Grab a pencil.
Create a grid with an x (horizontal) and y (vertical) axis.
Label the x axis “Time” and the y axis “Meaning”
Now begin to plot the major activities in your life – both professional and personal – on the grid.
For example, I spend a lot of time on email – and generally get little meaning or value from it. Conversely, I get a tremendous amount of meaning from writing and spend comparatively less time doing so.
As you begin to populate your grid, see if you notice any patterns in the various quadrants.
Ideally you may find a lot of activities in the upper right – which would mean you’re spending a lot of time on activities that provide you with a lot of meaning. Conversely, the lower right represents be a lot of time on activities that give you little meaning.
If there are a lot of activities that are in the upper left, this might suggest that you’re spending a small amount of time on those activities that mean a lot to you (see my writing example above).
The lower left represents those activities that you spend a little bit of time on but have little meaning – which might suggest an appropriate proportion. After all, we all have things we have to do that are relatively meaningless. Best to get in and out as quickly as possible.
This simple mental exercise doesn’t even require pen and paper. Intuitively we can sense whether we’ve had a good or bad day depending upon how our time was spent.
Some days may feel good because most of your time was spent on just one meaningful activity (like doing something awesome with your family or friends.) Other days may feel good because we were productive and spent appropriately small pockets of time knocking off a series of meaningless tasks.
Those days that leave us frustrated are often marked by spending large chunks of time on meaningless work that doesn’t allow us to spend any time doing things we care more about.
While intuitive, this calculation is often done in retrospect. We are not always intentional in our plans for the day or someone else is setting our agenda. As a result we don’t spend our time doing what we value the most.
If you’re sensing your time/meaning grid is a bit out of whack, the choices are pretty clear. You can either change the way you use your time. Or you can look for ways to find more meaning in certain activities that perhaps don’t seem very meaningful to you right now.
This is not an exercise about improving productivity but perspective. It is giving us all permission to let others know what gives us purpose and meaning and then, hopefully spending more of our time accordingly.
May your time be filled with meaning today.