Personal development is time consuming. Reading at least a book each week, changing habits and conditioning your mind and body definitely take a lot of time. These investments are necessary to create the long-term growth and improvement you seek. But just as it is easy for Warren Buffet to tell you to start investing your money, for someone who has very little time and energy currently, following the personal development advice of someone who has achieved a high degree of energy and time management control can seem overwhelming.
Recently I received a message from a reader who asked how she could focus on personal development while being starved for time. This woman was working full time and had a newborn child. She noted that she liked many of the articles and ideas I had written about but felt that many of my suggestions were simply too time consuming for her to pursue. She asked me what thoughts I could offer for personal development for someone starved for time. I think this is an issue that plagues many people, so I’d like to share my thoughts on how someone can pursue personal development when they are starved for time.
The Time Lie
Most of us tell ourselves the time lie every day. This lie has become so ingrained into our language, conversations and thinking that many people now believe it is a factual truth rather than a complete falsity. People make use of this lie so much that they seem taken aback and even offended when you point out that it is incorrect. The lie is fairly simple. It is the lie that says we do not have enough time.
How can you possibly have more or less time? Every single person on this planet has twenty four hours in every day, seven days in a week and 365 day each year, except for a bonus at the end of every fourth February. The use of this time lie is so prolific in our society that we use it without notice. Time is a constant. You can’t have any more or less than anyone else. In this sense we really are all created as equals.
When you say you don’t have enough time you really mean that it isn’t important or urgent enough to you. The reason you don’t pursue personal development has nothing to do with some bizarre construct of the space-time continuum that prevents you from having the same amount of time as anyone else. It has to do with your priorities. If something feels both urgent and important to you, you will do it.
This may seem like a simple language change, but it is far more than that. In many cases your assessment of, “I don’t have enough time,” will indicate that it isn’t important enough to you. But often the time lie is used as an excuse to cover up our own fears, weaknesses or deceits that keep us from seeing the truth. In many cases, we say we don’t have enough time when we are really afraid or insecure. Stop using the time lie so you can start to see the truth.
Invest in Small Doses
I am not trying to sound condescending in my statement of the time lie. In many cases most of our time is focused on survival. If supporting your family to provide basic necessities is using up most of your time, then that is more important than personal development. If we look at Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs we can see that survival needs like shelter and food must come before the highest need of self-actualization (or personal growth). If this is your situation, that is okay, there are still methods you can use to invest small doses of personal development towards your future even if you are struggling to keep up with your basic needs.
Personal development works on the magic of compound interest. What initially starts off as tiny increments of flow transforms into an incredibly powerful rush of progress and improvement. I have had more personal growth experiences in the past six months than I have likely had in the past five years of my life. Each investment I make today creates ripples of improvement that echo far into the future. I get excited just thinking about how the investments I make today will grow in the future.
Start your investment with the largest investment that you can regularly commit. If you can only commit an hour a week towards personal development consistently, then make that your regular investment. If one book every two months is all you can manage, make that your investment. Although these investments may not seem large enough to be fruitful, even small investments can compound for future growth. Just ensure that the investment is regular and consistent, even when it does not seem to be paying off. With such a small investment it may seem easy to dismiss it one week to the next. When this happens you have trapped yourself to struggle for your basic needs forever.
My favorite example of the power of small investments comes from the movie, The Shawshank Redemption. In the movie, the main character Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, is falsely convicted of a double homicide. When the corrupt prison warden secretly executes the only man who has evidence of Andy’s innocence, something changes inside Andy. There is a famous scene in the movie where Andy is talking to his friend Red, played by Morgan Freeman. Andy tells Red that you should either, “Get busy living or get busy dying.” The next day Andy does not come out of his prison cell during the morning roll call.
Andy had escaped from Shawshank after nineteen years of imprisonment. Using a dull chisel and hammer he had spent the past nineteen years cutting a hole through the several feet of solid concrete separating him from the outside world. As Red later comments, “I thought it would take a man a hundred years to break through that wall. Andy did it in less than twenty.” Small investments don’t just mean a lot, they mean everything.
One Step at a Time
With very little time, how can you possibly implement all of the suggestions I offer in this blog? In over sixty articles I cover a lot of ideas that each have the potential to powerfully impact your life. These are the lessons that have positively shaped my life that I try to share. For someone with very little time this can be pretty daunting, how can I possibly hope to do 1% of all the ideas I have for improvement. To this I have a very simple answer. You can’t.
You can never hope to take on even 1% of all the areas for improvement you could pursue. And the truth is that the more you grow, the more opportunities for growth you find. I have thousands of options and routes for growth and improvement. I am drowning in possible choices for how I could improve myself personally and I believe that is fantastic.
Regardless of how much time you have to invest your mind must become very adept at isolating the specific messages and ideas that you believe would be the most effective. The potential for human growth is near infinite. I can provide you with the ideas that I have found effective and have helped me but, chances are, they will not be the same lessons that help you most. I can provide you with more options and choices, but the resources you use to act on these choices must come from you.
Isolate just one specific focus of your own growth and work on it. This is why setting goals is so important. By setting goals you are deciding to focus your energies on one specific area of improvement at a time so that they will be effective. There are so many things I am eager to try and experiment with but I am currently occupied with something else. Goals allow me to put my excitement on hold so that I can focus on one idea long enough to become meaningful.
Focus on Time and Energy Management
If you are having a hard time making personal development a priority, then it would probably be a good idea to focus your personal development almost exclusively on how you can get more control. In this case you need to directly invest the benefits you receive from your development back into the process of personal development. This method acts like a wedge, carefully breaking open the floodgates to let the real opportunities for improvement flow in.
Go pick up some books on organization and time management. Use your time to read through them and focus on applying just a few ideas you glean from them per month. This investment will pay off by increasing the available time you have to expend. Most of the techniques for improving your time are pretty basic, but each author provides a unique vantage point and perspective that can improve the way you do things.
I point out energy management because it is especially critical in today’s world. Often when we think we are starved for time we are really low on energy. Disorganization and poor productivity are often the direct result of poor energy management rather than poor time management. Emphasizing your own physical, mental and emotional energy reserves can give you the energy to use your time management skills more effectively.
Personal Development is Your Responsibility
Life is brutal in this regard. Life doesn’t care that you couldn’t find the time to invest in personal development or improvement, the result is the same. The buck has to stop with you. Whether or not external factors are making it difficult or impossible for you to pursue personal development is completely irrelevant in terms of the final outcome.
Don’t worry about the things you can’t control and focus on what you can. This is what Steven Covey refers to as the Circle of Influence. By focusing on the time you can wrestle away from external circumstance you can use that as a wedge to drive more time and resources under your control. If you focus, instead, on how unfortunate you are for lacking the proper resources your ability to control those resources will diminish.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Why creates the how. Having a strong enough why will create the necessary how. The creative and intellectual powers of your mind lie dormant unless there is need to call upon them. If you have a strong enough why to pursue personal development, the how will come naturally. With a feeble why you will struggle to find time to try even the most basic tools for self-improvement.
You don’t need a lot of time to pursue personal development. Even a small dose of improvement can create lasting results. Stop using the time lie and you can break through the excuses you use to avoid improving yourself. Focus on consistent and small steps will create slow but noticeable long-term gains. Improving time management skills can give you a greater control over the time you already have. Finally, by accepting responsibility for your own life and improvement and you can break through the biggest barriers of all.