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9 Ways to Take Back Your Time

Time is a measure of the choices we make - Father Time

We all feel overwhelmed sometimes with everything on our plate, especially as parents juggling all the demands of life.  In those moments, we need a ray of hope to shine through the dark clouds of discouragement and build confidence that there are ways to make the sun shine brighter.  We’re here to bring you a ray of hope today as you read this.

First, what’s the big deal about time itself?  It can range from feeling like an over-abundant and aimless burden to a stingy and demanding taskmaster.  While time is plentiful, it always comes to an end.  And while it always vanishes, it always does so at the same rate.  It is one resource we all share, and yet we never know when our personal portion will run out for good.  The funny thing is that we usually either desperately want more of it or impatiently wish it would hurry on by.  In either of those situations, we’re pressed to expose the agency of our choices. 

In a nutshell: time is a measure of the choices we make.  And importantly it is those very choices that dictate the character we mold and the person we become. 

While time is a big deal and we shouldn’t squander it lightly, we don’t have to stress out about it either as long as we proactively plan for how to use our choices wisely.  Time is one of our great fascinations.  After all, the topic is always timely (pun intended).  We named our brand Father TimeTM because we want to help others direct their time more easily, whether it’s by providing tasty and convenient food staples or helpful tips for busy parents.

We are far from perfect in this area and still eagerly scoop up any morsel of insight we can glean from the table of the wise.  We just want to share with you a few of the tasty morsels we’ve gathered over time from a wide variety of thought leaders.  These lessons have made us far better stewards of our time and choices than we otherwise would be.  See if any of them are helpful to you.  Perhaps only time will tell! 

Father Time Clock

1.  If You Aren’t Budgeting, then You’re Squandering

We’re fans of Dave Ramsey, and one thing he says about money is: “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” The same can be said of budgeting our time.  Just like our appetite, we usually have far less room to fit what we want or think we can digest into what we realistically have.  When we self-reflect and build a thoughtful plan, our authentic choices shine through with clarity and consistency.

Keep in mind, allocating our time is not simply about optimizing our productivity, it’s about clarifying our choices.  Productivity might be one of your choices, or it might not be.  When you plan, you decide.

You be the judge on how detailed or loose you prefer to plan your schedule in advance.  Personal preference and experience play an important role here; but so do discipline and consistency, and that’s usually where we all have room for improvement.  Here are some important personal choices to review:

    • What is the best time of day for you to plan your day in advance?
    • Where is the best place for you to plan?
    • What routine do you have in place to mentally trigger a regular, brief planning session?
    • How do you approach your highest priorities each day?
    • How do you handle unexpected urgencies that arise compared to other priorities you had planned?
    • How do you choose to communicate with other stakeholders regarding shared commitments and responsibilities?
    • What compromises can you make to forgo pressing, but less critical areas in order to focus on what’s more important in the long term?
    • Do you let others over-schedule you or do you proactively eliminate valuable, but non-essential opportunities in order to create more vital space for yourself?

      Budgeting time isn’t a perfect science, and very few are masters at it.  But the more disciplined we are to prepare and to plan, however loosely or strictly we choose, the more our time will reflect the holistic choices we truly desire. 

      Father Time Clock

      2.  Choose To Do Less, and You’ll Actually Choose More

        Kind of sounds like Doc Hudson’s “turn right to go left,” doesn’t it?  Well, like Doc Hudson, Greg McKeown knows a thing or two about end goals.  McKeown’s landmark book Essentialism took the business world by storm when it was published in 2014.  We devoured it and made enormously helpful choices in our lives both at work and at home as a result.  McKeown’s thesis is that success often deceptively lures us into failure by the undisciplined pursuit of the trivial many.  He urges “the relentless pursuit of less but better…Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.”  Perhaps one reason why we like this book so much is how he artfully connects discipline with choice as it relates to our time: “The way of the Essentialist is the path to being in control of our own choices.”

        It is from McKeown (a Brit) that the two of us learned the actual origin of the English word “priority.”  Apparently, the word was adopted into the English language in the 1400s, but interestingly was always used in the singular form “priority” until the 1900s when the plural form “priorities” suddenly entered the vernacular. 

