Well, it’s that time of year again. We’re moving through the second week of January, so by this weekend, we’ll already be solidly halfway through the month.
It’s the inevitable season of looking at those well-intentioned goals we made at the beginning of the year—so, just a few weeks ago—and saying, “Um, what was I thinking?”
Maybe it’s the lack of motivation now that the Christmas tree is vacuumed off the carpet, yet you’re still staring squarely in the face of several more months of winter. Or maybe you overcommitted with ten “resolutions,” and now you’re so overwhelmed you don’t know where to begin.
For me, it’s simply a matter of carving out time. I love fresh starts, but I don’t burden myself with the task of beginning lofty new goals exactly on January 1, because as a working mom, the first bit of January is actually a season begging for busyness when I’m needing a bit of mercy.
There were still a few more days before the kids returned to school, so until that happened, our normal routine was still on pause. My workload piled up over the holidays because I guiltlessly take a week or two off every year to make merry, but it does mean when I get back at it, I’ve got a deluge aimed straight at me.
In other words—I brush off the need to start something on January 1. Instead, I use the first few weeks of the year to simply listen. Pray. Brainstorm. Read. Sit in silence. Hear from friends.
Then, and only then, do I slowly start making goals for the year ahead.
(Trust me, this didn’t always happen. I’m a perfectionist by nature, so for many years my towel of defeat would have already been thrown in the ring.)
I don’t lean too heavily on a new calendar page full of gloriously empty squares. I make time work for me. I make it my friend, not some enemy to slay.
It comes down to making honest-to-goodness time for my goals. Once I plan and pray and listen, then I come to the table with realistic dreams for my year ahead.
Here’s generally what this looks like in my life.
1. First, I reflect on last year.
You already know this is a big part of my holidays. I can’t really look forward until I’ve looked back with gratitude, grace, and a bit of humor.
2. Then, I unearth some of my dreams.
I examine the little pieces of my life, and I ask how I’d like these to look in twelve months’ time. (Upstreamers, you already know these areas: they’re things like relationships, money, work, health, and the like.) Sometimes I use my goal-setting pages. This year, I paired that with my new planner’s space to reflect and pray.
This exercise helps really narrow down what it is I’m actually after this year.
3. Next, I chart my time.
This next step is important, because it gives me a raw, honest look at my life—much like going through my checking account helps me see how much I’m really spending on eating out, so, too, does logging my time account give me a clearer picture of how I’m really dedicating my minutes and hours.
I do this because once I unearth my desires for the year, it’s plainly obvious that I won’t have time to reach them all if things stay the same. Like decluttering the house, if something new comes in, something old has to go if there’s no room for the new thing.
My friend Jessica created a Weekly Time Tracker PDF, free for download. I used this last week to log a week’s worth of my time, to see when I was, actually, mindlessly scrolling through Facebook more than I realized, or when I’m sitting in Austin’s standstill traffic longer than I notice.
Why does this matter? Because it’s these little time pockets that I can next either remove or use to my advantage.
4. Then it gets fun—I say no.
I love, love, love saying no, and logging my time gives me free-and-clear permission to do so, guilt-free. I’m a firm believer that we should say no to absolutely everything but the essentials in our life, and that we “need” to do far less than we really do.
Saying no can look like:
• Removing Facebook from my phone so that it’s not my knee-jerk time waster when I’m out and about.
• Declining every single writing and speaking opportunity except those that align with my goals.
• Setting down a book, podcast, blog, TV show, or some other method of media consumption—even if I haven’t finished it—if it’s just not life-giving.
• Politely declining all the invitations to join all the well-meaning activities that aren’t the best for my family’s current season—sports teams, extracurricular classes, book clubs, school or church volunteering, park playdates, and the like.
5. Now I can say yes to those dreams!
Checking off all the invitations to say no now means I have more freedom in my time, mental space, and energy to say yes to the things that really matter. And this is what I love. This is when it looks possible to make time for my goals for the year.
Here are mine—they’re simple, but they’re sorely needed:
• Read more.
• Exercise more.
• Sleep more.
I can log more reading hours in my day when I carry my book or Kindle with me wherever I go and cultivate the habit of opening that, and not my phone, when I have a few minutes in the carpool line, or when I’m at the stove waiting for the water to boil.
I can exercise more by taking advantage of my natural circadian rhythms. I’ve known for awhile now that my body and brain go in to a slump by early afternoon (as much as I’d like to be a morning exerciser, that’s actually when my brain does its best work and I get my writing done). So, I’ll take a break sometime after lunch and go for a much-needed run.
I’m also a solid believer in moving, and not just pure exercise. During the little fringe hours in my day—ten minutes before the kids wake up, twenty minutes when the kids first get home from school, even five or ten minutes during my work time while I’m on the phone or voxing—I can get in a decent amount of simple-but-effective movement.
And sleeping more…. Well, for me, this is all a matter of shutting things down earlier in the evening. I’m a natural early bird, so I tend to wake up by 5:30-6:00 am no matter when I go to bed (this can be a blessing or a curse). So the obvious way to log in more hours is to simply head to bed earlier at night. (More on this soon.)
I wouldn’t have noticed little time-sucking habits during my day had I not logged by time. It’s the key to this whole process, I say.
Finally, here are some of my favorite tools to help me make better use of my time:
• My eye mask (I know—I talk about this so often you’re already rolling your eyes) helps me sleep so much deeper, especially when I want more hours. I wear it nightly.
• Syncing my Kindle to my local library means an instant plethora of books at my fingertips. I have no excuse for having nothing to read (never a problem for me, mind you, but it does mean I should always have a book in my bag).
• Jessica Turner’s book The Fringe Hours is the best recent book full of practical wisdom on how to make the best use of—well, those fringe hours you’ve discovered you already have. We had a fantastic conversation on my podcast a few months ago, and she’s one of my most encouraging friends in this department. If anyone knows how to make good use of her time, it’s Jess.
Oddly enough, to combine those last two resources, The Fringe Hours is currently on sale for Kindle at $1.99. This is a crazy good deal, and I have no idea how long this will last, so grab it now while it’s still there:
Jessica has also just released her compendium book, My Fringe Hours: Discovering a More Creative and Fulfilled Life, which would make a nifty companion during your goal-setting time as well. Comes with built-in time tracking space!
How about you…. Tell me if you’ve ever logged your time and found something eye-opening. And what are your goals for this next year? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.