How to Make Time
Deadlines and daily chaos are the enemy of long-term thinking—we convened to find ways to create space to think
When you’re struggling to keep up with the day-to-day demands of an unrelenting news cycle, it can feel impossible or even frivolous to spend time on self reflection. But it’s more important than ever to carve out space to think proactively about the shape of our work and how we take care of ourselves in the midst of it. Pursuing a deeper understanding of our goals, motivations, and patterns can transform our work and our lives. It helps us change direction when we feel stuck and allows us to identify the warning signs of burnout before we’re completely gutted.
Knowing that, but also knowing how difficult it is to actually make time for that sort of introspection, Millie Tran and I decided to lead a session at SRCCON:WORK. We wanted to carve out time for goal setting and reflection, and brainstorm specific ways to incorporate long-term thinking into our daily lives. Here are some of the things we learned.
What Do You Want?
We started the conversation by taking time to reflect on goals and areas for growth. We used an exercise that I learned from a former editor: more of, less of, eliminate. It’s a framework I’ve used over the years to reflect on what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to change.
You can adapt this structure in whatever way works for you. The point is to have a simple and consistent way to check in with yourself about how things are going. Do you have five minutes right now? Try it out:
More of: What do you want to be doing more of? What energizes you? In the last year, which projects felt the most fulfilling and creatively satisfying?
Less of: What do you want less of in your life? These may be the things that deplete you, or that have gotten out of balance. Maybe you used to love speaking at conferences, but now you find yourself more drawn to family time and quiet weekends. What dials need to be adjusted?
Eliminate: Sometimes figuring out what you want is a process of elimination. What doesn’t work for you? Is there anything that needs to be completely cut out of your life and work? This is the stuff that can really cue you into what needs to change. Is there work that you dread every single time? Are there aspects of your life or career that make you feel smaller, or further away from yourself?
This exercise, or your version of it, is a helpful thing to return to at regular intervals. As we change and grow so do our goals and desires, but it’s easy to lose track of what we want when we don’t check in.
Making It Happen
The rest of our session was spent brainstorming actionable ways to incorporate more reflection and self-care into our schedules. Here are just a few of the ideas that the group shared:
- Living out your values. What do you value most? What do you want your life to look like? Knowing the answers to those questions can help you hone your vision. Your idea of a successful life might not match society’s, and that’s very okay.
- Time tracking. Now that you’ve identified your values, do your priorities and values match how you’re actually spending your time? By tracking how you spend your time (there’s an app for that), you can help identify things that need to shift.
- First 20 minutes. Spend the first 20 minutes of your day doing whatever is most helpful for you to feel organized. For some folks, that meant making a to-do list and prioritizing the day. Others talked about clearing out their inboxes and starting from a clean slate. Figure out what helps you feel prepared to tackle the day and create a ritual out of it.
- Ego boost folder. When things are hard, it’s helpful to remember why you do what you do. A touching reader email. The rave review from your boss last year. Compliments, things that make you smile, words of love and affirmation—keep them filed away in a folder or doc that you can revisit when you’re feeling frustrated or ineffective.
- Buddy system reminders. Have a trusted friend or partner leave self-care reminders on your calendar. Yes, you can also add them to your own calendar, but you might feel more motivated to (drink water/take a water/eat dinner) if someone else reminds you. Find a friend or friends who will be an accountability partner.
- Schedule a personal inventory day. Once a month, take a day to get your life in order. Review your goals, reflect on where your time is going, and take care of life-maintainence tasks. We also talked about scheduling an hour or 30 minutes every week to reflect on how the week went, review your goals, and set intentions for the week to come.
- Invest in a self-care fund. This could take the form of a f*ck off fund, or a little extra set aside for treating yourself when things are particularly stressful.
- Say no. A theme that came up repeatedly is the importance of learning to set boundaries and saying no to things we don’t want.
- Develop a gratitude practice. Multiple people mentioned the benefits of cultivating gratitude. In addition to reflecting on what isn’t working for you, what are you grateful for? What moments, large and small, made your day better?
Do you have other ideas? How have you balanced self care and long-term thinking with day-to-day demands?
Kaeti Hinck is an editor at The Washington Post, where she leads an award-winning visual journalism team and explores the intersection of technology, design, and narrative. Before joining the Post in 2016, she worked as design director of the Institute of Nonprofit News. At INN, she helped design and build open source products to support independent publishers. For more than a decade she has been exploring the power of visual communication and technology in newsrooms. Outside of work, you’ll likely find her reading under a blanket, searching for the perfect breakfast sandwich, and spending as much time in the woods as possible.