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If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important and then give it all you’ve got.
Lee Iacocca

We had a conversation with my mom about spending time yesterday, specifically about choosing to spend your time. She is an entrepreneur who loves her job, and so she naturally spends a lot of time working. The bulk of our conversation revolved around how much choice she has as to how much she works and how much she does other stuff.

This got me thinking about choice and values. I think a sign of what you value most is what you choose to invest your precious time in. Someone who spends three hours a day exercising must value his or her body higher than someone who spends three hours a month exercising, right?

Don’t get me wrong, the person who exercises three hours a month (let’s call her Wendy) might well think her body is very important to her – it’s just not very high on her hierarchy of values. She has twenty four hours every day just like the three-hour-a-day exercise buff, Lauren; she just chooses to spend that time differently.

So far, so simple, right?

Contrasting values

What about obligations? What about work? What about all the other things that Wendy has to do, like feed her four children and work?

Already, we know something more about the values in Wendy’s life: the well-being of her family might be a high priority, as well as work.  She probably has at least fifteen to twenty other values – friendship, learning, justice, peace, reputation, wealth, for example – that she has to juggle every day, every week, just like the rest of us.

The more things we value, the less time we can dedicate to acting according to each individual value. Even more so, if our values contradict each other.

By dedicating time to improve her health, Wendy is forfeiting the time she could be increasing her wealth. When she spends a night about town with her friends and takes the kids to Grandma, she is catering to the friendship value, but might be undermining her reputation as a mother, if Grandma is very strict about such things.

I notice I very easily start ignoring my loved ones when I have a lot of work to do. Case in point: last fall. Even though I value my relationship with my fiancé very highly, I’d routinely get home after a long day at the University and slop down on the couch, exhausted. I’d have a few hours left until I have to go to sleep, and those hours I’d spend in front of the TV or at my laptop. Hardly inspiring.

Recognising values

The thing is, I chose to take on each activity that exhausted me during the day, and I knew it. I didn’t have one single item on my time table that I couldn’t have declined, had I wanted.

But since I’d promised the people I’d do my share, I did. And there were so many shares to go around I finally had only the shreds left when I got home.

This was not the scary part, though. The scary part came when I realised that my time spending patterns reveal something about my value hierarchy. And, as much as I hated to admit it, I seemed to value my schoolwork, band, and volunteering more than my health or my relationships with my fiancé, my parents, or my friends from outside school.

This is when I realised I had to start making conscious choices about my scheduling. Just like values guide our choices, our choices guide our values as well, and I wanted to steer my focus more towards the important people in my life.

Aligning and balancing values

I’m still a work-in-progress with the whole values and spending time part. I realise that I can’t divide every single day into equal increments of friend time, spouse time, school time, family time etc., especially since I’m more a project person than a routine person.

I suspect that someone who thrives on routine would enjoy having a “friend hour” every day, be it for a coffee date, a phone call, or a thoughtful email – spending time contacting someone you haven’t heard from in a while.

As a project-oriented scatterbrain, I need to include friends, family and fiancé into my mental todolist along with my more “official” obligations such as school and band stuff. In practice, this means saving some time every week on my calendar to actually meet people and do nothing special. Whoah, that might well be a routine right there. Who knew!

As for the health part – that’s where I definitely thrive on routine and habit. Remembering to eat every now and then and doing some form of mind-and-body exercise same time each day keep me functioning properly without me thinking about it.

And before there’s a habit, there’s choice. Over and over again. Why do I want to do this? Why is it important to me that I remember to eat? Why do I really want to see my mom and dad a few times a week?

Which reminds me: go eat something and call Mom. 🙂

Have a happy New Year’s celebration, and until we meet again – keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.
Mike Murdock

After a week of complete and utter relaxation and no obligations whatsoever, you’d suspect I’d be jumping at the chance to get going with all the interesting stuff I have to finish for my January deadlines. Fun, right?

Not so much.

Instead, I’m having real difficulty with dragging myself out of the sugar coma induced by all those boxes of chocolate we got for Christmas. And the luxury of staying up late and sleeping till noon.

Nothing like a change of scenery to break a routine

Not surprisingly, this is all due to the fact that during this past week, most of my daily routines got obliterated. Not that I had many to begin with, but I was quite happy I’d established a morning Shiva Nata-yoga-meditation practice and an evening journaling practice. Not to mention the mind-your-eating-rhythm practice and the other normal-life sustaining habits.  Funny how it only takes a week to flush all that down the drain.

One reason for this is that I spent a few days at my parents’ house, so I didn’t have the same prompts for my routines as I would have had at home. After I came back home, though, I didn’t have that excuse anymore.

Instead of routines, then, what have I been up to? Glad you asked. I spent the past week in Project Wonderland. You know, forgetting everything else because This Thing Here is so interesting and fascinating. I have, for example, four knitting and crocheting projects that I worked on this past week, out of which I finished one and started two. Other projects included The Boxing Day Visits, playing board games with the family for 3 hours, and watching Batman Begins DVD-extras until 2 a.m.

To me, one of the appeals of the holidays is the fact that holidays break the normal routine and allows people to spend time on these kinds of projects. I’m wondering, though, if there’s a way to incorporate the fun projects into my daily routine somehow, or if that spoils the magic. Then again, if my routine includes fun things, it might well improve my everyday life?

Project vs. Routine: Journaling

Take journaling. I used to approach that with a project mindset, grabbing my journal whenever something emotional or interesting happened. I’d spend hours writing, first detailing the he-said-she-said background story before I got to reflecting on what I thought and how I felt about the whole mess. The good thing was that I really got to see the big picture when writing. The downside was that I’d get guilty if I hadn’t written in a long time. I also had to wait for a “sufficiently big” topic to write about.

This fall, I started journaling every evening. My goal was to write at least one sentence every evening before I went to bed. For the entire fall, I managed to keep up the rhythm, and if I forgot to write one evening, I’d take it back the next. In hindsight, it’s a good thing I kept writing, since I probably wouldn’t remember much of the past fall otherwise.

Learning, Projects and Routines

I started to think about this whole project and routine distinction with respect to learning, since I’ve always been a project learner as well. The more I immerse myself in something new, the better I get the hang of it. Spending three weeks in Poland will definitely get you a better grasp of Polish than spending the same number of hours studying Polish.

Routines come up in the maintenance stage, though. When you come back from the three-week trip to Poland, it’s worthwhile to create some kind of a routine around using Polish. If you don’t, the skill will deteriorate fast.

A project start will also give you better momentum with maintaining the routine for the three-four weeks it takes for a habit to form. Starting out with a routine might get you started, too, but chances are you need more external motivation when trying to maintain a routine as a beginner. It often takes a while before you actually start to enjoy an activity in itself – exercise, studying a foreign language, writing…

The word “routine” might have nasty connotations to some people. What I mean by “routine” is “something that you do regularly and that feels like a natural part of your day”. Nothing about mindless, robotic, passive or involuntary. In a way, routine (to me) is a placeholder in your day – you can fill it with any number of items from the broader topic.

For instance, when I had my journaling routine (and I hope to revive it soon), I might describe my day on Monday, reflect on my feelings on Tuesday, anticipate tomorrow on Wednesday, sketch a blog post based on a true event on Thursday, and so on. I could write for three minutes or for thirty. The key was to get going with the activity, nevermind the actual tasks I performed.

Hoping this will inspire all of us (read: me) to get going on a wonderful set of routines for the following year!

Thanks for stopping by, see you around – keep catching those insightings!

Love,

Sari

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