Every person has a unique set of problems and life situation, however there are common, universal challenges that we all face. We might have different budgets, skills and advantages, but we all only have 24 hours in a day. Despite the phrase buying time, no-one really gets to do that, it is a non-negotiable, you only get a fixed amount and is up to you as to how you spend it. If you do not take control and full responsibility for how it is used, it will slip through your fingers like water, there are only so many tomorrow at a certain point you have to decide that the thing you truly want to do is what you are going to do today.
If you have a dream of becoming writer, it is never going to happen if you do not sit down and write, there are no short-cuts, a prerequisite of writing well is writing badly for a thousand days beforehand. You do not become a good cook without burning a dozen puddings and over salting the soup, you have to forget an ingredient before you realise how important it is. You learn to ride a bike by falling off, you learn a language by mispronouncing, you become who you want to be by experiencing the opposite, you define who you are by what you do and do not do. These are the choices that decides who you are, that is why it is so important to choose how you spend those 24 hours. And if you do not make these decisions, life will find things for you to do instead, things that do not serve your long term aims, that do not move you forwards or grow you as a bring of consciousness, you will be occupied, busy but not satisfied or content.
It is a daily decision, so it is worth keeping the clock in mind and deciding how you want to allocate this limited resource, it is the ultimate resource allocation problem and how we solve it changes our lives. It is the most obvious areas where we can directly compare ourselves with other, and why some people can get a little obsessed by routines of the famous and successful. Though it is not a matter of just copying the actions, it is understanding why they chose those actions that is important. The most appropriate solution is the one that achieves your own personal purpose, you have to take responsibility for deciding what that is, then you have to decide what is the most effective way to achieving it and then align your small actions with your larger goal.
Effectiveness is important, there is no point in only be able to produce an orgy of great Art for one day every ten years it is far better to produce a little every day, and be able to be effective every day is a commitment that has a heavy payment and continuous rewards. Being able to bring your full energy and resources to the most important thing is not just a little bit better than good enough, it is exponentially better, but to do that requires a time investment. The good news is that it does not require the whole day, in Deep work, Carl Newport states that we only have the capability to do deep creative work for one to two hours per day, and once you have done that, you are done. Of course, the rest of your life might be lived in support of those couple of hours, for every hour writing might be supported by two hours reading, long walks, happy and healthy living.
Which might sound tiring, however when your small actions are aligned with a greater purpose or meaning, they become easier, natural and seemingly effortless. And in an ideal world, those supporting action would include having an abundance of sleep, not just the numbers of hours spent in sleep, which is 7-9 hours depending on your needs, and if you need an alarm clock you are not getting enough. You need the time for getting to sleep in the routine that leads to high quality sleep, that raises the hours to 9-11 hours, which I am sure horrifies some people and I completely sympathise if you are barely hanging in there between work and family. You are completely entitled to think I am having some kind of elitist fantasist moment where we all get to be Uber-people, however my intention is to point out that the very best in the world use this simple technique to be the very best, it is prerequisite and necessity of peak performance, it is the ultimate unfair advantage and it is available to you if you choose it.
If you are on the treadmill where you barely coping, is worth considering trying the short term experiment of how different your life could be with enough sleep, even if it means giving up something that is important, whether that is an hour or two of television or a Friday night out to relax at the end of a week. It might be the thing that gets you ahead so they can make real changes that frees up time in the long run, think of it as a short-term sacrifice for better life in the future.
An hour a day is probably necessary just for self maintenance, a shower, meditation, cleaning your teeth and at least one good meal which you sit and enjoy. That leaves you with twelve hours to do every productive thing in your life, work, family, time with friends, learning, reading, creating, having fun, doing flow activities that add to your life. It is worth recognising that each day will have its own balance between these, but that only doing one or two and ignoring the rest will always feel like a kind of poorer day, even just touching on them can help, if you only have ten minutes to read non-fiction, it is still worth spending those ten minutes on such a high impact activity. The point is to feed your different ascepts and have a life full of responsibility and high quality activities that nourish who you are.
It is also worth noting that I did not include activities like commuting, emails, social media, watching YouTube videos (if they are about cats falling over rather than ones that educate or motivate you), as these are normally the very opposite of productive, they are the things that drain our time, divert and waste it, if these are in your life, it should be a priority to reduce the time you are spending on them and if you're not sure how much time you are spending on social media, you can check your the screen-time setting on your phone through be prepared for a shock (but do not blame yourself, you were manipulated by thousands of the most talented engineers of our generation into spending more time online to make their shareholders money, you were always going to lose.)
There is no real substitute for a pen and paper for realising how you are spending your time, the separate moments of your life and how close it is to your ideal use of time. Decide what your perfect normal day would look like, everything that you would really love to be doing and then ask is it possible to include them at least a little bit in your life. A little deliberate practice of a skill you love can enrich any day, if you are working ten hours a day to support your family give yourself that quarter of an hour to read to your child, these are the worthwhile thing make a life worth living, it is by connecting yourself to your purpose in a real and tangible way, that it is possible for us to endure anything for purpose. Working down a coal mine to educate your children is a life in align with a purpose, even if the work is dark and dangerous.
It is perfectly possible to ignore the clock, and live your life like you have an unlimited amount of time to play with, and many of us act like this in our twenties. However life will not leave you alone, sooner or later it will test that notion, which is why it is better to consider the question early and often. That is why stoic use negative visualisation to make us realise that time is limited and should be well spent, we touch on on our own death, both to be grateful for being alive today, being able to effect our lives and others, but also because death is the ultimate teacher of this lesson. By touching on it, we are able value time highly with a real appreciation for how precious it is, before life brings death into our lives in the very real sense, before we lose the time we have to spend with those we love. There is no greater motivation to live today than knowing one day we will run out of time, so use that motivation to run experiments in your life, especially the experiment of valuing your time and start to use it today like the wonderful resource that it is.