If there’s one thing Laura Vanderkam has learned from studying how successful people manage their time, it’s the importance of prioritization.
As in: It’s not that you can’t find time to exercise, or meet a friend for coffee, or respond to that client email from six weeks ago, or whatever – it’s that you haven’t made time for those things.
Enter the forward-looking performance review. In her recent TED Talk, Vanderkam says you can write one for your professional life and one for your personal life (the personal one can take the form of a hypothetical holiday card). The goal is to figure out what your priorities are and then work backwards to craft a schedule around them.
Here’s Vanderkam on the professional performance review:
“I want you to pretend it’s the end of next year. You’re giving yourself a performance review, and it has been an absolutely amazing year for you professionally. What three to five things did you do that made it so amazing? So you can write next year’s performance review now.”
Next, Vanderkam says, you’ll want to “break these [goals] down into doable steps.”
Do you need to write a pitch for a project? Submit it to your boss? Assemble a task force of coworkers? Now you’re empowered to make time for those tasks in your daily schedule.
The forward-looking performance review is an extension of Vanderkam’s core argument that we have more time on our hands than we think: 168 hours every week, to be precise. (In fact, one of Vanderkam’s books is titled “168 Hours.”)
One of the best ways to figure out just how much “extra” time you have – a.k.a. time that’s unaccounted for – is to keep a time log.
The real question is whether you’re going to use those extra hours to clear out your inbox or to work on that big project. Or, in the case of your personal life, whether you’re going to browse Facebook or take that online course you’ve been meaning to enroll in for months now.
Vanderkam is careful to note that making time for your priorities won’t necessarily be easy:
“I know this is going to be more complicated for some people than others. I mean, some people’s lives are just harder than others. It is not going to be easy to find time to take that poetry class if you are caring for multiple children on your own. I get that. And I don’t want to minimize anyone’s struggle.”
But mapping out your priorities in advance gives you a better shot at carving out even half an hour of time every day to work on them.
Says Vanderkam: “In 168 hours a week, I think we can find time for what matters to you.”