        That reminds me of a quarterly division meeting I had once in a large corporation when the division president took the stage and shared our division priorities for the quarter…all two pages and 20+ of them.  As you can imagine, none of the items on that list received much “priority” attention that quarter.  Let’s get back to the days of using “priority” with its original purpose: identifying the one thing we need to choose as our top focus.  Otherwise the undisciplined pursuit of the trivial many could compromise the impact of our choices on the crucial few things that are truly important.

        What is truly essential for you?  What do you absolutely need to focus on in order to move the dial in what you’re trying to do?  What other less crucial items sometimes get in the way, and what choices can you make to minimize or eliminate them?

        Here’s a preview into Essentialism with Greg McKeown:

        If you don’t have his book already, this is the kind of book that we have both in print  and audio – it’s that good.  It will help you think with more clarity and liberation toward a long-term vision on the choices you make now. 

        Father Time Clock

        3.  If in Doubt, Toss It

        All it takes is one visit to the garage, basement, attic, storage room, closet, or pantry to realize that we usually think we can use, do, or consume far more than we actually can. How many toys do your kids have that don’t seem to get attention?  How many shirts do you own that you haven’t worn in more than a year?  How often do you have to toss something from the pantry after it expired before it was even opened?  How many hobbies do you have gear for that you never touch?  How many magazines or newspapers lay stacked up without being read?  How many DVDs do you own that never get watched? 

        Our culture, particularly in America, is driven by the forces of consumerism and over-indulgence.  It makes us sluggish, and not just in terms of our weight.  We’re mentally weighed down by all of the stuff in our lives, and we need to de-clutter

        You might have heard of Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.  Give it a read or a listen and prepare to be amazed by a foreign mentality to what you’ll find in most American homes.  Her philosophy is unique, and some parts of it might be considered extreme at first glance.  But what reading her book does is spark a new way of looking at what we surround ourselves with in our home and the implicit choices we’ve made.  There are strong physical and mental (and Kondo would say spiritual) benefits when we heavily de-clutter and simplify the space around us. 

        You see, every time we purchase something, we commit in some small way to use or consume it in the future.  Those choices add up over time, and we often commit to consuming something without a full appreciation of the inventory we already have (and the consumption commitments we’ve already made).  We then feel guilty if we don’t ever consume the item to its full potential after we’ve sunk some cash into it. 

        It’s time to detox.  Marie Kondo encourages asking the question “does it spark joy?” as the measure for whether we choose to keep or toss an item while de-cluttering.  That’s a pretty good measuring stick.  We sometimes tell ourselves, “if in doubt, toss it.”  We still have a long way to go to de-clutter our house (it’s not a simple task when you have four young children), but we’ve made immense progress.  Here are some things we’ve done that you can easily do:

        • Make a game out of selling stuff
          Make a list of items in your home that you choose to part with and can sell. List them online or hold a garage sale and make a game out of how much you can earn by de-junking valuable items in your home.  Maybe even set a goal for something fun you would rather choose to do with the family (nice restaurant, vacation, movie tickets, etc.) as a reward when you raise enough funds.  Years ago we both chose to sell our golf clubs.  We enjoyed a few rounds of golf together in our early married years, but when you have young children golf is a pretty time-consuming and expensive choice to make unless you’re die-hard golf aficionados.  We are not.  We chose instead to sell our clubs and invest in upgraded biking equipment since biking is one of our favorite family activities.  It’s a choice we are so glad we made.  It may not be the same choice you would make, but perhaps you’ll find a parallel for your situation.
        • Donate and help someone
          You won’t be able to sell everything, but there is probably someone in need that could use an old jacket, appliance, outfit, or toy that you no longer choose to keep. Find a local non-profit where you can donate your items to the needy.  Be generous and donate anything, even if it still has considerable value, as long as it doesn’t absolutely spark joy for you personally.  It may spark immense joy for someone else.  You will bless someone else’s life with it, and you will bless your own by simplifying your space.  We can live on less.
        • Take out the recycling and trash
          Let’s face it, some of your stuff is just trash (you still have that broken lamp that doesn’t work?!). Find out where to recycle or dispose of your trash, and toss items that are beyond their usable life.
        • Check the fridge
          If you need a quick win, just start with this one simple step: take 20 minutes to clean out your refrigerator. Not your freezer (save that for later, but maybe eat some ice cream while you’re at it).  Just the fridge.  Toss anything you don’t plan to eat in the next 48-72 hours, condiments that are probably too old, and give the inside a quick, clean shine.  It’s remarkable how inviting a clean fridge can be.  Now be very careful what you choose to re-stock it with and the implicit commitments to eat those items.  Choices, choices…

