Choices and Time Management: You Decide Your Priorities

As a photographer for over a decade and a time management coach for several years to photographers and entrepreneurs, there is a persistent lie that I encounter, and it’s one that I believed – and which caused me great pain and suffering – for years.

It’s very simple: “I don’t have time.”

The most powerful thing I can say to anyone about time management is that you do have time, you just believe that you don’t. Think about it for a moment: every person gets the same amount of time – different amounts of daylight, different schedules, different responsibilities that they value – but the same amount of time. Psychologists and neuroscientists have been able to link behaviours and beliefs – what we believe about our time, our responsibilities, and our conscious priorities affect our behaviour.

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Do you know what your priorities are? Some people have lists, some rarely take the time to think about it, but our unconscious priorities are perfectly reflected in our day-to-day lives. What you actually, really believe and value, not what you’d like to be doing, is what is reflected in how you spend your time. It’s often the source of a lot of unhappiness to have ideals and values that aren’t reflected in your time.

Time is the most expensive commodity in the world because you can only make more by borrowing someone else’s. That’s why we hire others, have other people grow and manufacture our food, invented planes – the entire world is based on buying time, and the majority of that time belongs to another person.

Consider the old adage, “Time is money.” I’m going to give an analogy about that. Let’s imagine you had spending money that you had to budget – except this time you’re budgeting time. Some things are pretty necessary. You’ll eventually stop functioning if you don’t spend a good chunk on sleeping – it’s like spending money on rent or a mortgage. Everyone needs a decent grocery budget, because we all have to eat. And as much as we’d rather not spend money on toilet paper, we’re going to have to keep using the bathroom. Beyond that, though, you’re going to spend that money on your priorities. Some people are going to spend it on eating out, some on surfing, some on video games, some on buying new gear. The possibilities are endless.

Now when I bring up this analogy, someone might say, “It’s essential to have a cell phone. Why didn’t you put that on the list?” It’s not literally essential, though. You will not starve or stop breathing! Lots of human beings live entirely without electricity, much less cell phones. I’m just trying to say that everything that is not literally essential is up for debate, and change, and choice. Things you’d never thought you’d chosen because they’re such a part of everyday life.

We all have choices. We choose how responsible to be, how much time to spend with your family, to work or to relax. You choose whether to care for your health or careen headlong into burnout, disease, and loneliness. And a lot of people are really struggling with that these days.

I started to choose differently, and everyone can. So these days I always try to challenge people when they say “I don’t have time.”

Just like with most issues, the first step is realizing there’s a problem. The next step is to make some practical changes. Humans spend most of their time on autopilot, and unlike a futuristic computer in a movie, our personal autopilot doesn’t make ideal decisions all the time. Those who stay on autopilot are often angry and resentful about the events of their day-to-day life. A person may blame others or themselves or say it’s because of the children, success, money, illness, or just being too worn out. Those things certainly affect your life, but they’re also the result of choices, and a person can make new choices.

People always ask me what the secret is too good time management, as though I’ll come up with some secret formula. There are formulas, sure, specific, authentic, good ones that work well. But until you begin to believe that you actually have a choice, you’ll be stuck with the same time budget you’ve been using for years, and you’ll be time broke.

By far the greatest regret of the elderly is not spending enough time with people they appreciate. No one regrets not taking that extra shoot, in the end. No one gets to the final day of their life and wishes they had a better standard of living. Psychologists tell us that most North American elderly people just wish they’d spent less time working, more time with family and friends, and been less stressed out all the time.

Is reading this an awakening for you? Do me a favour and make a conscious choice today. Pick at least one of the following five super practical options, and stick with it!

1. Take 5 minutes out of every single day to text, call, or message a friend or family member to say you’re thinking of them. Every. Day. Bonus: Make a date with a friend who you haven’t seen forever at a place you enjoy.
2. Are you introverted? Take one hour out of every week for 100% me time. Non-negotiable except for code-red emergency situations. No shoots. No editing. No cancellations. No other humans.
3. Does mess stress you out? Hire a housecleaner sometimes. Yes, you can afford it, it’s not that expensive. You’ll be doing everyone a favour. Hands down the most affordable stress-buster for 90% of my time management clients for whom this was an issue – and they became more productive.
4. Are you in a long-term relationship? If so, the fate of that relationship is going to rest on spending time together. Plan at least one big, special date night every month. Especially in busy season.
5. Stop and Think. Take two hours. Write down everything you feel responsible for. Examine each one for any possible changes that would mean less stress and more happiness. Then actually make the changes, over several weeks and months.

Any choice you make on purpose to spend time making your life more like who you really want to be is good time management!