A man covered in post-its shouts at a phone at his desk, struggling with time management
Shutterstock/InesBazdar

I run multiple businesses, from a business school and VC firm to an NGO and a pro-basketball team. Oh, and I have five sons to look after. In short, I’m pretty busy. That means I need to think very carefully how to assign my time.

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Decades Swinging on a Workaholic Pendulum

My whole attitude to time management changed when I was around thirty. Back then, I was working around the clock to build my business. Eventually I realized that the only way for me to use my time effectively was not just by prioritizing my activities, but by proactively deciding what not to do.

That is why I made a decision to stop doing a load of things. I stopped going out for business dinners. I stopped playing golf. I stopped reading non-fiction. I stopped watching TV. I stopped long-distance commuting by moving to a house just a three minutes’ walk from the office.

Editing my life like this made my workload infinitely more manageable. But my attitude toward time management went through a second change when I was around forty.

With three little boys around the house, I realized that I needed to ease up on working and reclaim more of my time for myself and my family. I invested some of this new free time in fun things—mastering the board game Go, doing competitive swimming and, most recently, snowboarding. After all, effective time management should apply to your whole life, not just to your work.

These days, people often compliment me on my “well balanced” life and what (apparently) seems to be a harmonious mix of work and leisure activities.

It’s nice to be complimented, but these people are quite wrong.

I spent my twenties studying—and playing—hard at business school and worked like a dog throughout my thirties. Single-mindedly focused on growing my business, I had zero time for family or hobbies. I was overweight and exhausted. My life was wildly out of balance.

Since turning forty, all I’ve done is take back some of what I sacrificed when I was younger. Those earlier decades of my life were indeed extremely out of balance. Luckily, my efforts to reprioritize means my life as a whole is starting to balance out very nicely.

3 Ways to Rebalance Your Life

If you want to achieve anything big, chances are your life will get seriously out of balance for a while. But if you take a long-term perspective, you can catch up later and restore the balance over your entire life span. To better manage your time, I suggest you try the following simple steps:

  1. Identify things you don’t have to do. STOP doing them.
  2. Find things you’ve always wanted to do. Make time and DO them.
  3. Consider work-life balance from a lifespan perspective.

Making the most of your time isn’t just about the here and now—it’s not about the micro (or rather, not just about the micro). You need that macro view to understand what you’re really sacrificing. While it may seem like you’re prioritizing work to support the family you love, you may really be sacrificing precious time with them that you can never get back.

Or, if you have the right partner to support you and agree to help carry the load, maybe that is the right call right now as you build your legacy. Maybe you’re doing something really big to impact society, like promoting SDGs or redefining an industry for the underserved.

But almost certainly, it’s not worth completely abandoning the things you really want to do with your life.

So step back and try these steps to achieve better time management. What do you need to stop doing? What do you need to do? And where do you need to rebalance, looking at your whole life behind and ahead of you?