Time spent vs time invested

How do you spend your average day?

When I make the decision to take on a new client, finding out the answer to this question is one of my first priorities. I need to know if you’re spending all your time tackling the day-to-day, or if you’re actually setting aside time to focus on ‘Future You.’

Here’s what I’ve noticed, time and time again, over the course of my career: so many people have these big future plans, but their calendars don’t reflect that. They want their lives to be different, but they don’t invest the necessary time and energy into moving themselves forward.  

Part of the blame for this lies in the myth that, in order to achieve your goals, you need to make a million dramatic changes all at once. But investing time in ‘Future You’ doesn’t need to take up all your time – or break the bank. It can be as simple as making a phone call, or signing up for a conference, or reading a chapter of this book. Manifesting ‘Future You’ happens one small action at a time. 

Think about it like this: there are 168 hours in a week. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, or how much money you make. We all have 168 hours. It’s how you invest those hours that can make all the difference in the world.  

So, how do I find out how my new clients are actually spending their 168 hours? 

I get them to write down what they’re doing every minute of every day for five days. 

And yes, I truly mean every minute. 

You know when you went on Instagram at 11:23 for a quick scroll while sipping your coffee, and then 38 minutes later you were still scrolling? Yeah, I want to see that. You know that 20-minute meeting that turned into a 90-minute meeting? I want to see that, too. When you’re answering emails, I want to know what they were about. What was the outcome? Were they necessary? Why or why not? 

I also want to know if you took breaks. Did you go outside for lunch? Did you meet friends? Did you exercise? All of this is invaluable data.  

And no, it’s not a popular activity (by Day 3, I usually get a text message saying something along the lines of: “how much longer do I have to keep doing this?”) But as the expression goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And those who see this homework assignment through to the end definitely get stronger once they see the results. 

It’s incredibly eye-opening to see, in black and white, how you’re spending your time every day. 

More often than not, my question for people at the end of this exercise, once I’ve had some time to look over their data, is this: where in your schedule is your thinking time? Where is your time to focus on ‘Future You’?

The truth is that when we create space for reflecting and imagining and strategizing, everything changes; this is by far the number one thing I hear from clients once they’ve gotten into the habit of setting aside daily thinking time.

They also say things like: 

“I have more energy.”

“I’m getting opportunities I’ve never gotten before.”

“It makes me feel alive knowing I’m moving toward my vision.” 

I wonder – is anyone likely to say any of these things after spending all afternoon attached to their phones, answering a seemingly endless tidal wave of calls, texts, and emails? 

I don’t mean to suggest that social media is all bad, mind you. The technology we have at our fingertips today is amazing, and it comes with many benefits. Those who play at a whole other level, however, got there because they knew the importance of being intentional with their time. And sometimes, that means turning off your phone for a while.  

People often tell me I’m creative, but I don’t think I’m creative at all. I think I just have good habits; habits like writing down ‘five crazy ideas that might just work.’ Most of them don’t, but some of them turn out to be my biggest offerings. All because I started putting down my phone once a day. 

This idea was initially a bit of a tough sell for Kevin Cassidy, the founder and owner of a leading commercial asphalt paving company in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Now, Kevin is an incredible guy. He built his $10-million company from scratch, and he has a team that loves and respects him. He has a brilliant business mind; he’s one of those guys who sees opportunities everywhere. But for a long time, he wasn’t accountable to anyone. When he first came to me for help, he said he needed some focus and direction. He had reached a certain point in his career from relying on the skills and habits he had cultivated long ago, and he didn’t know how to get to the next level. 

After reading the data supplied to me by Kevin from his five-day self-tracking adventure, I realized he had the same problem a lot of my clients had. He had no thinking time baked into his schedule. 

After some back-and-forth, he agreed to start turning off his phone between 3 o’clock and 4 o’clock every day. This would be his time to focus on Future Kevin, and nothing else. 

Like any coach worth his salt, of course, I wasn’t going to let him off that easy. A few days into his challenge, I texted him around 3:15 and asked if he had a minute to chat. He said “sure”, so I gave him a call. When he picked up, I responded: “What the hell are you doing?” He groaned. “Busted,” he said. 

A couple of days later, a package arrived for Kevin at his office in Boston. In it, he found a lockbox and a note. It read: “Kevin, you’re to put your phone in this lockbox and lock it up every day from 3-4 o’clock. Take the temptation away.” 

He’s been a devoted undertaker of dedicated thinking time ever since, and he’s the first one to say what a blessing it’s been in his life.

Change can be really uncomfortable. But it’s the only way we grow. And change is only possible when we commit to it, in a lot of little ways, every single day. 

Takeaway Tip:

Ask yourself: How much time do I invest in my future vision every day? How much time do I invest with my phone off every day?

Then, start with 20 minutes a day. 

Turn your phone off, ask yourself a question you don’t know the answer to (example from a client: how can I make an extra $1,500 a month without leaving my apartment?) and turn it into a research project. Alternately, look back at your answers to the 10 essential questions from Chapter 5 and choose one to work on.