It amazes me to think that I have more control over certain aspects of my life, like how quickly I want protein powder shipped to me or if I want sushi or even ice cream delivered directly to my door. Then there are days when it feels like I’m that metal ball being swatted around in a pinball machine, thanks to…
- A staggering to-do list with no end in sight
- Social media updates about people’s baby pictures and awesome vacations, instilling a sense of never-ending FOMO
- Families and friends demanding every minute of your time
I can order a full-course Thai meal with three taps on my iPhone, and yet I often find myself so “busy” that the day feels out of my control — is this real life?
Derek Sivers, entrepreneur and founder of CD Baby, claims that being constantly busy is the same as being out of control, where your schedule and life feel like they’re not really yours.
Every day is a race against time to meet as many expectations — from others and yourself — as possible.
The worst part is, while it feels like you’re constantly doing stuff, at the end of the day, you might wonder: What the hell have you really gotten done?
Sivers says in Tools of Titans:
If I’m “busy,” it is because I’ve made choices that put me in that position, so I’ve forbidden myself to reply to “How are you?” with “Busy.” Instead, if I’m too busy, it’s a cue to reexamine my systems and rules.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know something needs to be reexamined and obviously changed, but maybe you’re not sure how and where to start. In this article, we’ll suggest some ways to start you on the path for more control.
How to take control of your life (for real)
“Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me.” – Carol Burnett
1. Get your calendar in order
In our culture, “busy-ness” is treated as a badge of honor, but it leads to the overwhelming feeling that you “never have enough time.”
It’s time to reassess what you are CHOOSING to give your time and energy to.
The first step to taking control of your life is to take control of your calendar, aka your time.
GrowthLab CEO on keeping a productive calendar.
A well-maintained calendar…
- Keeps your life and days consistent, so you usually know what to do every day and week and can mentally prepare.
- Protects your time. For example, I know I have to write almost daily and have the most energy in the morning. So I make sure to carve out a couple of hours in the morning to get solid, uninterrupted writing done.
- Frees up mental space so you don’t have to try to remember every little thing.
Managing your calendar shouldn’t take you long: 5-10 minutes the night before or morning of to look over your to-do tasks should suffice.
To help me prioritize, one question I ask myself is: If I could finish only one thing today that would make me satisfied with my day, what would that be? Then I focus on that. I modified this question from a journal called Productivity Planner, and it helps me identify the things I need to do that would keep me up at night if I didn’t finish.
2. Set clear boundaries and structure
When I first started my entrepreneur life, it was chaos.
Spontaneous invites to lunch or dinner tempted me with their momentary escape from my tasks. To-do list? More like “to-do-later” list. All the while I’d feel guilty for leaving so many things undone and try to make up for it by pulling double time. It was a vicious hamster wheel — my exhausting days begot more exhausting days.
The core problem?
I had no clear boundaries or structure to my day. And ironically, I needed these artificial constraints for more freedom and flexibility.
Artificial constraints, like a 9-to-5 schedule where you know real work should occur from 9 in the morning to 5 in the evening, help you stay on top of the things that actually get you closer to your short- and long-term goals, but also give you the flexibility to do the things that recharge and fulfill you. A few ideas on what constraints could look like:
- Following ONLY those things that are on your calendar (i.e., if it’s not on your calendar, it doesn’t exist)
- Restricting how long you can use certain time-wasting websites (*cough*Facebook *cough*YouTube). Tools like StayFocused and KeepMeOut can help with that.
- Working in 30-minute blocks. Most of us can stay focused for 30 minutes, and often that’s more than enough time to make good progress (and build momentum for more work!).
3. Being ruthless with what and whom you say “yes” to
It’s easy to say “yes” to opportunities and people for fear of missing out on experiences and future opportunities, but say yes to too many things and you could eventually find yourself stretched too thin — in terms of time and energy. This ties back to the above points about your calendar and boundaries, because when your time and schedule are no longer your own per se, you’ll feel out of control.
