Take Back Your Time and Stop Wasting Your Life

Life is so precious. I know how cliche that sounds but take a step back to think about that. You only get one shot. One life. In the blink of an eye, it’s over. It’s far too common for people to look back and realized they are wasting their life, and oftentimes that realization comes too late. At the end of the day, what will you have to show for it?

Honestly, think about your last day on Earth. Pretend you know it’s your last day. Do you want to look back and remember how many times you rewatched The Office? Or how many hours you spent laying in bed scrolling through Facebook?

Personally, I hope when I’m gone people say my life revolves around three things: Jesus, family, and adventure. In that order.

How I Was Wasting My Life

I didn’t always believe that. Or maybe I did, but I wasn’t ready to accept the shortness of life. I thought I had forever. What did it matter if I spent most weekends watching Netflix? I’d have time to do cool stuff later right?

I can’t really pinpoint the moment my mindset shifted. I just know it did shift, but it wasn’t easy. I fought it. Wasting life is comfortable. It’s easy. It’s familiar.

I was 21 years old when I looked back at my life and realized I had very little to show for it. Sure, I had graduated from college. I was engaged. I got my first “big girl” job. All of those things were wonderful, and I was so thankful for them, but I couldn’t help but wonder about the little moments. The details.

Yes, I had graduated from college, but in my three and a half years there, I didn’t make a single friend. I didn’t have a single college memory worth talking about. Yes, I was engaged to the absolute love of my life, and yes every single day spent with him is amazing, but most of our time was spent watching Netflix. We didn’t have very many “stories worth telling the grandkids someday.”

Please don’t think I’m ungrateful for my life. I love my life. I love the people in my life. I thank God every single day for everything he has given me, every opportunity I have had. However, I believe that at this point in my life, I was wasting the gifts God had given me. Each day God gave me could have been spent making memories, sharing the gospel, loving others, building my dreams. Instead, most of my life had consisted of a lot of “in-between” time, and it was entirely my fault.

Sound Familiar?

Maybe you feel like I did. Maybe you realize that you are not living your life to its fullest potential. Maybe you too can’t look back on the last few years and really say that you’ve lived. I’ve been there. I can show you how to break the cycle of wasting your life away.

So, what’s the first thing you need to do to take back your life?

Take Back Your Time to Take Back Your Life

Your time is one of the most important things you have. It is also the most precious. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. You can’t redo your teenage years. You can go back to college sure, but you’ll never be able to experience college at 18-22 years old more than once. You can’t suddenly decide when you’re thirty that you want to go back and actually attend your senior prom.

It’s a hard truth for most of us to swallow. Especially when you’re young. You feel like you have your whole life ahead of you. You feel invincible. Unfortunately, it can take a lot of wasted time before you realize you’re not.

There are three main ways I use to take back my time.

1. Prioritize.

We are human. We cannot do everything. We shouldn’t even try. It will only lead to disappointment. What we can do is prioritize. Take a moment right now.

Action Task: Get out a sheet of paper, an index card, a sticky note, whatever you can grab, and write down your top three priorities. Really think about this. If you were dying, what three things would you want to focus your last days on?

For me, those three things are Jesus, family, and adventure. I wrote these things on index cards and tacked them to the bulletin board over my desk, so I am forced to see them every day and remind myself to focus on these three things first.

Now, of course, you’ll have more than just three priorities in your entire life. You’ll change; you’ll grow; you’ll change your mind. You can revisit this list as many times as you want. Maybe right now, you want to focus your career. Then five years from now, you have kids, and your career falls off the top of the list. Does that mean your career isn’t a priority? Absolutely not. Your top three things are simply those things which are the most important to you right now. These are the things you focus on first.

For me, it looks like this. I read my Bible every day (most of the time; I’m not perfect). I call a family member most days (usually my mom), I make sure to give my fiance the time he needs, whether that’s a date night or making his lunch for work or watching an episode of Supernatural together. I also do my very best to plan one adventure a week, usually something outdoors.

Once I’ve made time for those three things, I focus on the rest of my life. I’m a teacher: I grade papers; I make lesson plans. I keep the house clean(ish). I work on my blog. I practice photography. I take my dog to the dog park. Etc.

2. Time Management.

Okay, so you’ve got your three priorities. You’ve narrowed down your focus. Now you’ve got to start figuring out your time.

Start by figuring out where your time is going. There are a million different ways you can do this. If you have an iPhone, you can easily see how much time you spend on your phone in the screen time settings. Chances are, that number will be way higher than you thought. (Need to break up with your phone? Check out my post on how to use your phone less when you’re completely addicted.)

Maybe your phone isn’t your issue. Maybe you spend all your time binge-watching Netflix. Make a list of all the shows you watch this week. Count every single episode. See how fast the hours go by? Scary, isn’t it?

