Have you noticed how we use the same words to describe our relationship to time as we do our relationship to money?
We spend time, just as we spend money.
We make time, just as we make money.
We pay attention, just as we pay with dollars and cents.
But why are people are so cheap with their money and so wasteful with their time?
We cut coupons, split checks, and debate whether we should buy a 99-cent app. However, when it comes to our time and attention, we give it away to anyone who wants it without thinking twice.
To prevent people from stealing our money, we lock it up in banks behind vaults. We install security alarms in our homes to protect our stuff. But when it comes to our time, most people fail to protect it in any way. They’re then surprised when they run out of it, wondering “Where has all my time gone?”
Distraction Is Theft
Distraction is any action that pulls you away from what you planned to do. Conversely, traction is any action that you do with intent. As I describe in my book, Indistractable, traction is the opposite of dis-traction.
When we let someone steal our time and attention with distraction, we’re paying with a non-refundable, nonrenewable resource.
While you can always make more money, you can’t make more time.
So how do we prevent distraction from stealing our time and attention?
Just as we need to have a budget for our finances, we must also plan our time. If you don’t plan your day, someone else will.
The Tyranny of the To-Do List
One of the reasons people don’t schedule their days is that many have inherited unhelpful beliefs about timeboxed schedules.
For one, a to-do list is not the same as a schedule.
A schedule helps you intentionally set aside time for a specific action, while anyone who’s tried running their life with a to-do list knows tasks tend to get pushed from one day to the next, and the next.
A schedule is a powerful time protector because we make it in advance, which forces us to make trade-offs with the limited amount of time we have each day.
A to-do list has no constraints. We can always add more to the never-ending list of things we’d like to do but likely won’t. It’s like writing checks you can’t cash.
Where do we start in making a schedule? We start with our values.
Values are attributes of the person we want to be.
For example, your values may include being an honest person, being a loving parent, or being a valued part of a team. We never achieve our values — just as we don’t say we’ve achieved creativity by finishing a painting.
Values are not end goals; they’re guidelines for our actions.
However, we often fail to make time for our values. We unintentionally spend too much time in one area of life at the expense of others.
We get busy at work at the expense of living out our values with our family or friends. Running ourselves ragged caring for our kids, we neglect our bodies, minds, and friendships. All of this keeps us from being the person we want to be. And if we chronically neglect our values, we become someone we’re not proud of — our life feels out of balance and diminished.
Ironically, this ugly feeling makes us more likely to seek distractions to escape our dissatisfaction without solving the problem.
Scheduling is a way to purposefully, deliberately make time for the things that matter most. Once you know what really matters, building a schedule around those values becomes a much more meaningful practice.
We all perform better under constraints. That’s because limitations give us structure. A blank schedule and a mile-long to-do list, on the other hand, is a recipe for torment.
Make Time for Traction
By converting our values into time, we make sure we have time for traction.
Traction is anything that brings us closer to that person we most want to be, to living our values. To do that, we must turn our values into time.
The most effective way to make time for traction is through timeboxing, an actionable application of a well-researched technique psychologists call, “setting an implementation intention.” In other words, you make a commitment to do something you intend to do, not just in theory, but at a certain time. It’s a technique that can be used to make time for traction in every area of life.
To create a weekly timeboxed schedule, you need to decide how much time you want to spend on each domain of your life. Start by creating a weekly calendar template for your perfect week. You can find a blank template below:
But if we don’t plan ahead, we’re setting ourselves up for failure of the worst sort: failure to use our time for the things that matter most.
Schedule making is how you secure time for traction every day and eliminate the distraction that prevents you from living the life you want — one that involves taking care of yourself, your relationships, and your work.
By defining how we spend our time in advance and protecting that time as steadfastly as we protect our money, we ensure we do the things that matter and ignore the things that don’t.
It frees us from the trivialities of our day and gives us back the time we can’t afford to waste.
- Free Schedule Maker: Use My Google Sheet Template
- Habit Tracker Template — Use My (Printable) Google Sheet
- Timeboxing: The Magical Productivity Hack You’re Not Using
- 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