via farm4.staticflickr.com
Last Updated on July 21, 2021
The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.
Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”
A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.
Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.
In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.
Table of Contents
From Creating Reminders to Building Habits
A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.
For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.
This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.
The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.
That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.
Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!
The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.
Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.
But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?
The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.
The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders
A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.
For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.
But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)
If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.
For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself) can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.
These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.
For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.
How to Make a Reminder Works for You
Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.
Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.
Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.
My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.
Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.
I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.
More on Building Habits
- 16 Everyday Habits of Highly Productive People
- How Long Does It Take to Break a Habit? Science Will Tell You
- How to Break Bad Habits: I Broke 3 Bad Habits in Less Than 2 Months
- How to Break a Habit and Hack the Habit Loop
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com
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