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Real Life Strategy Guide: Manage Your Time

I’ve been fairly effusive about the game Hay Day. (You probably haven’t noticed.  I’ve only mentioned it about 14 times in the last 6 weeks.)  The reason is that it’s a bit like running a business without any of the risk.  I get to feel like the most successful farmer of all time without needing to invest any real money.  It’s a game of strategy: what should I buy and what should I make in order to make the most money?  I am really fucking good at it.

If only “virtual farmer” was a coveted resume skill.

So I cracked up reading Oliver Emberton’s tongue-in-cheek strategy guide to real life, treating our daily existence like a virtual game a la Hay Day.  Except that buried underneath the humour is a really important idea that catapults people in both virtual games and actual life goals, and that is the point that success is deeply tied to an ability to manage your time wisely.  That time — not money, not popsicles (which sell for $352 for only 3 hours of work!), not talent or skill or education or who you know — is the most important resource to manage.

Emberton writes,

You might not realise, but real life is a game of strategy. There are some fun mini-games – like dancing, driving, running, and sex – but the key to winning is simply managing your resources.

Most importantly, successful players put their time into the right things. Later in the game money comes into play, but your top priority should always be mastering where your time goes.

It rings true that the ability to level up is using your time well.  That you level up in life faster not by forcing yourself into productivity, but in also leaving yourself time to dream and relax and have fun.  That using your time well doesn’t mean not wasting one minute.  It means finding that balance between work and play.  Between depleting and recharging.  Between the yeses and noes.

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell outlines his 10,000 rule, which is that in order to be successful, you need to dedicate 10,000 hours of what amounts to practice time to hit the top of your game.  He’s talking about lasting success.  Sure, there are flukes, where someone has been doing something for 30 hours and suddenly finds themselves with heaps of attention.  But the problem is that sort of success is not lasting success, and it can’t be recreated or sustained.  It’s the difference between having a viral post and having constant blog traffic.  I’m sure most of us would opt for the latter since it’s sustainable.  But according to Gladwell, the only way you get there is to plod along, hour after hour.

And the way you log those 10,000 hours is to say no.  A lot.

I am not the best no-sayer in the world.  I tend to say yes and kick myself a lot.  It is really hard to say no, mostly because I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of a no (or even worse, a lack of answer) and it feels like crap.  So I don’t want to make anyone else feel like crap.  But the problem with saying yes is that I’m dedicating myself towards someone else’s goals and not my own.  And that’s fine on a small basis, it’s necessary if we want to live in communities.  But I find myself getting into states where I’m not getting my own work done because I’m too busy doing someone else’s (or something that is beneficial to someone else, but not to me).  It’s one thing when it’s for the twins or Josh.  It’s another when it’s for a company that is looking for free publicity.

I’ve decided to start looking at life as I do virtual games.  Looking at the time I’ve collected, the resources I have, the work that still needs to get done, and my energy levels.  And saying yes or no accordingly.  Even though I’m really terrible at saying no.  I wish they would teach that in school: how to say no and not feel a gnawing sense of guilt that eats up your time anyway.

Are you good at saying no?  How do you do it without feeling guilty?


1 Nicoleandmaggie { 02.11.14 at 8:04 am }
2 a { 02.11.14 at 8:44 am }

Be generally unapproachable, don’t volunteer, and no one will ask you to do anything….thereby precluding the need to say no! That’s my strategy.

Also, I generally do an instantaneous cost/benefit analysis – if the cost is more than the benefit, then I can’t do it.

3 a { 02.11.14 at 8:46 am }

Also, I generally assume that if people’s goodwill (i.e. the benefit) is dependent on me being willing to do anything they ask, I don’t really need their goodwill. In other words, they won’t mind if I say no, as long as I say yes occasionally or when they really need it…and if they do mind, fuck ’em.

4 Heather { 02.11.14 at 9:39 am }

I can say no. It wasn’t always that way but it is now. I have my own priorities and things that matter to me and my family. Things that take my time. Other people have their own priorities and passions. I realized that if I say no to their request, they will find someone who will say yes. Someone who may be just as passionate as them about the need. So, I no longer feel guilty.
If someone comes to me in a desperate last resort kind of way, I will try to help. However, I feel like I’m enabling because they are usually in that bind because THEY didn’t manage their time well.
I’m not a great planner, in fact I suck at it, but when it comes to something I really want to help, do, or manage I make it my focus, I make time.

5 Sharon { 02.11.14 at 10:15 am }

Yes, I am good at saying no. The main reason is that, apart from a small group of friends and family, in general, I don’t care that much about the opinions of others. (I’m not saying that’s a *good* thing–because I really don’t think it is–but it’s the way I am.)

