by Gopi Kallayil: Gopi Kallayil shares how to prioritize your day to get more done…
No matter who it is making it, I always hear the same lament. CEOs of companies tell me they are overworked. Farmers back in my home village in southern India say they have no time. We can all complain that we are under the tyranny of schedules, that there is no time in our day. Each of us can say that much of our life is driven by someone else’s agenda or outside pressures—things we have to do, things we would like to do, things we are expected to do.
When I graduated from business school, I had a terrible time organizing my day. Seven days a week, work was my number-one priority. I fed on the thrill of accomplishments. I dashed to meetings, raced to meet flights, ate whatever food was given to me—airline food and conference food, which is terrible stuff. My house was a mess—stacks of bills that I was too busy to open, let alone pay, suitcases half unpacked from the last trip and partially packed for the next. A few times my phone was cut off or my credit card declined. Not because I didn’t have the money, but because I was trying to focus so much on my work and travel that I didn’t have the time to pay bills. It was embarrassing, as though I couldn’t take control of my own life. This chaos went on for quite a long time—almost a year—until I reached my breaking point, and started asking myself,
Why am I living this life? What is the purpose of it? What am I trying to do here? And what is the price I am paying? My life had become travel, bad food, and not enough exercise and meditation. And I realized that I had to reprioritize.
I asked myself, If I only had a few hours—or just one hour— fully under my control, what would be the one thing I would do with it that would maximize this quality of joy, presence, and life? What would support my five essentials on a day-to-day basis? I came up with ten items. As the list developed, the idea switched from a theoretical notion to a tactical way to structure my days that would support what’s important to me in my life, what resonates and brings me joy.
Your list of how to spend your hours in each day might contain different items with different priorities. My list has changed my life, and I’d like to share it with you.
1. Sleep at least 8 hours a night
If I had a few hours to spend as I wished, then the first choice I would make would be to spend those hours sleeping. Ideally for eight hours. Sleeping dictates how we feel physically and emotionally, which affects our level of joy. We violate that simple rule and the laws of nature can respond with ruthless brutality.
2. Eat Mindfully
We all know that what we put into our bodies can support or sabotage our well-being, our state of happiness, our joy, our energy, our health, how well we think, and our creativity. Conscious nutrition means we’re mindful of what we put between our lips. I’d love to say I’m 100 percent conscious all the time, but I’m not. I recall attending an official business dinner in my first job after college, and getting carried away with my business colleagues, bingeing on the free food and alcohol, and staying up late. Spicy Madrasi, Old Monk rum and Coke, and aloo parataha—talk about sabotage. I’ll never forget the embarrassment of nodding off the next day in a meeting with my boss and a senior executive of Indian Railways. Whether we grow our own food, cook our own food, or even just eat food made by somebody else—it’s important to choose and eat our food consciously and mindfully. So if I had just another 30 minutes to play with, I would shop mindfully and choose my meals with care.
3. Move Your Body
If I had another hour, or even less, I would pick exercise as my next-highest priority. Exercise fuels my physical and mental energy. Often when I’m traveling, I can’t fit in the full hour, so I might practice a bit of yoga, maybe three or four sun salutations on a towel in my hotel room, or squeeze in 30 laps in the small hotel pool. This method works for me. You might prefer another method. Whatever you do—swim, walk, run in the hills, practice yoga, dance, or play tennis—I think it’s essential to find a form of movement that delights you.
If I found another 20 minutes available, what would I choose? Meditation. My meditation practice guides me personally and sets the tone for the rest of the day. It fills me with joy and allows me to clear my head of noise and clutter, bringing a level of clarity to my mental processes that allows me to operate at peak performance. Often I have to get creative about my meditation, and I can’t always meditate before I begin my day. For example, since my job requires so much travel, I find time to meditate on the plane during those 15 minutes during takeoff, when all electronics are turned off, there is no service, and it’s very quiet.
5. Give Time To Those You Love
The next thing I added to my list was love—the thoughts and actions that generate love inside me, and giving time to those I love. Many might ask, “Shouldn’t love be number one on the list?” I’ve put it fifth, because if I’ve not slept well, eaten well, exercised, and then found time for a little bit of mindful meditation, I can’t be present and in a state of high energy and joy with myself or my loved ones. I can’t operate at an optimal and peak state of love. My philosophy is no different from that of the airlines. Think about what all flight attendants tell you before takeoff: “Put on your oxygen mask first before helping someone else.”
6. Complete Small Tasks
What is the one thing I would choose to focus on with my next chunk of time? Taking care of the stuff in my life. When I say “stuff,” I mean mail, dishes, and day-to-day chores that I need to take care of to keep my life running smoothly. These tasks aren’t urgent or life shattering, but if I let all of them pile up, they start interfering with how I feel and how I perform.
7. Focus At Work
The next item that made my simple list is work. Now, don’t tell my employer that my work ranks seventh. Many would put work at the top of the list, but I feel that if I take care of numbers one through six, I’m a much better performer, I deliver a higher quality of work in less time, and I find my work much more fulfilling. Give it a try. I think you’ll find that everyone benefits. You benefit, your company benefits, your co-workers benefit, and your boss should be super happy.
8. Spend Time On Passions
If I had another hour left, the one thing I would do is focus on my passions. There are things that move me, things I do because I love them, not because I have to do them or I am going to make a living out of them (although my work is also one of my passions). I have many passions—public speaking, for example, teaching yoga, singing kirtan music. So if there is an hour left in my calendar, then I put it into my passions.
9. Learn New Things
10. Be Of Service
If I were lucky enough to have any time left, I would spend that time in acts of service to my community, acts that draw my energy outward. For me, that time might be teaching my yoga class at Google, simply hosting my friends for a cup of tea or dinner at home, or organizing an art project for the Burning Man community. You might work with your church, or volunteer at your kids’ school, or help out at a shelter. Or maybe you devote your time to an act that’s less structured, such as taking the time to reach out and call a friend you have not spoken with in a long while, or practicing random acts of kindness to connect with others, creating a sense of community.
Incorporating this list into my daily life shapes how I feel as a human being, and it increases my focus and sense of accomplishment. I become more conscious of investing my time in a manner that maximizes my energy potential. Once you create your list and start following it, once you consciously spend your 24 hours each day, I believe you will enjoy increased physical energy and operate at a higher level of performance and productivity. You will alter your perception of time and change how you view what you should focus on. And most important, you will live a life of greater joy and presence.