Do You Know What Your Priorities Are?

“I enjoy reading, I just don’t have the time.”

I’ve said the above many times over the years, particularly since having kids. People would ask if I’ve read Ready Player One or the Game of Thrones books and I would sheepishly have to admit that I haven’t (or crack a joke about waiting for the movie/TV series). In fact, I have a hard time remembering the last book that I read for pleasure. I started The Fountainhead a few years ago during a vacation, but never ended up getting back to it after the trip was over.

It’s not just reading. I’ve struggled to find time to exercise or cook homemade meals. The recurring theme is the lack of time to do things I want. And while saying I don’t have enough time is technically accurate, I’ve recently come to realize it’s not the right way to look at things. Not many people would claim to have enough free time to do everything they want. What it comes down to is not how much time that we have free, but how we prioritize using the time we do have. Whether we’re young or old, rich or poor, we all have 24 hours in a day to work with.

I came to this realization while playing Mass Effect: Andromeda early in the morning before my kids woke up. For months prior, I had hardly played any single player console/PC games (despite having games like Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void and The Witcher 3 on my backlog for over a year) because it never felt like I had the time to play them. However, as soon as I got hooked on a game like I was hooked on Andromeda, I found that I was able to make the time. I went to bed a half hour earlier and woke up an hour earlier a few days a week to get in some precious play time. I was a little more bleary-eyed those days and got a little less stuff done in the evenings, but the trade-off was worth it.

It’s not about how much time that we have free, it’s about how we prioritize using the time that we do have.

There’s an exercise that I started doing a few years ago in the midst of my despair over not having enough free time to do all the things I wanted. I was falling behind on all the TV shows I wanted to watch (curse you, Golden Age of TV), had a steadily growing backlog of video games that I wanted to play and was losing touch with friends. It felt like I was trying to juggle too many balls and was dropping all of them. The exercise was simple. The first step was to make a list of things I wanted to spend more time doing or things I wanted to start if I wasn’t currently doing them. The second step was to make a list of things that I was spending any significant time on over the course of a week, listing as many things as possible. For example: Some evenings I would sit on the couch and play a game on my phone for 15-20 minutes after putting the kids to sleep. That would go on the list. If I woke up before the kids some mornings, I might browse the internet for another 15 minutes. That also would go on the list. The point was to have as full an accounting of my time as possible.

The final step was easy: Compare.

The first time I did this exercise was eye opening. A sample of things that I found:

  • I rarely read any books for pleasure, and yet I found the time to beat games like Mass Effect: Andromeda, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
  • I struggled to find time to watch TV shows like Stranger Things or Marvel’s Netflix shows, but was able to squeeze in playing Gears of War or Heroes of the Storm online with my friends.
  • I never felt like I had time to cook at home, but that same lack of time didn’t stop me from being in six fantasy sports leagues and writing for Rampant Discourse.
  • I could not find time to work on some long gestating programming side projects, but there always seemed to be time to have friends come over to play board games several nights a month.
  • I found I was sinking hours each week into mobile games, despite only playing for 15-20 minutes at a time.

As a result of this exercise, I tried a few things to try to bring reality back in line with my priorities. Some were more successful than others. I stopped playing Clash of Clans after realizing I wasn’t really enjoying it anymore, and while the time I regained was negligible, I find that I don’t miss it at all. I also cut out my weekly Heroes of the Storm nights because, while I loved being able to play games online with my friends, I found myself enjoying their company more than the game itself. Now I enjoy their company during semi-weekly board game nights. Even small things like eating at my desk at work helped save some time during the day, which has allowed me more time to exercise (thank goodness for the Fool’s support of employee wellness). Less successful were my attempts to work on Rampant Discourse articles while my friends were taking their turns during board games (my wife put an end to that time saving attempt). In addition, after some careful consideration, I decided that I’m mostly okay with the apparent low priority that I give to reading books. With the way my life is right now, there just seems to be better ways of consuming information (hello, podcasts!) and better uses of my free time (hello, video game backlog).

So, why do I bring this all up? The New Year is once again upon us, and while I’m not a big New Year’s resolution person, now seems to be as good a time as ever to do another analysis of where I stand and where I would like to be. Here’s a quick recap of where I currently stand.

Things that consume a significant amount of my free time:

  • Time with family
  • Board games
  • Video games
  • Mobile games (primarily Marvel Puzzle Quest and Through the Ages)
  • Fantasy sports (four football leagues, two basketball and one baseball)
  • Exercise
  • Writing for Rampant Discourse

Things I do occasionally, but wish I did more frequently:

  • Cooking
  • Cleaning (the house is a mess)
  • Studying Japanese
  • Learning about investing
  • Watching TV (at least enough to finish Daredevil Season 1 finally)
  • Play basketball/ultimate frisbee

Things I don’t do at all and kinda wish I did:

  • Reading
  • Programming side projects
  • Go back to Tae Kwon Do to get my 2nd degree black belt

Two things jump out to me in terms of things I spend a lot of time on: mobile games and fantasy sports. While I enjoy both, I think it might be time to start cutting back on Marvel Puzzle Quest and scaling down from four football leagues to a more manageable number. Hopefully the MPQ time can instead be spent studying more Japanese (Duolingo is great), while less time spent poring over football match-ups should leave more time to learn about Amazon Web Services, Python and various APIs. Maybe I can even reduce the time I spend analyzing fantasy basketball trades and use that time to learn about valuation models.

Sadly, I think the others might end up taking a back seat for another year. After all, even though it sounds nice to say I’ll try to do all of the things on my wishlist, I know only the ones I prioritize will have a chance to happen.

What are your priorities for the new year?

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Paul Essen
Founder and Chief Discourse Officer at Rampant Discourse
Proud geek. Trekkie. Browncoat. Entil'Zha. First human spectre. Hokie. Black belt. Invests Foolishly. Loves games of all types and never has enough time to play as many as he wants. Libertarian who looks forward to the day he votes for a winning presidential candidate. Father to two beautiful daughters.

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