Saying no to things I don’t want to do or just don’t have time or energy for allows me to say yes to the things I really want to do or really value.

6 Mel { 02.11.14 at 11:09 am }

I think we’ve touched on something here: I care too much (and probably not in a healthy way) in how I am perceived pulling my weight within each community (family, friend groups, my town, etc). I volunteer sometimes not because I’m excited to volunteer, but because I want to have a clean conscience that I contributed somehow. I think that’s where the guilt comes in.

7 Karen (formerly Serenity) { 02.11.14 at 12:16 pm }

Nope, I suck at saying no. One of my New Years not-resolutions was to say no more. I have failed at that. But I also deleted all of my Facebook games because I didn’t have time to play games, so treating it like a virtual game might not work for me.

What needs to happen for me is that I need to accept that I lose nothing by specializing. I have this fear that if I focus on one thing, I have lost all my choices. I quite like having myriad choices of things that I COULD do. Declaring myself a specialist in one thing means I am stuck, I believe. Which might not be true, but I can’t shake the fear it might be.

Anyway, timely post for me. Thanks!


8 Geochick { 02.11.14 at 1:01 pm }

I say no a lot. We’ll more like silence. We get emails all the time from other Jazzercise instructors to sub classes and unless it’s on a day when it’s my turn to work out I totally ignore it. It wouldn’t be that big a deal for me and S to switch days and I feel really guilty, but when I get out of sync during the week it’s not a good thing. It’s hard though!

9 deathstar { 02.11.14 at 1:39 pm }

Usually economic gain dictates what I say yes or no to. When I commit to a project that is purely out of passion or mission, I rarely have a conflict. Saying no takes practice and there were times I would say no to the easiest things to say yes to just because I needed the practice. I almost always say yes to Buddhist activities because in the end my capacity to accomplish productive things increases and I’m glad I spent the time in pursuit of a greater good.

10 Elisha { 02.11.14 at 2:12 pm }

ugh! I used to be the worst at saying no but I got to the point where I had so much going on, I was so stressed, and I was only happy doing 3 out of the 10 things I was committed too that I realized I had to learn to say no. I just started saying no more often and the more I said it (to the things I really knew i wouldn’t completely enjoy), the easier it got. When it’s not easy to say no, I tell them I will think about it…then I notice as a couple of days go by, they have already found someone else who WANTED to do it. Winning! lol!

11 Elizabeth { 02.11.14 at 4:29 pm }

I have a terrible time saying no, for all the reasons people have discussed above.
Lately, though, I find I have to learn to say no to Candy Crush.

12 Queenie { 02.11.14 at 7:11 pm }

I don’t have trouble with “no,” but I do have trouble wasting my own time. I’m fried by 7pm every night, and find it super hard to be productive. But I would definitely be more successful (especially at all of my house projects) if I could make myself use this time better.

13 Catwoman73 { 02.12.14 at 12:41 am }

I LOVE saying no. And I’m incredibly good at it- diplomatic, but firm. I think I’m good at it because I know that my priorities are in the right place, and I am long past worrying about what anyone thinks of me. I have absolutely no idea how I got to this place- maybe just age and lots of practice over the years? In any case, guilt isn’t really a factor for me. I just feel that I am only one person, and can only do so much in a day.

14 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 02.12.14 at 7:46 am }

It’s a tough balance and I’m not the best at it. But I think that’s a great insight about time being the most precious resource to manage, and also about our sense of obligation over saying yes vs no (not always a bad thing, but we have to keep it under control).

Now. Do I invest in sleep or blogging tonight?

15 It Is What It Is { 02.13.14 at 12:13 pm }

One thing that losing my brother early in life taught me is that time is precious and valuable to me. Even though I was raised Catholic (16 yrs of Catholic school thank you VERY much), I learned early on the guilt and obligation were slippery slopes.

When I need/want to say no, I do so with ease. I don’t owe anyone anything. That said, I am as generous as I can be with my time for people and events that mean something and are valuable to me.

And, there are things I do for the greater good that I’d prefer not to, but I’m choosey with those things and do what suits my abilities and talents.

16 Lori Lavender Luz { 02.13.14 at 5:18 pm }

This is timely for me to think about because I’m now needing to buckle down on something. The Emberton quote is helpful.

17 Rachel Lewis { 02.20.14 at 4:36 am }

Love this post. 10,000 hours really puts it into perspective. I love that this is not “guilt yourself for “wasting” 5 min here or there,” but is instead looking at balance, margin, and scheduled time off. Also appreciated the part about steady blog traffic is better than 1 viral post.

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