Perhaps your time is being eaten up by mindless tasks that disguise themselves as being productive. How many hours a week do you spend reading emails? Grocery shopping? Driving the kids to and from practice? Cooking? Cleaning? Taking blogging courses? (Guilty. So very guilty.)

Obviously, all of these tasks are things we have to do. But, there is probably a better way to do them. When I first started this journey, I realized that I spent approximately half of every single day cleaning my house. And my house still never seemed to be clean. Plus, I was neglecting everything else: work, school, hobbies, relationships.

Something was very wrong.

Action Task: Figure out where your time is going. This week, use some sort of tracker to track how long you spend on certain tasks. Check your screen time on your phone and your computer. Write down how many shows you watch on Netflix. Calculate how many hours you spend commuting places. Write down a to-do list every single day and notice how many tasks are time-wasters.

Now, I have a schedule. It’s not super strict. It’s probably not even considered a real schedule by most people, and it’s flexible, and it fluctuates every single day, but it does help me focus on my priorities, and my house actually looks way cleaner than before. Yes, I still have a commute. Yes, I still have to clean my house and make phone calls and read emails, but I’m batching these tasks into chunks of time that I have no choice but to waste. I read emails while sitting in parking lots. I make phone calls from the car on my way to and from work. I catch up on Criminal Minds while I do the dishes and clean up the kitchen.

How to Break Up With Your Phone

3. Learn to Say No

I know. Everyone says this. I mean this a little differently though. I had to learn to say no to myself. Sounds counterproductive right? Isn’t the point of this post to take back my own time and stop wasting my time?

Look back at my priorities. Jesus. Family. Adventure. You’ll notice only one of those priorities has anything to do with me, and it’s the last one on the list. I had to learn to say no to myself because my own selfish desires are not part of my priorities. My own selfish desires are what got me stuck in the cycle of life-wasting to begin with.

Action Task: Write down every hobby you have ever tried, want to try, or have thought about trying. Everything. If you’re anything like me, this will be a very long list. Then, look back at your list of priorities. Highlight the hobbies that match up with these priorities. You probably won’t highlight very many. From the highlighted segment, choose one or two hobbies to focus on right now. Yes, you can absolutely try all of these hobbies throughout your life. But try to stick to a couple at a time. This will help you stop spreading yourself too thin.

I choose to put others before myself. I choose to not get sucked into every single new hobby or new tv show or new plan I want to try. Before I made this decision, I was famous for starting a million projects all at once and finishing none of them.

My fiance used to get so annoyed with me because I would decide on a whim that I wanted to try quilting, and I’d go out and buy all the stuff to start quilting and then I’d give it up a few days later. I did this with everything. (Hello, $200 keyboard sitting in my living room that hasn’t been touched since the week I bought it.)

That life isn’t sustainable. You can try out every hobby on the planet, but all you’ll get is a bunch of half-finished projects and nothing to actually show for it.

Now, I’ve created a better system. When I want to try a new hobby, I make myself wait. I research it. I try to find a place to try it out before I commit to it. With blogging, I spent years trying it out. I’ve had three other blogs before this one: all of them were on free hosting sites and none of them lasted more than a couple weeks. I waited until I was ready to commit for the long haul before investing.

My current hobbies are blogging (I still consider this a hobby, but I do plan to create an income from my blog in the future) and photography. Blogging meets my priorities because I run a Christian blog that helps me to share Jesus with other people and it helps keep me accountable. I have to know Jesus to be able to share him. Photography helps my priorities because I take photos of family for big events, like my brother’s prom or my sister-in-law’s homecoming, and I also make more of an effort to go on adventures because I want to find more interesting places to take pictures.

So, moral of the story: learn to say no to yourself. Your time is precious. You cannot do everything. Yes, you should absolutely try new things, and yes, you should absolutely gain new skills throughout your life. But if you’re struggling to commit to anything, it might be a good idea to start waiting before jumping into every new idea that pops into your head.

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Take Back Your Time and Stop Wasting Your Life

Set Goals to Create a Life You Love

The second way to stop wasting your life is to set goals. Goals are scary. I never used to set goals because I was so afraid of failing them. When I tried to set goals, they ended up being huge, non-specific, nearly impossible to achieve in my current situation goals, like learning Piano in three months or writing an entire novel.

I had severe goal-phobia. Eventually, I started creating “bucket lists.” I have a million and one bucket lists laying around my apartment. I create bucket lists for everything. Each season gets its own bucket list. Each year gets its own bucket list. I have hundreds of lifetime bucket lists I’ve written and rewritten and trashed and changed my mind about and rewritten again.

My bucket lists gave me hope. I didn’t have to commit to anything on a bucket list. You can’t really fail a bucket list. These are things I hope to do, but not things I’ve committed to doing. Much less scary than a goal.

I still create bucket lists because I love them. Now, though, I take these bucket lists and I turn them into real, actionable goals.