For matters that involve a yes/no decision, Sivers shares a great heuristic that you can apply for yourself:
If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, say “no.”
When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” — then say “no.”
When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say “HELL YEAH!”
There are times when saying yes to many opportunities makes sense, but there are times when saying hell yes! genuinely excites you and opens possibly even greater opportunities.
So look at your calendar: Which things are you less-than-pumped about? Can you give a hell yes! to delegating or canceling it?
4. Get your sleep right, and everything else can fall into place
Yeah, yeah, we all know sleep is important — just like we all know we should eat our vegetables — but how many of us actually do it?
Guilty. *pours another cup of coffee*
While I *think* I can get away with little sleep, I find that on those days where I’m operating on less than six hours of sleep, I move at a sloth-like pace — tasks that usually take me 30 minutes take me hours — and I feel more easily overwhelmed. But when I actually do get enough sleep, I feel spry, full of energy, and ready to tackle anything life throws my way.
Simply put, a lack of sleep messes with you mentally, emotionally, and physically.
The good news is that this is one area in your life that you often have control over. You control when to stop at that “one last email” and prepare for bed.
But for entrepreneurs or type-A overachievers (*raises hand*), reminding yourself to go to sleep and sticking to it can be difficult. As with all things, it’s a habit, and quite frankly, a matter of noticing the changes and positive impacts that a good night’s rest can have on you.
Try this: if you can set an alarm to wake up, try setting an alarm to go to sleep and following it like you are keeping an appointment.
5. Establish consistency (and a routine)
The word routine gets a bad rap. It feels boring — and always the same.
But when you have a firm routine, you know…
- Exactly where you’ll be at 10 a.m. on a Monday morning
- You can bring your gym clothes with you to hit the gym on your way back from work to avoid peak rush hour between 4:45 p.m. and 7 p.m.
- How much time you have for lunch if you went to the deli across the street instead
The familiar saves you from using extra brain power. A routine helps automate simple decisions — like what I’m going to work on or eat for lunch — which frees up more energy for other more important decisions.
This conserves mentally draining “switching costs,” which make it difficult for you to seamlessly move from writing an article to answering an urgent email to going back to writing. Sorry, there’s just no way you’re “good at multi-tasking.”
The primary lesson here is that having a routine keeps things consistent and predictable, which can be psychologically comforting, and reduces the variables so that you can stay focused and in control with what really matters in your life.
Think: Is there one area in your life where you can set up a routine? Take 10 minutes and go through your schedule or calendar and figure out what you can make more efficient or entirely get rid of.
These are just five of many ways to help you slowly reclaim control over where you spend your time and energy.
Because if those things aren’t under control, you feel the rippling effects poisoning other aspects of your life. At the same time, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have this all figured out quickly — start with your calendar and sleep, then take it from there.
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” – Charles R. Swindoll
One powerful way to take back control of your time and life…
…is to start your own business.
At GrowthLab, we strongly believe that your own successful business helps you create the type of life you want to live. Imagine not waging a daily battle with your alarm clock or passing by the same boring billboards on the same boring commute every day…
We’ve helped thousands of students start and launch a successful business, even when they didn’t have time, had a full-time job, or had NO IDEA what they were doing — it didn’t matter!
What mattered was that they’d finally felt like they could reclaim control in their life by getting back time, energy, a flexible schedule, and a passion for what they did. And we can help you, too, by helping you get a business idea off the ground.
Over the years, we’ve developed a system that can help you rapidly test and refine business ideas on the fly. In other words, you can determine if something will be profitable BEFORE you waste an ounce of energy pursuing it.
We explain everything in a free guide our team has put together, Finding Your Successful Online Business Idea.
In it, we reveal:
- How starting with “ideas that suck” can lead to big breakthroughs
- The 4 questions you can ask if you’re really stumped on finding an idea
- A 4-part Demand Matrix that’ll determine how much you can charge and how many people will buy your product
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