Living on Borrowed Time
This quick time-management exercise will show you exactly where you’re spending the 168 hours of your week.
Fam Pract Manag. 2001 Feb;8(2):66.
Achieving life balance requires skills that are not part of the training most physicians demands of your career and your private life requires that, at a minimum, you identify how you currently allocate your time and then assess how well that allocation aligns with your personal values and priorities. Only then can you really determine where changes need to be made. The following exercise will help you determine exactly where you’re spending your time and how you would like to reallocate it in the near future.1
Current time commitments
Begin by determining the total number of hours per week you spend on each of the activities listed below. Note that “maintenance activities” span all roles and include anything that is necessary to your life but doesn’t exactly add value (e.g., paying bills, house/car maintenance). As you fill out the list, consider all of the time you spend on each activity. For example, the category “work/career” should include the time you spend commuting to and from work and all work activities including office visits, hospital rounds, consultations, phone calls, paperwork, doing committee work, reading medical literature, doing research, teaching students, etc.
How many hours do you currently spend per week doing the following:
_____ Personal activities
_____ Couple activities
_____ Family activities
_____ Friends activities
_____ Work/career activities
_____ Community activities
Next, determine the percentage of time you spend per week on each activity by dividing the number of hours you assigned to each category by 168. Then divide the “Current commitments” circle below into pieces that correspond in size with the percentages. This will give you a clearer picture of how you are currently allocating your time. Are you satisfied with what you see in the pie chart? Is it consistent with your inner values?
Reallocating your time
Now revisit the list of activities above, this time thinking about the way you’d like to redistribute your time over the next six months to two years. Once you’ve determined the new percentages, use the circle below labeled “Future commitments” to create a second pie chart reflecting the changes you’d like to make.
Remember, there are only 168 hours in a week, so if you need more time for one activity, you’re going to have to borrow it from another. Think creatively.
Effective time management must be approached diligently with an honest appraisal of your personal values and priorities. It also requires a deep commitment to specific change and support from friends, a spouse and/or mentors to keep you on track.
Now that you’ve completed this exercise, select one area of your life (personal, couple, family, friends, work or community) where you feel you’re ready to make a change. Identify an action you can take within the next seven days to move you toward that change (e.g., “I will walk briskly for two miles three times a week before work, starting tomorrow.”), decide where you will get the time to make it possible, and share it with someone who will hold you accountable. Ask them to check your progress in a week or two. If you’re successful after a few weeks, choose another area and another action. Keep building more changes into your life slowly and reassess your progress every few months. Good luck!
1. The exercise has been adapted with permission from FM Hudson, PD McLean. Life Launch: A Passionate Guide to the Rest of Your Life. Santa Barbara, Calif: Hudson Press, 2000.
Copyright © 2001 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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