One of the best ways to learn how to make better use of your time is to identify how you are spending your time, and then use that information to make improvements to how you spend your time.
So it is a pragmatic approach, identify the problems and try to solve them and in this post I’m going to talk about the method I find is best for doing this. It is a two pronged approach in which you create two notepads, one called the How I Spent My Time Log, the other called the How to Better Spend My Time Notepad.
The How I Spent My Time Log is a log which documents how much time you spend in a week doing things that make you happy along with how much time you spend in a week doing things that make you unhappy. Or rather it is a log that helps you identify problems which are making you unhappy.
However, as ever with identifying problems the next step is searching for solutions to those problems, this is why once you have created a How I Spent My Time Log, you need to then create a How to Better Spend My Time Notepad.
The purpose of this notepad is to come up with the solutions to the problems identified in the first notepad. So basically the How I Spent My Time Log identifies the problems in regards to how you spend your time and the How to Better Spend My Time Notepad provides solutions for how to start spending your time better.
How to Create a How I Spend My Time Log
Purchase a basic notepad and on the first page write week one, then create four columns, the first of which should be called, things I did that made me happy, the second, time spent doing that activity, the third, things I did that made me unhappy and the final, time spent doing that activity.
Once you have done this you need to start filling it in, and you can either do this daily or you can wait until the end of the week and fill it in then, daily will likely provide a more accurate snapshot of how you are spending your time but it is also more time-consuming, which is why for the purposes of this example I am going to imagine filling it in weekly.
So Sunday is here, you have your notepad in hand, what do you write? Well the trick is if you really want to make this benefit you is to be as specific as possible. For example, in the things I did that made me happy column perhaps you will write I read a bedtime story to my daughter, if you only did it once then write that down but if you did it each night then write that down, then next to it write down how long you spent reading a story each night. If it was fifteen minutes, then write down fifteen minutes times seven.
However, if you also tucked your daughter in and gave her a good night cuddle don’t just bunch that together with the bedtime story, write it down as a separate entry, along with how long it took you to do it, even if it was only thirty seconds if it made you happy still write it down. Gave daughter a good night cuddle and tucked her in, thirty seconds and if you did it each night write time seven next to it.
The devil really is in the detail so if you are to identify the best way to start making better use of your time you have to build a very clear picture of just how well you are presently using your time. For example, perhaps you will write that you read a book that you always wanted to read, or perhaps you went to a birthday party or perhaps even you visited family or they visited you. Perhaps even it was going to the gym, or having sex with your partner, basically anything that you did that made you happy you need to write down, and next to it you need to write down how much time you spent doing the activity. For example if you had sex once and it lasted fifteen minutes, and having sex made you happy, write down had sex, then in the column next to it, fifteen minutes.
But, if for whatever reason having sex made you unhappy, that’s where the column things I did that made me unhappy comes into play, in this column you need to write down everything you did over the course of the week that made you unhappy, if having sex made you unhappy write that down along with how long it lasted.
However, it is important to note that the reason why it left you feeling unhappy is not something that needs to be included in this notepad. Only the specific actions that you do that make you happy along with specific actions that you do that make you unhappy should be included.
Basically this is a this is the way it is type of log not a why this is the way it is type log. For example, the world is round and there are many theories for why this is, this log does not care for any of those theories it only cares to identify that the world is round. Literally, the world is round, and that is that. So it is a matter of fact look at the things you do that make you happy and unhappy. Why is irrelevant, all that matters is whether they make you happy or unhappy.
Other things that need to be watched out for and that do not belong in this log include for example, lovers’ tiffs, for example let’s say you’re in a relationship and your partner says something to you that upsets you, if that something is just a run-of-the-mill lover’s type of thing, perhaps you had an argument, then adding it to your list is pointless.
However, if spending time with your partner makes you unhappy then that is something that should be added to your list, because then it is a specific action that is carried out by you that is leading to you being unhappy, that is to say you are choosing to spend time with your partner who makes you unhappy. But you need to be specific, if all the time you spend with your partner leaves you unhappy then write spending time with my partner, along with the length of time you spent with your partner.
