Time management is tricky, but when the daily decisions about my time are grounded in values, I get the most out of each day. I’ve learned to ask myself three questions about life’s decisions, big or small, and when I act on the answers, I never regret it.
1. Does it pass the Bus Test?
When I have options to choose from and I’m flummoxed as to which way to go, I ask myself, “If I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow, which option would I regret NOT doing as my life flashes before my eyes?” Then I go for the one that I’d want to remember in that final moment.
I suppose it would also work by asking what memory you want to have when you’re 100 years old.
2. Is this the very best thing I could be doing right now?
Sometimes life has clear-cut times and places that are set aside and better than any alternative. Any Sunday morning at 11:00 AM, for example, the very best place I could be is in church. Rarely could anything outrank that. (I did make my family miss church seven years ago, for example, to attend my brother’s wedding, an even high priority.)
Even for things that aren’t carved in my calendar’s stone like that, there are clear hierarchies of importance. Let’s say it’s a random Wednesday evening, eight o’clock hour. The younger kids are in bed, others are finishing their activities, and I have no certain obligations or pressing duties. What should I be doing with my time?
My usual priorities come to mind: reading, exercising, some kind of church service, talking with my wife, etc. Any of these would be time well spent, but the ultimate decision depends: what other exercise or reading or service have I done lately, and how recently? What kind was it: for reading, a bucket list classic, or fun genre novels? For service, a quick email, or an in-depth visit in someone’s home?
Balance is key there–sometimes, one worthwhile “Quadrant 2” activity will take precedence, other times another will be more urgent.
But this question certainly helps avoid too much time wasted in frivolity.
3. Does this choice lead to a bigger life, or a smaller life?
This one stems from a motto I’ve engrained in my own mind: Always Choose the Bigger Life.
I’ve seen enough of people by now to know that satisfaction comes far more often and more deeply from active engagement with the world and its people than from private withdrawal, as instinctively inclined to withdrawal as I am.
Quiet, personal time is important, but the best lives–the ones that lead to the richest twilight years and the biggest, most inspiring legacies–are the ones that constantly reach out to others in service and social interaction, and ones that create opportunities to act: to learn, to travel, to grow, to experience more of life by engaging with more of our world.
When I have a choice to make about how to spend my time, and all other factors are equal, I choose the bigger life.