Your Time: How Well Do You Use It?

This is my life. It is my one time to be me. I want to experience every good thing.
–Maya Angelou

Do you generally feel good at the end of the day? Do you feel like your life is meaningful and satisfying? Do you feel like you have utilized the qualities in you that you like and have value for you?

We all know time is a precious commodity, but too often we don’t pay attention to how we are using it. We become so immersed in what is in front of us, or what’s nagging us at the back of our heads, that we don’t take a step back to create some distance and evaluate what’s important.

When we are feeling pressure with our to-do list, that pressure is, in part, coming from a direct or an internalized pressure from others, whether at work or at home, or even from friends.

We can feel bothered or occupied with the “stuff” in back of our heads, usually due to messages both verbally and non-verbally, that have been delivered long ago by parents, teachers, and others who were a strong influence on us, and have taken up permanent residence. These messages can be anything from hearing lots of “shoulds,” “need or have-to’s,” the vague sense of a presence that is always there, judging or criticizing us. It nags at us, and even though it’s in the background, not right in our line of vision, it can be stronger than the tasks in front of us. It is a powerful influence in the actions we take and the decisions we make.

So how can you get a handle on minimizing those internal and external pressures and use your time in a way that will help you feel more effective, satisfied, less stressed, and in charge of your own life?

That’s a pretty tall order I know. Here’s a good place to start: I’m attaching a full page copy here of the diagram below, the Need To/Want To Matrix, — print it out and use it!

Need To Want To
Doing
Not Doing

How to use this matrix:

In each quadrant, list the things you are currently doing—at work and in the rest of your life, and be sure to identify what is clearly a need (has to be done for survival, of your job, your relationships, and your health). Then identify what your wants are, those activities that will make you feel better about yourself, enjoy life more, and perhaps fulfilling dreams you have about what would bring real pleasure and quality to your life.

It can be challenging to differentiate between needs and wants. In addition to the description above, if you are having difficulty, ask yourself, “what would happen if this activity doesn’t get done?” Another hint: some needs are from those messages you have internalized from your past that you were led to believe were necessary for success, or happiness. If that’s so, ask yourself “Is this really what I have come to know and believe?” “What evidence do I have that it is truly necessary for my survival?”

Here are some examples:

  • “I need to earn “X” dollars to be happy.”
  • “I need to have a big house, or certain possessions to be happy/have people like and respect me.”
  • “I need to win the race, tell good jokes, show people how smart I am, for people to like and respect me.”
  • “I need to have an impressive or constant presence on social media to feel good about myself and be liked by others.”
  • “I need to always please others, always put others’ wishes ahead of mine, in order to be liked.”

(If you don’t think this last one applies to you, ask yourself how quickly you feel you need to respond to all your emails or text messages. Feeling the need to respond to most or all messages right away is an example of someone who is putting others’ needs ahead of theirs. Of course there will be times when it’s necessary to respond quickly, so separate those out
from all the others that can wait until you feel ready.)

Now list all the activities you are doing or are not doing in your examples of “need to” in the two left quadrants. Pay attention to that little voice inside that is protesting: “But I really don’t want to do this—now or ever!” (Goes into the Want to/Not Doing quadrant)

Then ask yourself, “What will really happen if I don’t do this?” “How likely will my worst fears come true?” “What other options do I have—even if I don’t choose to act on them?” This helps give you perspective.

“It’s the hardest thing in the world–to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want.” —Ayn Rand

It can be very challenging to differentiate needs from wants in some instances. For example, “I need to clean my house regularly so people won’t think I’m a slob.” Or, “I want to clean my house regularly because I like the exercise, makes me feel good and frees my mental and physical energies to do other things.” You can also figure out what “regularly” means and if you feel stressed, how you can ease up on the frequency of your cleaning.

In the Want To Quadrants, list all the things you are doing or would like to be doing that give you a sense of inspiration, delight, creativity, peace, comfort, fun, good feelings about yourself as a person, challenges that would reduce stress and enhance your feelings of well-being–things that will make you feel you truly like yourself and glad to be who you are.

Some of those wants can be tricky—for example, if you are thinking you just want to take a nap, quit your job, or a relationship. It’s possible you want to do those things because you aren’t handling aspects of those situations in ways that can make you feel better about them. If this is the case, ask yourself, “what could I be doing short of quitting that would make me like the job or relationship better?”
It might be something like setting boundaries, being more assertive, more honest, or stating your needs clearly.

The matrix above is a good tool to use monthly, not just once. I suggest you make copies. It will help you evaluate how well you are managing your life and what next steps you can take to reduce stress, focus on what’s really important, and bring more peace and joy to your life!

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” –Mark Twain

Feel free to write and ask me any questions you have about using this exercise.

If you know anyone who might be interested, please share this with them.

P.S. These blogs are something I want to do—I get good feelings from sharing the benefits of my experience and what I’ve learned – it adds meaning and fulfillment to my life!

Best,
Shelli

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