The best way to add more years to our lives is to stop spending time on trivial matters or things that don’t give us purpose and meaning. And instead, focus more on things that truly matter to us.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand how hard it is to focus on the things that matter, because in reality, distractions are everywhere. Interruptions are almost endless. And they seem normal in every day life.
The question is, how can we focus on the things that matter to us?
Let me share a strategy that I’ve been doing (inconsistently) for the past 3 years. I don’t claim that this is the one true strategy that can add years to our lives. And I don’t think that this is the best.
But it works for me. Maybe it will work for you too.
Step 1: Identify the things that truly matter to you.
Presently, here are the things that truly matter to me (this may change over time, who knows).
- Passions (writing and music and creating).
- Self-education (reading, writing, listening to podcasts, watching educational videos/inspiring movies, note taking, planning, learning).
- Meaningful experiences (adventures, playing music in front of a crowd, immersing in different forms of art, engaging with interesting people, helping people my own way).
- Getting healthy (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually).
- The job I love (my current job).
- Loved ones (family and true friends).
Put simply, if we know what truly matters in our lives, it’s easier for us to set priorities and determine whether what we’re doing matters or doesn’t matter.
Step 2: Identify the things that don’t truly matter to you.
Presently, here are the things that don’t truly matter to me (this may change over time, too).
- Watching TV shows or soap operas.
- Gossips. Engaging with negative people.
- The latest news in the government.
- The latest news in showbiz.
- Mindlessly floating on social media.
This doesn’t mean that these things are evil. And this doesn’t mean I can always avoid them. At times they are inevitable. Point is, I’m aware that these things don’t truly matter to me (and yours may be different).
Step 3: Track the time you spend on things that don’t truly matter to you.
About 3 years ago, I asked myself why I couldn’t find time for reading and blogging. I thought it’s because of my job. But later I figured it wasn’t.
The reason? I was spending hours on things that don’t have real value.
In fact, I was wasting an average of 5 hours a day. What a waste.
Maybe my definition of wasted time is different from most people. You might say that spending hours on social media like Facebook is beneficial.
Okay then. Let’s take a look at our fictional friend John:
John wants to start a business. Every day, he logs in on Facebook and shares his plans with his friends and asks for advice. Unfortunately he’s not only broadcasting his plans or asking for advice, he was unconsciously stalking some people and watching funny videos. Like. Comment. Share.
Unaware, he spends at least 2 hours a day floating on Facebook. I wonder how many hours that is in a lifetime.
Let’s do some math:
Facebook for 2 hours a day:
- 2 hours * 365 days in a year = 730 hours per year
John is 30. Let’s say he’ll live for 50 more years at least:
- 730 hours * 50 years = 36,500 Facebook hours for 50 years
John sleeps 7 hours a night (24 hours minus 7 = 17)
- 36,500 / 17 hours awake per day = 2,147 days wasted
Let’s see how many years that is.
- 2,147 / 365 = 5.8 years wasted
That’s 5.8 years lost to Facebook — 5 freaking years! Not including other social media sites such as Instagram and YouTube, and what about TV?
Think about it. If John seriously wants to start his business, he can use those 2 hours a day on these things instead:
- Read books or blogs (business topics or personal development).
- Write down ideas or publish them as blogs (a great way to attract like-minded people).
- Connect with entrepreneurs and learn from them (or at least study them).
- Or maybe, just start (please stop scrolling and start your business now).
While reading, writing, or connecting don’t guarantee success for John’s entrepreneurial journey — there’s more to that of course — they are far better than scrolling mindlessly on Facebook, which in most cases doesn’t add real value.
Step 4: Design an environment conducive to the things that matter to you
“No matter how much internal resolve you have, you will fail to change your life if you don’t change your environment.” — Benjamin Hardy
If you want to focus more on the things you value, your environment plays a role — the place you spend most of your time.
I’ve been trying my best to do these:
Minimalism – I try to be minimalist. Minimal stuff means less time for maintenance and more time for doing the things that matter.
Block social media – I work from home, which means I’m prone to distractions such as social media or TV (I don’t really watch TV though). I use Cold Turkey to block social media on my computer for a certain period of time. And also, News Feed Eradicator Plugin to block Facebook news feed.
Put away my phone for hours – To minimize interruptions and stay focused, I put my phone away for hours (depends on some circumstances). Note that I don’t use a smartphone.
Block noise by listening to music – If it’s noisy and I can’t focus working, creating, and reading, I listen to music particularly ambient, classical, calm music, or epic music. Music also puts me in the zone.
So here’s my formula:
- Block social media
- Put my phone away for hours
- Block noise by listening to music
And because I manage to minimize (or tame) distractions, I have time for reading, learning, and creating, and also time for my loved ones.
Ugh, but that doesn’t happen all the time. I wish I could say that I’m consistent.
Because there are many days that I fail to focus on the things that matter to me — I’m distracted and dissuaded. Some days I beat myself for being rash. I hate it.
But I have to remind myself that life is unpredictable. No matter how hard we try to design our days, sometimes it just doesn’t work. Yes it’s hard.
Now you might say that I’m lucky I work remotely and I don’t have little kids and I have more freedom and choices.
Let’s consider a few cases:
- You have kids and your house is noisy and they watch TV every day.
- You work in a company filled by negative people — you see them every day.
- You live with your parents. However, they don’t support your passion.
Case 1: Let’s say you want more time for your creative projects — and this is what matters to you — here’s what I’d do (and I already tested this): Find a sweet spot. This means, readjust your schedule and tweak some things within your control. If you love painting but can’t find time to paint because of your little kids, then paint when everyone’s asleep — maybe late nights or early mornings, whatever suits you.
Case 2: If you can’t avoid the negative people in your workplace, don’t engage. Respect them, but don’t feed their gossips. Smile. Say something relevant. Then resume to work. And when you get home, do something that matters to you — be it reading, writing, creating, or whatever it is that worth of your time.
Case 3: If you’re living with your parents who don’t support what matters to you — let’s say playing music — find a job and save more so you can sustain it yourself (I know it’s hard).
The point is, most of the time there’s a way. No matter how hard the situation is.
In some rare cases though, there’s no other choice. And that’s okay. Some things are beyond control.
But as long as you know what truly matters in your life, your life is far better than those who don’t have any idea what matters to them.