It is that time of year when, if you have time, you review the past year and think about what you learned; what you would like to continue to do; and what you might like to do more of, or do differently.

I took on  a part-time project last June which, if it had been half time (although what even is half time for an independent worker?) would have had a manageable effect on my overall time allocation. I could organize myself for that. But by the end of a rather frazzled year I was left feeling like I didn’t have a minute for anything non-obligatory. What happened to fun time, or reading time, or even lunch time?

I was given an excellent exercise at the very end of last year by a wise advisor – so simple, yet powerful in its help in thinking about this issue of time, and the choices that we make in spending it. Here it is, try it for yourself:

You have 168 hours each week (7 days x 24 hours each day) (this is, sadly, non-negotiable)

1. How many hours do you want to sleep each day? (x 7, calculate and subtract)
(Bear in mind that this is not necessarily what you do, but what you want to commit yourself to doing because you, in this case, value your health – think sustainability, not getting over the next major project deadline.)

2. How many hours do you spend eating each day (x 7, calculate and subtract)

3. How many hours do you want to spend together with your family each day? (x 7, calculate and subtract)
(If this some of this is built into eating, then add the additional non-sitting-at-the-table time)

4. How many hours a day on average do you want to spend alone with your partner or spouse? (x 7, calculate and subtract)

5. How many hours a day do you want to spend on personal care (showers, brushing your teeth, you get the idea) (x 7, calculate and subtract)

You see where this is going.  Here are a few more categories to consider and calculate, and you can add your own:

6. Personal development and balance? (reading, yoga, exercise, blogging)
7. Travel or commuting?
8. Time with friends?
9. Time in the garden or with important hobbies?
10. Time spent doing menial housework and picking up after other people (I added “housework” to my list – you might be lucky enough not to have to add that, or have usefully reframed that into “balance”, but not me)

Do the math. What you have left is time for WORK.

You might be surprised by what you get. Do you (choose to) do more than that “work” stuff than you have time allocated, and if so, what is “paying for” that time – is it sleep, eating, time with friends/family, etc.? I tried to be realistic about what I could spend and still stick to my personal values, and priorities. This exercise gives you the opportunity to think through those again and be clear about your commitments and choices, in terms of how you spend the hours of your day, week and life.

What I came up with when I did the math was exactly 39 hours available for work. If I divide that between my independent work and my new project, then I do have 20 good hours a week for the latter, which is exactly what I had agreed to do – half time. So now it is up to me to spend that time, and not more, or at least as an exception and not as a rule, in order to keep myself on track in the New Year. This little exercise makes those time decisions much clearer.

What about you? How are you spending your time?

(I have written quite a few blog posts about time – from time in big blocks to tiny increments – it is clearly a topic that holds curiosity for me. No wonder I liked this exercise! Here are a few I like: The Work at Home Field Guide to Time, The Time it Takes: A Learning Practitioner’s Lessons on Time, and  Time to Reflect: Cooking Up Your Weekly GTD Review)

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