Or if it is only sometimes spending time with your partner leaves you feeling unhappy, be specific about what it is that is leaving you unhappy during the times that you are unhappy, for example, what are you specifically doing with your partner that is leaving you unhappy, are you discussing politics, if you are and that is leaving you unhappy then write discussing politics with my partner and how long you spend doing so. Or is it you just want some alone time and he or she is encroaching your personal space, then write that down and write down along with how long they spent doing so.
And vice versa if spending time with your partner made you happy, write that down but be specific, were you doing something during the times you were with your partner that made you happy, if you were write that down, or if it was just spending time doing nothing then write that down along with how long you spent doing nothing with your partner.
Literally, everything that you add to the list must be a specific action carried out by you that leads to you either being happy or unhappy. Nothing else should be added, if you spend time with your partner and during that time you neither felt happy nor unhappy then it should not be added, if you wake up one morning and just feel sad then that should not be added either because you have not done anything specific to bring about that feeling. If somebody close to you has died unless you are the cause of their death do not add that to the list either, only add things that you have actually done and that have brought about a specific feeling of happiness or unhappiness. Nothing else.
Once you have done this, add up how much time you spent in the week doing things that made you happy along with how much time you spent doing things that made you unhappy. And it should be noted that in doing this you will also by default provide the figure for how much time you spend line doing things that neither make you happy nor unhappy. What this means is if you have done this honestly you will have a very powerful snapshot for just how wisely you are spending your time, which means it’s time to move onto the next stage of the process.
Interpreting the data
Now you have created your log and it is filled with all the things you have done during the week that made you either happy or unhappy, you need to start interpreting that data. That means you need to create a conclusions page, which should be created on the next page, and it should be noted again, the aim here is not to ask questions, it is not about the why. The aim is to simply state matter of fact truths, that means your conclusions should be statements of fact not questions.
For example your log of the week may show that you don’t spend enough time doing things that make you happy, in which case you would write, I don’t spend enough time doing things that make me happy. And that will be all you would write because that is the problem, and it is only the problem with how you are spending your time that you are looking for.
Another example, perhaps the things I do that make me happy column is full up and you spend much of your week doing things that make you happy. If this is the case and the things I do that make me unhappy column is empty and you feel like you are fulfilled in life, then this endeavour has proven that you make great use of your time. Therefore on your conclusions page you would write, I spend my time wisely. Again the why is a relevant at this point, what we want is a conclusive conclusion for how you are spending your time, what we don’t want at this point is the reason why you are spending your time this way.
Another example, perhaps your results show that you spend much time doing things that make you happy and no time doing things that make you unhappy and yet you don’t feel fulfilled in life, in which case you have identified a problem, you are spending much of your time doing things that make you happy and yet you are unhappy. Again the why is a relevant at this point, which is why you would write only, I’m spending much time doing things that make me happy yet I am unhappy. And you would write this because that is your problem and all we want to know is what your problem is.
And this is the fundamental purpose of this log, to identify the problems with how you spend your time, but only that. And once you have done that, the next goal is to use the information that you have learned to create a How to Better Spend My Time Notepad.
How to create a How to Better Spend My Time Notepad
For this notepad you can either purchase a second one, or just use the back of the notepad you are already using, whichever choice you make, on the first page you need to create two columns, the first one needs to be entitled things that would make me happy, the second one how I’m going to do those things.
It should be noted that you could add a third column, which would go in between the two mentioned, and you could call this one why I’m not doing these things. But I’m not a fan of this column, I think it is far better to simply focus on what would make you happy and how you are going to start doing these things.
For example, by having this extra column and filling it up with all the reasons why you are not doing the things that make you happy you are focusing on obstacles rather than ways to overcome these obstacles. And in doing this you may end up by listing so many obstacles either unwittingly providing excuses to yourself for continuing to not do things that make you happy or more likely you will end up with a list of problems to overcome which is so long they seem insurmountable. Meaning the list would be self-defeating.
By omitting this column on the other hand and instead focusing only on the things that would make you happy and how you’re going to start doing them you are keeping your mind focused entirely on problem-solving which is far more productive than focusing all your time on listing the endless obstacles you have to overcome.
But like said it is entirely subjective, in my view you already know what obstacles you have to overcome, therefore instead of focusing on what they are focus instead on how you are going to overcome them. But if you prefer to add this column it is perfectly valid to do so, for the purposes of this example though it will not be included.
