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Knowing what to spend your time doing or “Don’t stray from the path"

“Oh wow! It’s the middle of June already, where has the year gone?” – “I know, I feel I’ve not really done anything all year and it’s the summer holidays soon, no idea when I’ll get round to doing...”

Typically our weeks seem to pass by so quickly and we can catch ourselves looking back and wondering where all the time went. Or perhaps we look forwards, idly wondering how we’re going to achieve that life we want.

The activities we know are required to achieve our personal dreams often take second, third or even fourth place after what we do for our external influencers. If you’ve carved out some time for your own drives and desires, maybe after reading my related post LINK, then I think you owe it yourself to use it in a focussed and efficient way. One aspect of that is knowing what you’re going to do with the time, in advance, so you can just get on with it.

There are always external influencers driving how we use our time. The activity is often organised for us: answering emails at work, incoming calls to take, a weekly timetable of household tasks, classes to prepare for then run and so on. We may then add our own processes and habits on top of those external drivers.

But how do we drive the outcomes that are not coming from external pressures?


To make sure the time you’ve carved out is effective, it’s going to be useful to find a approach for knowing what to do that works for you. We all benefit from mechanisms to keep track of the things we need to do, especially for our internal drives but there is no single, fool-proof approach to tracking tasks that works for everyone, especially given the range of lifestyles we all have.


The three outcomes of this challenge are: Firstly, be able to state how you will know what to do next, for your personal drives, each time one of your personal time slots comes up. Secondly, to state how you will add to that new tasks to that list. Thirdly, start to put it into practice to make sure it works.

I’m not suggesting you need to end up with a firm plan for every slot for the next 3-6 months as a result of this challenge. It’s more about finding an approach that you’ll use: a habit, or process, and maybe the “tool” like a notebook, an app, a white board at home, etc...

As an aside, you might have spent some time reflecting on the challenge in my previous blog LINK, and have a view of the things you want to achieve. You may feel you can’t move forwards because you don’t know how to work out the steps to achieve yet. Don’t worry, we’ll cover that in a bit more detail in another blog. In the mean time, try considering that finding out how you best manage your list of things to do is arguably one of the best “first things” you can do.

Work out how to best track the activities that you decide need doing

Think back to some periods in your life where you knew what you had to achieve, for an extended period, say at least over a few months. Maybe your university degree, maybe planning a wedding, a big holiday, training for a significant sporting challenge or a perhaps a major location move.

Write a couple of those down as titles for us to work on.

Now, look back at how one of those went. What was driving you to want, or need, the outcome? How did you organise yourself to getting the outcome? Were the approaches successful? How did you work out what you needed to do? Try reflecting on the tools you used to help know what activity was needed, when and how you kept track of it all.

Write some notes down for each title (mind mapping is a good technique here, but a list works too)

You might have used, or at least tried, a combination of: task lists, mind mapping, a weekly plan of regular activities, working through the structure in external sources like textbooks, a training regime with set goals ach week, a set of lectures or seminars.

If it was more recently, it might have been an online course or app with reminders and curated exercises. Or maybe you’ve tried one of the many goals, task list and reminder apps. It might be that different approaches worked for different stages, or for different aspects, of the outcome.

We need to find the technique that will work for your internal drives that fits with your current lifestyle, which can be used across the different time slots you’ve found for yourself.

Imagine how you could use each of the techniques you’ve had success with before in those time slots; would they work?

For example, if you’ve planned to use the commute on a busy train, relying on a note book that you need to flip through to find the next activity might not be the best. If your time slot is home based, maybe using an electronic app is not good if that means you’ll get distracted by pinging notifications. If you are the sort of person who comes up with ideas, and things to remember, anywhere and at any time, but can’t remember them later (I’m one of those) then you probably need a few (only a few) different mechanisms, which you pull together regularly.

Write down how you will make this work

Write down a few sentences to yourself covering the mini process you’re going to use. I really believe this is important; the act of forcing us o write things own has a few positive benefits. By writing our thoughts down we need to really formulate them clearly, we need to use more parts of our brain to write, read adn edit them and herefore we get a better for example:

  • I’ll carry a little spiral bound note book and list things in that – new item added at the bottom and next 3 urgent items to do marked with a star until crossed out

  • I’ll use the app XYZ on my phone; the commutes inwards I’ll do the next task, the commutes back home I’ll think about new tasks and reorder the most important next 5 tasks

  • I totally love the technique ABC and will embrace that approach by ....

  • I’ll carry a pack of post its and a pen with me for new brainstorm ideas on the run

  • I’ll use a patch of wall at home, with post its using a kanban approach to finish things fully then start the next

Notice that the statements also include how you will actively use the approach to add, do and cross off activities.

Decide the next 3-5 tasks that you want to do and put them in your process.

It actually doesn’t really matter what the exact tasks are for now, they are to test your approach. It would be best if they were personal ones, not work ones, of course.

Maybe things like these. Please note that I have listed these to generate your own ideas and none should be taken as specific advice to you personally.

  • Research holiday ideas for summer, including costs

  • Make sure my personal mail account is not out of control: unsubscribe to as many marketing mails as I can in the 20 mins I have 

  • Allow my mind to wander, but focus on a positive view of how I want my life to be

  • Meditate for 20 minutes, like I always say I will do

  • Write a ‘How’s things?’ message to 5 people I have neglected to reach out to recently

  • Do 4 sets of 20 core muscle clenches

  • Perform some controlled breathing exercises as I walk

  • Write the list of things I will get run to this 6 month period that I keep putting off

  • Listen to the next podcast episode and then write some notes on the ideas it gives me

If you find performing this challenge does not come too easily...

Maybe do some research to find ideas that you might not have thought of. There are a great many approaches, mobile apps and/orpaper based techniques that could help you. You may find, over time, that a blend of more than one works, covering different types of activities. If you are interested in the theories and techniques in this area, there are plenty of productivity posts that summarise various studies and approaches.

A word of caution from experience.

Make sure you are not wasting time over researching how to do the activities; we have worked hard to free up his time, let’s use it effectively. Watch out for subconsciously convincing yourself that you’re working on your drives when you are scanning multiple well written posts on different blog sites, or trying to find “that one book that will unlock it all for you” week after week.

Looking back, I know I personally was guilty of too much time reading blog instead taking of real activity to move me forwards. To be fair, some of those blogs I book-marked, as they really inspired me, but I was definitely guilty of reading through many more, covering much the same content, ad often doing so in an unthinking manner.

By the way, I fully appreciate the irony of writing the last paragraph on “another blog post”; I hope that you find my posts’ format of an observation and challenge with actions helpful in driving activity after reading.

Good luck and I hope this challenge is fun as well as useful!

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