Every day we have a limited amount of time and energy to spend. The way we spend them will decide the exact future we are going to have. Now, here’s the thing: Every second you waste with things that don’t bring you closer to your goal will be lost. Every day.
Energy is a little different. It will turn against you if unused or leave you exhausted the next day if overused. Energy must be balanced. The latter is quite obvious as everyone can attest to after an extreme workout session but the former needs a quick explanation: Have you ever felt exhausted after a long day of sitting in front of a computer? Have you ever felt weak, jittery and anxious after not exercising or moving for a long time? That’s your energy turning against you. It wants to be used either with our without your help. So, keep in mind:
Time wants to be spent fully, energy wants to be balanced.
These are our most precious resources and without them we wouldn’t be here.
So, let’s start with time. As Seneca said in Letters from a Stoic:
“What man can you show me who places any value on his time,
who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily?
For we are mistaken when we look forward to death;
the major portion of death has already passed,
Whatever years be behind us are in death’s hands.”
We are all walking up a staircase that is disintegrating the moment our feet have left the steps. That is our life. That is reality. Do you know what the biggest relief in history would be? When the sky would open up and it was announced that humans don’t have to die. Then we would all sigh and stop having a bad conscience for wasting our time on this planet because now we have forever! But that hasn’t happened yet, so we try not to think about death too much. In Frogs Into Princes this story by Carlos Castaneda is told:
“At any moment that you find yourself hesitating, or if at any moment you find yourself putting off until tomorrow trying some new piece of behavior that you could do today, or doing something you’ve done before, then all you need to do is glance over your left shoulder and there will be a fleeting shadow. That shadow represents your death, and at any moment it might step forward, place its hand on your shoulder and take you. So that the act that you are presently engaged in might be your very last act and therefore fully representative of you as your last act on this planet.”
That’s the truth. If that is scary to you, you might have to change something. Bruce Lee died at 32 years old and when he said that
“A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”
What an amazing guy he was, that’s the mindset. He understood that we never arrive so what does it matter where exactly you put a black dot on an infinite white canvas? A little to the left? More to the right? It’s all the same as long as you’re on the right canvas. This is about being on your path. Alright, before I delve too deep into philosophy, let’s get practical.
How do you spend your time and your energy to reach your potential? First of all, your time must be planned, starting from the top down. Steven Covey tells the metaphor of filling a glass jar with differently sized stones, sand, and water. If you start with the large objects first you will find that the smaller objects start to fill all the small cavities in between them. If you were to start with the small objects first, the large ones will just stay on top and not fit inside the jar. This illustrates that if we don’t give the most important tasks the priority we will not be able to fit them in daily. So:
Every day, find out what your main goal is during that specific day and plan time for it. Make an appointment with yourself. This time is planned out. Just by doing that you will boost your progress. As Woody Allen said:
“80 percent of success is showing up.”
Now, let’s look at energy. You can plan all the time you want, every day, with the best of intentions and the right attitude… and still fail. Have you ever felt too tired to exercise in the evening even though you had really been looking forward to going to the gym? Have you ever started to yawn and let your mind wander even though you had promised yourself to be present for your partner tonight? Whatever your goal was, there was no energy left to pursue it. And actually, that’s OK because it really depends on what your goal is. If your goal is building a company, then falling asleep during date night might be OK for you. You have to decide.
Just consider this: During all the tasks that are not important in your life, could you hold a spoon filled with oil right to the edge without losing a drop? Or if the task involves both hands, could you balance a book on the top of your head? The point is this: The unimportant tasks should not drain you. You should not be stressed out, not be exhausted and not be hectic. If you are, you will have nothing left to give to your main purpose in life. So, relax. If you are a firefighter, athlete or doctor by profession, this should better be your main goal in life because it’s going to suck your energy. As the proverb says:
“The Grass is Greener Where You Water It.”
You will grow where you direct most of your energy. So, I’m telling you to relax during everything, no matter how urgent, as long as it’s not important. Plan accordingly, because you’ll need the energy for the appointment you have with yourself today. If your goal is physically or emotionally demanding, your will be happy to have all the energy you need. If it’s a writing type project you will appreciate your racing mind bombarding you with ideas and new concepts. We don’t get too creative when we are too tired to hold a thought. Another positive side effect is that if you have dared to cancel your appointment with yourself, you still need to use your energy or it will turn against you. This is not so much about what you accomplish every day but more about how prepared you will be.
In a nutshell:
Pre-plan your time and distribute your energy accordingly.
Start with the most important project, every day.