Stop Making Excuses and Start Prioritising

This article first appeared on my Medium blog

One of most truthful sentences I often hear is “we all have twenty-four hours a day”. We do. Nobody has any more or any less than twenty-four hours each day. Yet, some people get a lot done in those twenty-four hours, many do not.

How we spend those twenty-four hours is up to us. Of course some of us have bosses who tell us what to do, others have the freedom to choose what they want to do in their twenty-four hours. But for the most part, we all have choice. We can choose when to get out of bed, we can choose when to leave home to go to work. We can choose how we commute to work and we can choose what time to go to bed. All of these choices have an impact on our ability to do stuff.

If you have a choice about how you commute to work. You could drive yourself to work or you could choose to take the bus. If you drive yourself you are not going to be able to do much reading or email replying. You have to concentrate on driving. If you choose to take the bus, you can read, reply to email and make a few calls. If you have an hour of commuting each way, that gives you two hours. You can either use those two hours to read and or write, or you can choose to use those two hours to drive. Your choice.

Another choice we have is what we decide to do once we get to our place of work. We could start the day by checking our emails, exposing ourself to the risk of having to deal with the problems and issues that emails often throw at us. Or we could choose to do something else first, something very important that needs a lot of attention and focus. Again it is a choice we have the power to make for ourselves.

One of the things I have noticed is that whatever we decide is a priority in our lives we will always be able to find time for. I for example prioritise exercise and will always find time to exercise at least four times per week. If I find I have a schedule full of meetings and appointments leaving no time to do my minimum of four exercise sessions in that week, I will cancel one or two of my appointments or meetings in order to get those four sessions in. That is because exercise is a priority. If exercise was not a priority, I would instead find excuses not to exercise. That is just the way we are programmed. We will always be able to find time for the things we feel are important. We will always find excuses for things that we feel are not important.

I prioritise my daily mini review. To me my daily mini review is a key foundation of my whole productivity system. I like to go to bed knowing what I want to accomplish the next day so I wake up motivated and excited about the things I have chosen to do. No matter how tired I feel where I get home, I will always sit down for ten to fifteen minutes before I go to bed to review my lists and to decide what I will do the following day. For many other people, checking their Facebook or Snapchat feed is a priority and they will find the time to do just that. It’s all about priorities and where we decide to place those priorities.

Too often people complain about not having enough time to do the things they say they want to do. Quite often that is simply because they have not prioritised those things. Something else is more important. You might want to write a book, or learn a new language. Both writing a book and learning a new language requires regular, dedicated, focussed time. To do either of these you will need to set aside an amount of time to do them. If you find yourself making excuses about not having enough time to do that, then you are prioritising something else instead, often unconsciously.

To overcome this, try using your calendar to set aside time for whatever it is you want to do and strictly follow that regime. If you want to learn a new language then try setting aside 9.00pm to 10:00pm for focussed learning. If you want to write a book, then maybe you could wake up an hour earlier each day and set about writing for an hour before you go to work. If either of these activities are important enough for you, you will find the time. If they are not, you will find an excuse.

I think too often we over complicate things. Prioritising is much more simple than people think. It is very easy to find out if something is important to you because if it is, you will find the time to do it. One of the things that sets successful people apart from the rest is their ability to prioritise and focus all their time and energy on the things that are important to them. Olympic champions spend every day training for their event. When they are resting they are thinking about their next race or competition, visualising crossing the finishing line or hitting the perfect shot. They could of course choose to do something else, but then if they did, they would not be Olympic champions.

You may not want to be an Olympic champion, but you may want to spend more time with your family. What ever it is that is truly important to you, then you can find the time to do it. You just have to decide that it is a priority and then schedule regular periods of time to do it. If it is genuinely important to you as a person, then I promised you, you will find the time to do it. If it is not, you will find an excuse.

Carl Pullein is the author of Your Digital Life: Everything you need to know to get your life organised and put technology to work for you, a book about how to get yourself organised in the twenty-first century