Honestly, I’m not great at this yet. This is the hardest part for me. I have a tendency to give up fairly easily, especially if I lose interest in something. But I actively strive to create goals and stick to them, and I don’t let it destroy my motivation if I don’t meet a goal.

Action Task: Write your lifetime bucket list. You can have as many or as few items as you want. I always try to make sure I have a variety of items on my list: some are easy (like watching a sunrise,) some are a little harder  and take some planning (like visiting all fifty states,) and some may never happen unless I make a serious effort or get really lucky (like visiting all seven continents). Write down your list and put it next to your priorities list. (If you want, you can use this template I created to make your bucket list stand out!)

Okay, you’ve got your bucket list. This is essentially your whole ideal life mapped out. Now, turn a few items into goals.

Start small. It’s really hard to create a lifetime goal with actionable steps right away, like writing five bestselling novels or something. Start with something doable to give you momentum, like paying off your credit card or reading the entire Bible. Neither of these is a small task,  but they are easily transformed into a goal.

Action Task: Pick one goal for this year. Of course, you can have more than one goal per year, and you absolutely should, but for the purposes of this task, choose one for now. As an example, we’ll use “read the entire Bible.”

Next, break that up into each month. Maybe you want to break up your Bible reading into books. There are 66 books in the bible, so you could choose to read 5.5 books a month, but some books are really long and some are really short. So maybe you decide to break it up differently. Maybe you choose to read two books a month through the old testament and the gospels and then you read through a bunch of Paul’s letters in one month. Or maybe you need a whole month to get through Psalms. It doesn’t matter how you break up your goal as long as it works for you.

Keep breaking down that goal until you have a daily plan. It should look something like this: I plan to read X amount of chapters a day so that I’ve completed one Old Testament book every other week. Once I hit the New Testament, I’ll plan to read 4-5 of the shorter books a week.

Then, write it down.

Stop Waiting for the Next Life Step

One of the biggest reasons I was wasting so much time was my constant state of waiting for the next step. Waiting to graduate high school. Waiting to finish college. Waiting to get married. Waiting to move states. Waiting to get a better job. Waiting for vacation or the weekend or a holiday. Waiting in line or on long car rides or in a parking lot because I tend to show up unnecessarily early to everything (it’s a gift and a curse.)

You can’t always be moving around, and you shouldn’t be. There will be times in your life that are “in-between.” Times of rest, times of patience. That doesn’t mean you should spend all of that waiting time scrolling through Instagram to make the time go by faster.

I am so guilty of this. I get so excited about things, that I can’t focus on anything else. All I want is to get to that next step. The problem is, once I get to that step, I’ve spent so much time waiting for it, that I quickly lose interest and want the next step and the cycle repeats. I wasted a lot of high school waiting for college, and then I wasted all of college waiting to get married and then I wasted most of my engagement waiting to move states. I spent years of my life just waiting.

It’s so easy to do, but it’s detrimental to your fulfillment of life.

Action Task: I bet you can list out a million reasons why you can’t do the things you want to do. Go ahead, try it. Write down every excuse you can think of.

I don’t have enough money.

I don’t live in the right area.

I need a friend to do it with me.

I don’t have all the right tools.

I don’t feel like it right now.

I’m not old enough.

Well, guess what. You’ll never be ready. And even if you suddenly meet all of those requirements on your list, you’ll suddenly want something new that you feel like you can’t have. You don’t need a lifestyle change. You need a mindset change.

Take all those excuses you just wrote down and shred them. Rip them up. Throw them away. They don’t matter.

What does matter is you.

Only you can choose to live in your every day. Only you can decide to stop waiting to live your life until the conditions are perfect because guess what? They’ll never be perfect. (Read this post to see how I changed my mindset and decided to start living in the present instead of the future.)

Make that decision today. Look at your priorities. Look at your bucket list. Look at your goals. These are the things that are important to you. Remember these things. Don’t write them down and stick them in a drawer and wait for the right moment to take them back out. Use them right now. Start today.

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Take Back Your Time and Stop Wasting Your Life

Don’t Waste Your Life!

Life is way shorter than you think. You don’t have forever. You’re not even guaranteed tomorrow. You have right now. You can spend today waiting and wishing for something that might not come for another five, ten, or twenty years, or you can start living right now.

I’ve outlined a number of ways to stop wasting your life in this post, and I’ve tried to create shareable resources for every step of the process. I have been here. I know what it’s like to realize you’ve wasted years of your life, and I know how scary that feeling is. I want to help you take your life back and start living for real.

You might also be interested in:

Five Steps to Using Your Phone Less

How to Change Your Life This Spring

Choosing the Right Life For You

Surrendering Your Life When God Kills Your Dreams

What’s the next step? That’s up to you. I’ve given you the tools I used to revive my life. I hope they help you as much as they helped me. Wasting your life is a regrettable, but easily fixed problem that a lot of people struggle with. Don’t fall into the trap.

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