          Father Time Clock

          4.  When You Really Need to Get More Done, Do This

          Managing your time isn’t always about productivity, but sometimes it is. When I started my first job after graduate school, a couple co-workers took a training class that our company offered called Getting Things Done.  I thought it was funny that the training took 3 days and that I would be getting several things done while my co-workers were in training to learn how to “get things done.” 

          It wasn’t until a couple years later that I was absolutely overwhelmed in my job with incredibly heavy responsibilities, a struggling business, high stakes, and very little margin for error in the choices that I made with the three projects teams that I was managing.  I looked at my bottomless email inbox, glanced at my never-ending task list, and made a mental cry for help.  I took the bold step of clearing my calendar for three days and took that same three-day Getting Things Done training class.  I also read and listened to the corresponding book by David Allen.  It changed my life. 

          Many of the strategies and tactics initially seemed a little awkward or counter-intuitive, but I dove in and committed to trying out the full David Allen Getting Things Done (GTD) system since I knew I needed a major overhaul in my personal productivity.  I needed more space to think and more time to work on what mattered most.

          I was utterly shocked how rapidly my productivity improved after implementing and using the GTD system.  Now, my email inbox is usually kept at or close to zero on most days.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t have email follow-ups, but it does mean that I try to mentally process an email just once while it’s in my inbox, and then choose if I will delete, defer, delegate, or do it now.  If I choose to defer it for later (when it takes 2+ minutes to complete) I use the GTD system to migrate the email from my inbox into a set of tasks that I’ve created and review regularly based on the projects that line up with my responsibilities.  It’s a holistic system that simply works. 

          Most importantly, it helps me make better choices on what I need to be doing right now.  I don’t use my inbox as a to-do list (a big trap that most people fall into until they adopt GTD!), but rather refer to my task and context lists that GTD helped me create.  Over the last several years I’ve made several personal adaptations to fit the way that I work.  I heartily endorse the David Allen GTD system for helping re-think the way that you process your inflow so that you can make better choices with how, where, and when to do your work.  And it’s not just for work, either.  It will help you make better decisions for how to use your time at home and in your personal life.  For instance, it’s how I capture and organize my grocery shopping list, movies to watch with the kids for Family Movie Night, household chores, or restaurants to try out.  When I need to make a snap decision on a random topic, I often have a handy list of pre-written notes on that topic to help guide my decision to a more consistent and desired outcome. 

          One super-helpful exercise religiously espoused by David Allen in GTD that we’ve also noticed Greg McKeown mention in recent interviews is the routine of the Weekly Review.  The Getting Things Done system lays out a very helpful guide for mapping out the upcoming week from high-level strategic responsibilities to specific, tactical, individual tasks.  While often neglected or overlooked, this valuable routine can heavily amplify our ability to make good choices in the long-term when we take a moment to put our head above the trees and look at the forest, the valley, and the mountains in their entirety instead of simply narrowing in on the branch within our grasp for the next 24 hours.

          In addition to reading Getting Things Done, you will probably want to adopt a software to help you implement the system.  David Allen’s company even builds implementation guides you can use to customize that software to maximize the power of the GTD system.  If you’re using a Mac I recommend Omnifocus, which is designed to fit GTD.  It’s a powerful software and does take some time to learn, just like GTD.  If you’re using a PC you’ll probably want to use Outlook and follow David Allen’s guide for how to implement GTD on that program. 

