The German writer and philosopher Goethe believed he could predict someone’s future based on one simple fact. “If I know how you spend your time,” he wrote, “then I know what might become of you.”
Seeing how you spend your time reveals your values and, thus, shows where your investment of time, attention, and effort will lead you. The trouble is that too many of us spend too much time distracted rather than focused on the things that matter. Wasting time on distractions, which we’ll later regret, leads to a life filled with missed opportunities.
Using a few of the concepts I discuss in my book, Indistractable, you can become the person you want to be without letting distractions lead you astray.
Who Do You Want to Be Tomorrow?
Either way, the best way to draw up a draft of who you want to be is to home in on the characteristics you want to embody—also known as your values.
According to Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap, values are “how we want to be, what we want to stand for, and how we want to relate to the world around us.” People make time for what they want. For example, one of my values is to be a caring, fun, and involved father to my daughter.
These values then act as a roadmap to becoming your ideal future self. You can use them to guide you toward the activities that help you fulfill those values.
To support my value of being the father I want to be, I created a system with my daughter: Every week, we randomly select from a jar containing pieces of paper with a fun activity scribbled on each, and then we do that activity.
By consistently putting in this time to be fully present with my daughter, I feel confident that I’m becoming the kind of father I hope to be.
Listing your values and the activities that push you to meet them reveals any gaps between how you spend your time and who you want to become.
Let’s say you want to be an author. Unless you’re spending time writing regularly, it’s all but guaranteed that you won’t publish much. You have to make time for it or it won’t happen.
Dedicate Time to Your Future Self
Too often, people don’t make time for their values.
They let outside influences like external triggers bulldoze how they intended to spend their time or allow internal triggers to drive them to distraction.
But here’s the thing: Your life in the future isn’t going to look the way you want it to unless you take control of your time and attention.
The best way to make our ideal future come to fruition is to turn values into time.
Timeboxing, a well-studied time and attention management technique, facilitates that. It involves reserving specific periods in your calendar for traction, the activities you planned to do in advance to live out your values.
Knowing exactly what we should be doing each day and when we plan to do it helps us fight distractions and create a timeline for achieving goals.
Unlike checking something off a to-do list, using a timeboxed calendar enables us to learn how long different tasks take us. That, in turn, informs a feedback loop for our progress.
So, if you have a goal to write a book, putting that on a to-do list is a recipe for never getting it done. But if you timebox 30 minutes a day for writing, you can track how much progress you make in that time and do some simple math to get an estimate of when you might complete the first draft.
Once you’ve realized that you generally write 200 words in an hour, for example, you can calculate that it would take you about 200 hours to write a 40,000-word manuscript.
That’s actually not much considering the average American spends nearly five hours per day watching videos!
When it comes to living the life—and the future—you want, making sure you allocate time to living your values is the best thing to focus on. Plan your time and your future is in sight!
- Free Schedule Maker: Use My Google Sheet Template
- Free Habit Tracker Template. Use this Google Sheet & Crush It
- Timeboxing: Why It Works and How to Get Started in 2023
- The New York Times Uses the Very Dark Patterns it Derides
- What is the Opposite of “Distraction?” The Single Word that Will Change Your Life This Year
- Hyperbolic Discounting: Why You Make Terrible Life Choices
- Happiness Hack: This One Ritual Made Me Much Happier