How We Spend Our Days Is How We Spend Our Lives

Time flies, and time flies faster and faster as we age. It's essential to spend our time and make it count in ways that matter to us, and if it has not already, this process must start now.

Organizing our life is essential to ensure that the sum of the days we live in the here and now ends up amounting to a life that we will actually be happy to have lived decades down the line. We do not want to wake up at 80 and realize that we spent our whole life in emergency mode, always hoping for circumstances to change to accomplish what matters to us and feel fulfilled.

Living the life that we want to live and having enough time and energy to nurture a happy and healthy long-term relationship require organization, because if we value our relationships and want them to last, we'll need to make our days reflect these values by dedicating focused time to our relationships on a daily basis.

Limiting our organization to simply setting up a calendar and filling it up with deadlines and commitments is unfortunately likely to lead to one of two undesirable outcomes:

  • Not-too-busy people might end up having plenty of time for self-care and relationships, but they might find themselves spending their abundant free time with daydreaming and random activities that more often than not do not align with how they actually would like to live their life.
  • Busy people are at risk of spending their days running from one commitment to the next, like a firefighter trying to put off as many fires as possible in as little time as possible. Some activities may align with long-term intentions, but self-care and relationships are likely to be neglected.

Over the years, as I went from not-too-busy to very engaged in my life, I created a system to organize my time purposefully in order to live - on a daily basis - a life aligned with my life purpose, but also well balanced and grounded in adequate self-care.

In my system, there are 5 levels of organization:

1. Life:

What would make my life a great life? What is my purpose or mission statement for my life? What principles do I want to ground my life on?

Answering these questions is crucial to develop a crystal clear sense of direction on how we are going to live our life. Although the "what" is not always clear - or under our control - the "how" can certainly be. 

Tip: These questions could be answered in a journal entry or by creating a piece of art (think poetry, collage, calligraphy, photography, etc).

2. Year:

What do I want to accomplish this year? Do my career, finances, household, relationships, development or continued education need attention? What action step(s) can I take next year to make progress on the long-term goals aligned with my life purpose?

One year is one cycle of human life, and therefore it's the perfect level to start reflecting on the organization of our life. At the end of each year, make a list of goals that are realistic to accomplish in the next twelve months and create a flexible schedule for when each goal will be addressed and worked on.

Tip: A simple three-column Excel spreadsheet or Word document can suffice for this level of organization. The list of goals can go in the first column, their projected deadline (month or even simply season) in the second column, and a status update in the third column.

3. Month:

How does the next month look like? What are the non-negotiable commitments and obligations to take care of? Any event(s) to plan for? When is there some free time to work on yearly goals that have been scheduled for this month? What kind of support will I need this month?

It's at the level of the month that we can start allocating our time deliberately and purposefully. In a month, there sure are ongoing commitments, recurring obligations, and special events to schedule, but we must also allocate time for what matters to us in the long-term.

At the end of each month, go over the next month's commitments and schedule time slots to work on your yearly intentions. If needed, cancel less important activities to make time to work on your long-term goals that align with the vision you have for your life.

Tip: A calendar that can be shared between devices and between family members can be really useful to organize at the level of the month. The most important though is finding the method that truly works for you, so try out a few things until you find what is effective for you.

4. Week:

How much time will I work this week? How much time will I devote to my relationships? How will I take care of myself? What will I do to keep my household run smoothly? How much time will I invest for my development and education? When will I work on my yearly goals?

If it can be difficult to create balance on a day-to-day basis, it's essential to do it at the week level. Pick a day each week to carefully plan the following week. If you are comfortable with structure or need it to fight off a tendency to get distracted, then hourly scheduling might work well for you. If not, simply writing down what needs to be accomplished for each day with no set time could work better if your activities require more time flexibility, for so long as you are realistic with the number of things you put on your list for one day.

Tip: Creating a template for your typical week(s) is extremely helpful to ensure a reasonable distribution of the 168 hours of the week between self-care, work, relationships, parenting, household management, development and education, commuting, and all the other buffers that are necessary to schedule between activities. It ensures that we schedule the things that are usually not scheduled, such as self-care activities (sleep, meal prep and meals, relaxing) and focused time with our loved ones.

5. Day:

What do you most value in your life? What are the principles you decided to ground your life on? How can you express them on a daily basis? How are you going to take good care of yourself today while also working on your other projects?

Each day can be lived as a metaphor for a whole life. If we value hard work, we have to take concrete steps to offer our skills to the world on a daily basis. If we greatly care about our spouse and children, we have to give them a daily dose of our full attention and concrete expression of our love. If what we care about is helping others, we have to express these values in some ways, day after day. We must devote daily time slots to our most valued intentions!

Tip: If you resist organization, being creative with the way you approach your daily planning could help you tremendously. For some, a fancy app will be supportive. For others, it's a diary with inspiring quotes that will help create a bit of structure without being too rigid. For you, it might be something else. Try out various methods and choose whatever works for you, but keep in mind that the most effective for you might be the most old-fashioned one. Paper and pencil, anyone?

In summary, organization is necessary to live the life you are meant to live, and crucial to have enough time and energy to nurture your relationships. Being overly organized and structured can certainly stifle creativity and lead to burn out. On the other hand, going too much with the flow can lead to wasting time, living a life that lacks purpose, and neglecting important relationships. Find the right amount of structure that suits your style, and build the life you are meant to live!