          Father Time Clock

          5.  Write It Down

          We live in a digital age when almost everything, from our mail to our calendars to our GTD software, lives online. That’s fine, but we also need a simple writing tool that is regularly accessible for those moments when electronic methods won’t always suffice: quickly jotting down a note from a conversation, remembering something you don’t want to let slip through the cracks, capturing details quickly, brainstorming an idea list, emptying out to-do items in your head, etc. 

          Some people like to use small Post-It notes.  That might be what you choose, but often they are too small to write down a list and work things out on paper, so Post-it note users find themselves sticking dozens of sticky notes all over their work space.  Talk about a headache…  Then you have standard 8.5 x 11” paper, which can often be too big and wasteful for short lists, follow-ups, or inflow capture.

          What we have found we love is the Jr. legal pad size of paper: 5 x 8” paper pads.  We pair them with a convenient padfolio (like this one) and often carry these around with us or have them next to our bed on the nightstand.  It’s the perfect size for quickly doing a brain dump on pressing needs at hand, and then selecting what we choose to do with our limited time.  But this is a personal choice, so choose something that will be handy and helpful for your writing needs.

          Father Time Clock

          6.  Be Mindful and Choose to Meditate

          Mindfulness and meditation have become more mainstream and perhaps you’ve experimented with them. We’ve seen enormous benefits in our personal lives through meditation as a practice for mindfulness.  Being mindful and present in the moment can be a form of mental exercise that promotes health and vitality.  Life can be stressful, especially with the complexity and unexpected distractions that surface when raising children.  Taking just 5, 10, or 15 minutes each day to pause and meditate can make an enormous difference not only in what we choose to do with our time, but in how we react to the various forces that confront us.  It can help us push the pause button and be more reflective of the choices we make in how we act and what we do. 

          If you’re new to meditation, you’ll greatly benefit from an experienced instructor to get the most from the time you spend practicing meditation.  We’ve tried out several meditation apps and enjoy many of them.  Our favorite is Suze Yalof Schwartz' masterful creation Unplug Meditation, which has a tremendously helpful app that we subscribe to.  It features several different instructors who introduce different themes and methods for mindfulness and meditation.  You can filter by duration, theme, or instructor and save playlists to quickly and easily find the type of meditation you’re looking for.  There are even meditations for the kids!

          Trust us, meditation (like organic) isn’t just for hippies.  It’s for everyone.  The hippies just had it right.

          Father Time Clock

          7.  Create Brief, Regular Routines to Center Your Day

          After I graduated from high school I sold student handbooks door-to-door in Oklahoma for the Southwestern Company for a summer. It was grueling work, but the training I learned gave me powerful lessons I used that fall in college and ever since.  It taught me how to incorporate simple routines into my life to help lay the groundwork for a day of positive choices.  I woke up at the same time each morning, recited the same silly motivational phrase, and followed the same breakfast pattern before starting work at the same time.  Not everyone can do that every day in real life, but I have learned how to build my own routines that empower my life today.

          Here’s a brief summary of my personal morning routine:
          • Wake Up
            (turn off alarm, turn on light, make the bed, pray, stretch, recite morning poem)
          • Freshen Up
            (use bathroom, use mouthwash, dress in exercise clothes, drink water)
          • Shape Up
            (exercise, stretch)
          • Shower Up
            (and get dressed)
          • Study Up
            (a short, personal morning devotional: meditation, read scriptures, affirmations, goals, etc.)
          • Eat Up
            (simple breakfast)
          • Power Up
            (head out for the day)

          It doesn’t go exactly as planned every day, and when something unexpected comes up I need to decide what portion to cut that day.  But it lays out a default plan I strive to follow.  It also helps me move much faster each morning than I otherwise would if I simply woke up and meandered about trying to think of what to do next to get ready.

