Most of us want to live a meaningful life. But if we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes we struggle to do this well. Maybe you just spent the past two hours watching bad TV or zoning out on social media. How can we begin to live our lives with more meaning and purpose?
List #1: How Do You Spend Your Time?
One practice I have found helpful is to create two lists. On the first list, write what you currently spend your time doing each day. You might not even be aware of how you spend your time, so this task could take some effort. But it’s important to assess where you are at right now.
If you have a daily planner that is organized by the hour, write down everything you do from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed. Keep track of everything—even time spent on mundane tasks such as responding to email and checking social media.
What does your list look like? When I kept track of my time, I was shocked at the amount of time I spent on tasks that weren’t directly linked to my most important goals—responding to email, checking social media, reading articles on ESPN or CNN, etc. It was humbling to see where my time was actually going.
List #2: How Do You WANT to Spend Your Time?
On the second list, write down your ideal situation: How do you WANT to spend your time each day? Some of the activities are probably the same. For example, I still wanted to spend time working during my day, and exercising.
Some of the activities may be the same, but you want to do them for a shorter or longer time. For example, I still wanted to check social media each day, but I thought 15 minutes/day seemed like a good amount, rather than the 45 minutes/day that was currently in my schedule.
Some of your current activities may be totally absent from List #2 (e.g., a bad habit). You don’t want this activity in your life at all moving forward.
2 Key Questions
As you look at your lists, ask yourself 2 key questions:
What can I eliminate or reduce from List #1? The first step to change is awareness. You can’t change what you don’t recognize or notice. Now that you are aware of how you actually spend your time, what would you like to eliminate or reduce from List #1? What are you doing each day that is against your values? What are you doing each day that isn’t contributing to your most important goals? These activities are good targets for elimination or reduction.
What can I add each day (even in a small way) from List #2? List #2 involves all the things you would like to be spending your time on each day. What activity could you add from List #2 that would add meaning to your life? Remember to start small. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. I remember noticing that I wanted to spend time connecting with God each day. I could have made a goal to connect with God for an hour/day, but that would likely be too much, and I would probably have quit before too long. It was a better plan to set a goal to connect with God for five minutes/day at first, and see how that went.
Take Home Message
We all want to live a meaningful life. Sometimes we get caught up in big questions (e.g., What is my purpose??), but it is often more effective to get down to the nitty-gritty and evaluate the 2 lists.