Five simple ways I get more than 24 hours in a day

getting things doneMy Year of Sagely Living began in earnest with the start of classes yesterday at 8:30am. This week is going to be a little different than future weeks because I haven’t yet started ALL of my classes, thus have less to study. This is balanced by the fact that I have a lot of little things to do (cashing refund checks, buying books, etc) – so my time commitment is pretty average.

Because of the fact that the real test of my YSL commitment for January will only last two weeks (first week of January I wasn’t in class, and now this odd week) I plan to continue it through February along with my February commitments. Additionally, I resolved this year to reinvigorate my “Getting Things Done” (GTD) system and keep on top of my organizational efforts.

You might be thinking, “Are you insane?” You might also be thinking I’m a bit of a braggart. Neither are true. Why am I attempting to do all of this? Because I see my four years in medical school as a golden opportunity to grow as much as I can. I will never have this kind of access to these professors again. I may continue mentoring relationships with some of them outside of the class context – but I will be a practicing physician by that time and will not have the same kind of sheltered opportunity to study.

So, I’m going to make the best of it. Regarding the braggart comment – I simply hope that by chronicling my efforts I can help other people to get through intellectually rigorous times in their lives. By serving as an example of both what to do and what not to do, maybe other people can succeed in their striving for excellence. I think a society of people doing that sounds like a pretty cool thing to be a part of – don’t you?

But, really, how do I find the time to do all of this? A few things are key:

1. I don’t watch television or spend significant time playing video games, randomly surfing the Internet or generally interacting with pop culture. If you’re in school for something you really care about, and yet you spend significant amounts of times on these activities, I feel that you need to re-evaluate what you’re doing. I don’t mean to sound harsh, and it’s perfectly possible that I’m dead wrong on this one. But when I hear that a fellow student has spent the entire evening watching television, and does so regularly, I find myself somewhat less compassionate when they fail exams.

If you’re in school to learn something, dedicate yourself to learning it. It’s only four (or however many) years. You’ll live. Personally, I watch movies or television shows on DVD on Saturday nights with my family. This allows me to experience that kind of recreation without allowing it to infringe on my true desire – to learn this medicine. It also serves as a “double duty” activity – explained below.

2. I compartmentalize my time in such a way that I spend time with the people I love, and doing the things that I love to do, but only at times that will not interfere with studying, going to class, or blogging. I think that scheduling and making very “hard edges” around your scheduled times is vital to accomplishing goals. This is certainly the case when your life is very busy – if you are going to school AND working AND having a family, for instance. All this means is that you create “boxes” of time for the places, people and things that you love. Sundays are for family in my house. I don’t work, I play.

I also spend time with my family around the dinner table each evening. We also watch movies together, as discussed before, on Saturdays. There are a few other short bursts of scheduled family time. Nothing changes this. Yet it is also understood that non-family time is for work, and that’s that. If this sounds restrictive to you, try it. For me, it enables a kind of giddy freedom. I never have to worry, when I’m working, that I’m not making time for my family. Because I have! When I’m hanging out with family, I never have to worry that I’m not getting my work done. It’s simple, really.

3. I’m constantly striving for higher and higher levels of organization and productivity, without fetishizing the tools and systems that allow me to achieve this. The most ironic thing in the personal productivity world is how much time people waste working, re-working, researching, discussing and generally fetishizing the systems that are supposed to make them more productive. This seems particularly the case when high technology becomes involved. Some systems are worth some work – GTD often takes a couple of days of pretty concentrated work to get figured out, for instance. But once I have my system set up, I stick to the system and leave it at that.

As improvements become available, I hear about them soon enough. If something seems attractive, I’ll try it at some point. But, I don’t spend all of my time reading blogs and books about productivity, messing around with my system to make it pretty or more efficient or talking in forums to other folks about my system. It is these systems that enable me to do what I do – I don’t lose track of things (often), I always know where I’m supposed to be and when, and I do things before they’re supposed to be done. All of this saves me a lot of mental energy that I would otherwise waste running myself in mental circles. I’m not perfect in my adherence to my systems, but I’m consistently getting better.

4. I try to make as many things do double duty as possible. As I mentioned above, I like to make different activities multi-purpose. For instance, I love to play games. I’m especially fond of strategy games, but love classics, card games… pretty much anything. Fortunately, my family likes to play games, too. So we spend time together doing this once a week and as much as we can on vacations. It’s wonderful bonding time and satisfies my need to play around.

Blogging is another example. By writing on this blog I’m doing a number of important and fun things. I’m sharing what I’m learning with others, I’m meeting new friends and building community, I’m creating a web presence for myself upon which I will build my eventual clinic website, I’m making a small amount of money with the potential for more and I’m often also studying (by writing articles on school related topics). It’s a high return activity!

5. I have an awesome family and tremendously understanding friends. I couldn’t do this without my family. We really help one another in a variety of concrete and intangible ways. My friends, also, are great for putting up with my frequent lapses of attention. In return, I try to be a supportive and caring person myself. I also try to practice giving 100% attention to them when they are in front of me. Funnily enough, this probably also does double duty in teaching me the skills necessary to be a good doctor, but I don’t focus on that.

About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

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