          I’ve also begun building an evening routine that I’d like to follow more regularly that could help me prepare better for my morning routine:

          • Dress Down
            (get a drink of water, change clothes, use bathroom, wash up, brush teeth, etc.)
          • Look Down
            (look at tomorrow’s schedule, review today’s daily task list, confirm alarm time for tomorrow)
          • Write Down
            (write a few notes in my daily journal)
          • Kneel Down
          • Wind Down
            (read or meditate)
          • Go Down
            (go to sleep)

            There are three crucial lessons that building routines has taught me:

            1. Triggers spark routine habits 
              When that alarm goes off each morning, I know exactly what I need to be doing. When I find myself reciting that morning poem, I can actually feel my body waking up mentally and physically as it prepares for what it knows is coming next.  Creating a trigger event to spark a routine is a powerful way to proactively build a positive habit.  You can also learn more about this virtuous process in a great book by Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit.
            2. Routines enhance mental budgeting
              When inevitable disruptions destroy our proactive plan, we often throw out everything and go into crisis reaction mode. But when we have a solid, reinforced routine we can do faster mental accounting for what we still choose to follow in our original plan and what we opt to change given the altered circumstances.  It empowers you to make more valuable decisions in the spur of the moment through enhanced mental budgeting.
            3. Proactive balance enriches life 
              On those days when I actually do nail my ideal morning routine, it feels amazing. That’s probably because I’ve tackled my physical activity, spiritual nourishment, mental health, and physical appetite to start the day.  What part of me could possibly feel neglected?  Even if I only spend a short 15 minutes on the exercise bike and 5 minutes in a personal devotional, at least the fire has been lit in each of those areas to provide some semblance of a flame throughout the day.  I’ve discovered that when I consistently invest in those areas of my life, even for a brief duration at a time, it enhances my decision-making across a variety of choices that confront me.  That 15-minute bike ride helps me make better eating decisions at lunch.  That 5-minute devotional helps me act more generously toward others in the heat of an intense moment.

            Father Time Clock

            8.  Choose Some Physical Activity Every Day

            We live in one of the only eras throughout history when daily, strenuous physical activity is not virtually required for human survival. Modern technological conveniences free us up to do so many different things our ancestors never imagined, but they also open up an infinite amount of choices at our disposal and responsibilities at our doorstep.  As parents it’s common to think: “…sure would be nice to leave all these household chores aside for an hour and fit in a solid workout.”  While our busy and sedentary lives make it difficult to maintain regular physical activity, a little creative planning can help make healthy choices a little easier.

            My cousin Andy Naselli is a professor and author who spends hours each day at a computer reading, researching, writing, and working at his computer.  He once showed me his setup at his home office for his treadmill desk, and I was amazed!  He walks about 1.5 to 2 miles-per-hour while seamlessly working on his computer.  He often walks 8-10 miles before lunch time!  He put together this very helpful guide for how he designed both his sitting desk and his treadmill desk.  This is a man that takes his choices very seriously, and it has reaped enormously positive dividends for him.  Come to think of it, maybe I should build a treadmill desk at home, too…

            Our two-year old toddler often has a hard time going to bed.  We’ve done the “take him for a ride in the car” routine a few times to get him to finally fall asleep.  But lately we’ve switch to instead take him for a run or walk in the jogging stroller.  It has the same, lulling effect on him to entice nocturnal bliss while also helping us squeeze in another spurt of physical activity.  We just have to dodge the occasional sprinkler on our neighborhood sidewalk.

            Three other keys to consider when it comes to fitting some physical activity into your ever-busy day:
            • Short and intense workouts have been shown to help maximize your health benefits while minimizing your time commitment. Here’s a helpful guide.  
            • When it comes to exercise, consistency is more important than intensity or duration as cited here by the U.S. Military.  
            • If you need a little extra boost of motivation to get that heart rate moving at home, try a guided fitness video like these gems from the Global Cycling Network. This intense workout is only 20 minutes, and it will leave you feeling recharged throughout the day.  Streaming a workout at home in your living room or basement can be quick, easy, affordable, and effective for keeping your blood moving and heart pumping each day.
            • Physical activity isn’t just about exercise, either. There are a number of simple changes you can make, even at an office, to boost your caloric burn rate.  And what about dancing or wrestling in the living room with the kids, hopping on the playground with the kids, or playing a simple family game of Capture the Flag?  There’s a lot you can do around the house or yard to get the blood flowing.  
            As you weigh choices for how to allocate your time, choosing ways to stay active can be more realistic than it might seem.

