Friday, August 27, 2010

Investing in yourself pays off in fulfillment, satisfaction

I never realized how precious time was until I had children. For instance, where I once showered with leisure, I now consider it a good day if I can make it through a shower without someone pounding on the door or trying to peel back the curtain while I’m shaving my legs. In fact, some days even getting a shower is a triumph.

From the moment I wake up, someone, somehow, is demanding my attention. Our needy basset hound wants a drink, or to go outside, or to come inside. Meanwhile, a child wants a snack, a piece of gum, a tissue, a puzzle, a pencil sharpened—the list is seemingly endless.

It can be easy to live by what a friend calls “the tyranny of what has to be done.” Bills need to be paid, laundry done, dinner served, bathtubs scrubbed, checkbooks balanced, whether you’re like me with small children, or in any other season of life.

In truth, time is a lot like money. If you don’t have a plan for how you want to use it, you can easily end up squandering it. Or at the very least, you can misallocate it, spending it in ways that ultimately bring more frustration than satisfaction.

By carving out time for activities that make your life better, you lay the groundwork for increased happiness and a greater sense of fulfillment. You won’t be so apt to get bogged down in all of life’s have-tos. In other words, deciding on specific ways to use your time allows you opportunities to invest in yourself. And in so doing, you capitalize on your best asset: you.

Take a few minutes and consider how you are using your time right now. Are you happy with the tenor of your days? If not, what can you do differently to budget your time more effectively? What do you like best about your days? What do you like least? What would you like more than anything else to accomplish?

Once you’ve decided what you want, then you can look for ways to free up time to do it. A friend buying a new house, for instance, has decided he won’t get cable when he moves. He wants to invest the time he used to spend watching television on taking MBA classes. He’ll also be able to use the money he saves to help pay for his education.

To help me make better use of my time and focus on ways I can invest in myself, I made a list of 36 things I want to do before I turn 36. The list runs the gamut from reading Anna Karenina to learning better photography skills, to making time to go dancing, to cleaning out and organizing my freezer. Some activities on my list, such as tackling the freezer, will pay dividends in the future. An organized freezer leaves me more room for make-ahead meals, which frees me up to enjoy the company of my family in the evening, instead of scurrying to get dinner on the table.

It took some effort to make the list, but I’m already reordering my days to accomplish what I want to do. I’ve replaced the usual stack of design magazines on my side table with a hulking copy of Anna Karenina, and I’ve started using up the 10 pounds of rhubarb in my freezer to make way for this year’s harvest. And finishing each item on this to-do list will be a pleasure. I’ll be richer for the skills I’ve learned, books I’ve lingered over, and moments I’ve taken to simply enjoy life.

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