Life can be an incredible adventure – and it absolutely should be. Unfortunately, though, it’s all too common for life to get out of our control, and to start spiralling and freefalling in directions we might not want.
The self-improvement industry is really big these days. Just about any bookstore you’re likely to walk into will have a good number of books about getting yourself back on track, becoming fitter, learning new skills, making a success of your business, or even just boosting your self-confidence and emotional well-being.
But what do you do if you have all the desire to better yourself, but none of the time? The simple – and unfortunate – fact of the matter is that time is a limited resource. If you’re working around the clock, have family obligations, savings issues, and are already struggle to get enough sleep, there doesn’t seem to be a lot left in the tank for working on side hustles or getting fit or anything else.
Fortunately, though, there are always things you can do to make the best of your situation, and to better yourself even when you are short on time. Here are a few suggestions.
Do an online course
When we think of getting qualifications in higher education, we typically visualise students with books (or beer bottles) in hand, streaming into lecture halls at universities, and taking notes.
We don’t, too often, imagine people sitting in the comfort of their own homes, in their favourite bathrobes, with a hot mug of tea and a laptop within reach. All the same, one of the great wonders of the digital age is that many universities now offer online correspondence courses, which are perfect for would-be students operating under tight time constraints. Kettering Online is one example of such a program.
It should go without saying that pursuing a degree online is a much more “time efficient” way of doing things than attending classes in a conventional university setting. For one thing, you can avoid the hours that you might otherwise have to spend commuting to campus each day. For another you avoid having to dedicate entire days to attending lectures and seminars.
When pursuing a degree through an online program, you can do your reading and handle your assignments in whatever free moments you are presented during the day.
If you work at odd hours – no problem. As long as you can spare a bit of time here and there to put towards your course, all is well. Likewise if you’re a parent of young children. As long as you can get a bit of work done while they’re taking a nap, or are at kindergarten, you will likely do just fine in obtaining a degree.
Of course, if your personal and professional aspirations lie outside of the realm where university degrees will be particularly helpful, you can still pursue all kinds of other qualifications online – or at least, mostly online. There are, for example, now various groups who offer online personal training courses.
Seek out “productive leisure” opportunities, instead of simply killing time
If you feel that you are always terribly short on time, it might be worth asking yourself if that is because you really cannot spare any time at all during the day, or because you are just bad with your time management, and spend many precious moments on frivolous activities.
In her popular book, “168 hours”, author Laura Vanderkam lists plenty of examples of diligent professionals who – due to their almost superhuman time management skills – manage to run successful companies, read to their children, climb mountains, and maintain productive hobbies – all in a single week.
More recently, Cal Newport has noted in his book “Digital Minimalism”, that many people essentially cheat themselves out of meaningful and rejuvenating “free time”, specifically because they go for shallow, low benefit activities, instead of more fruitful and uplifting ones. The term that Newport uses when suggesting an alternative, is “high-quality leisure”.
One of the key ideas behind “high-quality leisure” is that it is possible to enjoy a “rest”, have fun, rejuvenate and better yourself, while still doing something that has a positive impact on your life overall. So, for example, drawing art, building something, or having meaningful face-to-face social interactions, as opposed to just watching TV for a couple of hours a night.
In order to better yourself and grow as a person, when you are also apparently low on free time, it is very important that you do an audit of how you are actually spending your time, in order to identify areas where you are wasting more precious minutes – and maybe even hours – than you think. Then, the trick is to pick up some “high-quality leisure” activities instead.
Identify “systems” that can help to get you on the right track
Scott Adams – the well-known creator of the Dilbert comics – has famously advised all success-focused, and entrepreneurial individuals that “goals are for losers, systems of winners.”
What Adams is getting at with this provocative statement, is that setting yourself a particular goal for the future as a bit of a risky business, because external circumstances can always change in ways that will thwart your efforts.
“Systems”, on the other hand, are a pretty resilient way of doing things. A system, according to Adams, is a habit or routine that you act out every single day, and that increases your likelihood of success.
A similar point has been made by the writer Charles Duhigg, in his book “The Power of Habit”, which looks at the ways in which our habits rule our lives to a large degree.
According to Duhigg, whether we sink or swim is largely a matter of whether we have positive, or negative habits taking up most of our time and attention.
One thing that he proposes is that we should all take a look at our “keystone habits” – in other words, those habits of ours which, for good or for bad, have a domino effect on all of our other habits, and our overall productivity.
For many people, things like waking up earlier, or beginning each day with a brief round of exercise, may be examples of effective and positive keystone habits.
If you don’t have much time at your disposal, and you want to improve yourself, work on auditing and restructuring your daily systems. The impact might be tremendous.
Start to wake up earlier (and disconnect from the Internet by early evening)
Speaking of positive “keystone habits”, waking up earlier can be one of the most effective ways of causing positive change to cascade throughout your entire life.
The thing is – waking up earlier isn’t just beneficial because of the knock-on impact it can have on your other habits. It is also an excellent way of finding time you didn’t know you had, in order to spend on yourself development – whether that means working on your side hustle, going to the gym, or doing your coursework.
Keep in mind, the point here is not to get less sleep. It’s just to wake up early. In order to make this happen without losing out on sleep, disconnecting from the Internet and turning off your digital devices by early evening, can really help to get you winding down and asleep by the right time.
So, why is waking up earlier a good idea? Well think of it like this: at all other times during the day, there are people demanding your attention. Your boss, your family, etc. In the early morning hours, on the other hand, it’s just you by yourself. This makes it an excellent time for productivity.