“A man who limits his interests, limits his life.” — Vincent Price
I can’t stay still.
As a kid, I ran around, misbehaving, climbing everywhere—I was a nightmare for my parents, teachers and anyone who had to take care of me. One year, my behavior assessment report at school stated: “Leaves a lot to be desired.”
Through my teenage years, I suddenly quieted down. But my mind didn’t go silent; it still boils inside.
I crave stimuli. Any time I have a couple of minutes on my own, while waiting in the car or in a queue, for example, I take my phone out and start reading. Or I take notes, whatever keeps my mind busy.
I have many interests. If I let myself fully indulge in them, I would be all over the place, spread thin like a French pancake.
Fortunately, I’ve learned to keep them under wraps, like presents that I can open at will. (Although sometimes the wrapping might not hold… I’m only human.)
I know I’m not alone in my situation. Have you ever asked yourself any of these questions?
- How can I keep my mind quiet to focus on the one thing that I have to do?
- How can I stay motivated to pursue one goal and follow through with my plan when I want to do a hundred things?
- How can I satisfy my many interests with the limited time I have?
Over time, I’ve learned to deal with these challenges, and fortunately, I’ve found a solution.
Here is the six-step method I refined over the years. With it, I can indulge in many interests and still stay focused to get things done. It gives me quick results and is highly flexible.
1. Define your “must-haves”
The first step is to define which activities are the most important in your life at this time—activities that stand at the core of the life you want. Examples include: spending time with your family and friends, exercising, reading, listening to music, and traveling.
Undertakings that are part of your personal growth plan are also important, as they will make you the person you want to become. Examples include: learning new skills, improving your existing ones, starting a side business, and advancing your career.
All these activities are your must-haves; they are highly important to you and they can have a considerable impact on your life. This is where you will put your full focus.
Write them all down in a list.
2. Figure out your leisure activities
Then, decide which other activities you are going to indulge in. What is important for your entertainment or your craving for knowledge? These activities are typically your hobbies, things you love doing like watching movies, playing games, and reading fiction books.
Write down your nice-to-have activities on a second list.
3. Clear the clutter
Our brain is constantly looking for stimulation. And conveniently, our modern society provides it. It will happily bombard our brain with stimuli through app notifications, endless news, emails, and texts.
All these stimuli and our relentless quest for instant gratification inevitably bring us to procrastination.
To get our head out of the water, we have to get rid of the clutter. We need to free time for our must-haves and nice-to-haves. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are the activities that you do purely out of habit even though you don’t enjoy them much?
- What are the things you end up doing because you feel you “should,” even though they are not important to you? (Maybe you’ve been brought up to do them, or peer pressure “compels” you do these things.)
- What are your typical procrastination activities?
Here are examples of activities that might typically fall into this category: watching the news, checking Facebook or your email, and watching TV generally.
Take your time to dig out all these activities and write them down on a third list. This is the list of activities that you should stop doing or do less frequently.
Keep the list as a reminder in case you catch yourself “wasting” time on these activities.
4. Get your one-page plan
Now that you have your three lists, write down your must-have and nice-to-have activities in a weekly plan.
Put down the amount of time you will allocate to each of these activities every day or every week; for example: read for thirty minutes every day or exercise for thirty minutes on Tuesday and Thursday.
Your time allocation for your must-have activities should naturally be more substantial. If you realize this is not the case, you should got back to step 1 and 2 and clarify what is a must-have and what is a nice-to-have.
5. Track and adjust
Now that you have your weekly plan, follow it during a typical week. Try to stick to the time you have allocated for each activity. Then, every day, write down how much time you’ve really spent on all your activities.
At the weekend, review your week and analyze the data.
- Did you stick to your plan?
- Did you spend a lot more time than planned on a couple of activities?
- Did you manage to clear the clutter, or did you spend time on activities that were not part of the plan?
Based on your answers to the questions above, make adjustments to your plan for the following week. Allocate more or less time to specific activities where it makes sense.
Remove activities if you must. Refocus and commit to clearing out the clutter once again.
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6. Experiment, explore, shuffle
Your plan is not static. The whole point of the method is to indulge in the activities and topics you’re interested in. So feel free to shuffle your activities around and add new ones at will.
Explore, try out whatever you fancy, even indulging in cluttering activities to see where it leads you.
By exploring and experimenting, your will learn more about yourself and what brings you fulfilment.
You might discover that one activity that you’ve wanted to do for a long time isn’t that exciting and fulfilling once you indulge in it. So you might end up dropping it, with the satisfaction of having tried it out.
Over time, our interests and goals change; this is why your plan of typical activities will and should be updated on a regular basis, typically once a month.
This six-step process might seem pretty regulated, but it doesn’t have to be. Once you’re comfortable with your plan and devoting time to what is important and fulfilling to you, you won’t need to worry about the plan every week. You can then keep your planning to a minimum.
I am actually not a very keen planner. But the benefits of tracking my daily activities and keeping my mind and life within the bounds I have set for myself overcome the pain of planning.
A plan keeps you focused and prevents you from feeling overwhelmed by too many activities.
So I follow a clear weekly plan for my must-haves. In contrast, my nice-to-have activities are more driven by the daily habits I put in place than a strict plan.
Take ownership of the process and shape it to make it fit within your life. As long as you’re clear on what you want and committed to discovering yourself while trying new activities, feel free to do whatever you please.
Do what keeps you excited and fulfilled. Have fun!
Following this six-step system means that I had to drop, at least momentarily, activities that I love in favor of others that are more important to me right now.
I listen to podcasts in the car for my personal growth, which means I don’t listen to music during my daily commute. I read more non-fiction than fiction books, even though I love fantasy and science fiction. I have reduced the time I spend playing video games, but they are still in my nice-to-have list—I’m a gamer at the core after all!
In short, I had to make choices. I am happy with the outcome.
I feel excitement knowing that my activities will keep changing over time. I can enjoy the journey, indulge in my interests, and feed my mind. I don’t feel like I’m missing out.
The main difference from before is that I’m now in control. I learned to regulate my life to feel more relaxed and focused.
My mind thanks me. My wife does, too.