With that said, in the things that would make me happy column, you need to write in things that that would make you happy, I need to specifically fill it with achievable goals. That is to say writing winning the lottery is not beneficial, that’s why the best way to fill out this column is by looking at your How I Spent My Time Log, specifically starting with the column things I did that made me unhappy.
For example perhaps you wrote talking politics with my partner in the list of things you did during the week that left you feeling unhappy, in this notepad in the things that would make me happy column you could write stop talking politics with my partner, then in the next column you could write in terms of how you are going to do that, whenever my partner starts talking politics I am not going to engage. Or perhaps you could write I am going to explain to my partner that I no longer wish to talk politics with him or her. And those would be respectable entries; however, a far better response would be to write, discussing subjects I enjoy, and in the next column as a solution to that you could write stop talking politics with my partner and instead find a subject that we both enjoy discussing.
Or if you enjoy talking politics it is just your partner you don’t like talking about politics with you could write, stop talking politics with my partner, and if you don’t at current talk about politics with anybody else you could write join a politics group on social media. Or even if you wish to continue engaging in politics with your partner, you could write to your partner about finding common ground in regards to your political views.
Note importantly that at no point in any of the above examples is any effort made to try to understand why you don’t like talking politics with your partner, that is because in regards to the purpose of this notepad the answer is irrelevant. Talking politics with your partner makes you unhappy, what would make you happy is not talking politics with your partner, and that is what this notepad aims to identify. What would make you happy and how you’re going to achieve that. Or rather how to spend more time doing things that make you happy and less time doing things that make you happy.
Another example, perhaps you wrote in the things I did that made me unhappy column, scrolling through Facebook, in the things that would make me happy column you could write stop scrolling through Facebook, a perfectly respectable answer. Or a better answer would be to start using the Internet in a more productive manner, that is to say you could write in the things that would make you happy column, use the Internet productively, and then in the next column you could write that the way you are going to do that is by stopping spending so much time on social media and instead start spending time reading for example articles like this, which aim to help you learn how to make better use of your time and thus how to live a happier life. Or perhaps you have always wanted to learn a second language, in which case you could write instead of scrolling social media I am going to download an app on my phone like duolingo and when I’m bored use that instead.
Though it is not just what is included in the things that make you unhappy list that you need to deal with, it is often the things that are not included in the previous log full stop which provide the answers. For example, perhaps you note in your first notepad that you don’t spend any of your time doing a hobby, and perhaps you like photography but you never do any, in the first column of this notepad you would write photography, and in the second column you would write how you are going to start incorporating photography into your life. For example, perhaps the reason you don’t do any is because you don’t have a camera, in which case you would write purchase a camera, and if you can’t afford one write down I am going to save up some money to buy a cheap camera.
Or perhaps you already have a camera, you just never use it in which case you would write down that you are going to start using it along with how, for example perhaps you go for a walk once a week, in which case you could write I am going to take my camera with me when I go for a walk.
Perhaps it is not that you don’t use it, it is that you don’t know how to use it and therefore don’t gain any satisfaction from the pictures you take, in which case you may write I’m going to learn how to use my camera, and there are enough free resources available on the Internet to be able to learn how to use any camera to a respectable standard, so you could write I’m going to use the Internet to learn how to use my camera.
In the end the solution you choose is irrelevant, what matters is that you start looking for solutions. Identify what it is that would make you happy, and come up with a solution for how to make better use of your time to achieve it.
Another example, sex, maybe your time log incorporates zero time having sex, and having sex would make you happy, then write down in the what would make you happy column, sex, and if you already have a partner it is just you are not presently spending much time having sex you could write down as a solution talk to my partner about how to improve our sex life. If you don’t have a partner, then as a solution you could write down find a partner or even join a sex hookup site.
A final example, perhaps you are not spending much time doing things that make you happy and you are not spending much time doing things that make you unhappy and you have no free time to start doing more of either. In this case you could write in the things that would make me happy column, having more time to do things that make me happy. Then as a solution if it is work that is causing you to have no free time, you could write work less, if that is not viable then you could write start looking for a new job.
Every problem has a solution you just have to be willing to look hard enough to find it. And with that comes the conclusion to this guide. Hope you find it of use and stay safe!