              Father Time Clock

              9.  Fuel Your Day with Wholesome Foods

                We are omnivores, and that can be both a blessing and a curse.  We can derive fuel from so many different food sources, and yet that means we have so many different options to choose from.  It’s a veritable dilemma, which is why Michael Pollen’s masterful book is aptly named The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  Navigating our food choices with informed consciousness can seem like a full-time job! 

                Our food choices can have a dramatic impact on our energy and outlook.  They can also occupy a large amount of our daily time and infuse themselves into cultural traditions in both a family and work setting.

                Think about your last two meals.  How did you select the food you ate?  Did you use any of the criteria below?

                • What will be wholesome and nourishing?
                • What will be quick and easy?
                • What will be delicious and satisfying?
                • What will fit in my budget?
                • Will the kids eat it?
                • What do I need to get rid of in my pantry, fridge, or freezer?
                • What type of food do I need right now to help fuel and heal my body?
                • What foods do I want to prepare in the kitchen right now?
                • What’s on the counter in the break room at the office right now?
                • How much food do I need right now?
                • What foods are sustainable and responsible for our ecosystem?

                  How would you weigh those or other personal criteria into your decision-making equation when selecting food?  Does anything regularly prevent you from following your personalized and prioritized criteria on a meal-to-meal basis?  Are there ways you can plan ahead to conquer those deviations?

                  What can we do to make it easier to make healthy choices with the foods we eat?  Here are a few simple ideas:

                  • Make a Snack List
                    Sometimes you need to quickly satisfy a snack craving, but would prefer to choose something that doesn’t ruin your nutrition plan. Sometimes we create a list of our favorite snacks we have on hand (both in the pantry and the fridge) that we can easily refer to in order to narrow our decision-making to that pre-selected, quick-but-wholesome list of snacks.  Fruit is an easy one to put on this list.  Since we always have delicious Wonderful Wheat bread around we also frequently have bread, butter, and honey.   
                  • Stock Breakfast Favorites
                    Mornings can be hectic, so having a regular routine of 3-4 healthy and quick breakfast options to choose from can be a sanity saver. Cinnamon toast and fruit smoothies are some of our favorites here.
                  • Prepare Lunch in Advance
                    Preparing leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day is a time-honored classic practice. We have another favorite routine: we’ll slice up an entire loaf of bread, make several peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (thick slices of Wonderful Wheat bread and a heavy dose of organic peanut butter and organic fruit spread), and then freeze them in individual freezer bags.  They make a perfect, quick, whole grain, protein-packed lunch to bring to the office.  They’re thawed mid-morning and taste as fresh as the moment you made them.  I once ate Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches every day for lunch and dinner during an intense summer job – and I never got tired of it.  In fact, I could really use one right now…
                  • Follow Dinner Themes
                    Years ago we wanted to bring some structure to our dinners and make it faster and easier to choose what we wanted to cook each night. So, we collected our favorite food genres and allocated them throughout the week.  It makes it quite easy to prepare, plan on leftovers, and look forward to a weekly favorite theme.  We don’t always follow it precisely, but it’s a very helpful and time-saving guide.  Monday: Soup Night, Tuesday: Taco Tuesday, Wednesday: Pasta, Thursday: Skillet Dinner, Friday: Pizza, Saturday: Grill, Sunday: Casserole/Crock Pot.  We have a list of our favorite 3-5 dishes in each theme, which makes it much easier to select our meals for the week when we plan our food shopping.

                  Setting just a few personal routines for filtering your food options can help you take consistent control of your food choices rather than being at the mercy of what is simply convenient. 

                  Father Time Clock

                  Perhaps you’ll find a few insights you can try out to help make time your servant rather than your taskmaster.  Please comment below to let us know what you find helpful, what creative ideas you implement, or what else you find difficult when confronting the dilemmas of time.  The power is in each of us to make good things happen – if we choose to do so.  The time is now.

                  Just take it from one of our heroes, Mister Rogers:

                  “You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.” 

                  - Fred Rogers

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