Imagine you have six months to travel—free time to go anywhere you want, do anything that pleases you.
Where would you go and with whom? What experiences would you seek out? What parts would you enjoy the most?
I have several friends who recently fulfilled this fantasy. One—I’ll call her “Arlene”—spent six months with her husband and four children in Bali, Indonesia. Another, “Marc,” sailed a catamaran with his wife and two children, first in the Caribbean, then across the Atlantic to Europe.
Different people, different choices: Yet when I asked each what they treasured most about the experience, their responses were identical. They didn’t focus on the beautiful landscapes, the adventures, the people, the food, or the activities. Those things contributed to their experience, but what they treasured most was a precious gift that snuck up and surprised them: the luxury of time.
“We’ve been married more than 15 years,” Arlene told me, “and yet this was the first time we ate three meals a day together, every day, for weeks on end. It was a delight.”
Marc, speaking of his children, said, “At first they were bored, confined to a small boat. But soon they began to evolve. My daughter baked fresh breads. We all stretched into the abundance of time.”
Here’s what’s amazing: The most precious experience we would get from living out that six-month escape fantasy is available to us right here, right now, without the travel.
We can reclaim the luxury of time.
I know what you’re thinking: We already have more to do than we have time for. With hundreds, sometimes thousands of friends on Facebook, and a continuous flow of emails, texts, and tweets, we’re overwhelmed with data and underwhelmed with our lives.
Yet with all of our activity, we are actually less productive. Try this three-minute quiz, derived from my own time-management failures, to see how productive—or unproductive—you are.
We need to rethink how we manage our time. The problem with most time-management advice is that it’s not really about managing time, it’s about organizing work. The premise is that if we just organize ourselves better, we can get it all done.
But that’s a fallacy. We can’t get it all done. There is simply too much to do.
The secret is in our choices. We need to decide—upfront and strategically—what to do and what to ignore. On a sabbatical, most of those decisions are made for us, which is why we can relax into time. Simply by deciding to sail across the Atlantic, Marc made choices to spend more time with his family, with books, and with nature and less time with others, with television, and with his computer.
But, in real life, we need to choose more proactively. Here are a three ways to achieve your most important priorities while enjoying the time-luxury feeling of a sabbatical:
Choose your Top 5. Choose five major areas on which you want to focus. My areas include things like Speak and write about my ideas; Do great work for my current clients; and Nurture myself and my family. Your areas of focus will be different, just make sure to diversify. If you’re looking for a job, that should be one area of focus, but not all five. Make sure you are doing other things that you value, such as learning a new language or training for a triathlon. And make sure that the work you do in each of these areas places you in your sweet spot: at the intersection of your strengths, weaknesses, passions, and differences, so that you can’t help but succeed and feel fulfilled.
Spend 95 percent of your time in your Top 5. I created a Six Box To-Do List (you can download a template from my website). Each of your Top 5 areas of focus gets a box. Label the sixth box, “the other 5 percent.” Then write each of your to-dos in the appropriate box. At first, when I kept this list, the only box I could fill was “the other 5 percent.” But soon, I filled the other boxes and started spending my time in the areas I most wanted to focus on.
Say “No, thanks.” The only way we can relax into our most important priorities—and do them well—is by doing less of other things. That means politely declining almost everything that doesn’t fit in your Top 5. That might mean detaching from Facebook, or switching from a smartphone to a dumb one. It might mean getting off a committee. I developed a “No, thanks list” consisting of 27 simple examples when, in my opinion, “no, thanks” was the best response to eliminate distraction and help me maintain my focus. If you took a sabbatical, you would be forced to say “no, thanks” to many things, but since you’re not away, you have to be deliberate, disciplined, and proactive with your “no, thanks.”
Following these three tips might not get you to Bali, but it will reduce how much you’re doing, while keeping the things you are doing in your sweet spot and in the areas you most care about. And that might just make it feel like you’re in Bali.
– Originally published in Portfolio.com