How do you use your time well?
That’s a simple question with a very complicated answer.
The idea of using time well is something I’ve written about in various places and for many years, but I’ve never approached the question:
What is a good use of time? How do we know?
Here’s an interesting starting point to answer that question:
Improvement and growth don’t have a linear, one-to-one effect on our lives.
For example, getting 10% better at golf isn’t likely to make you 10% happier. Whereas getting 10% better at your marriage could potentially make you 50% happier.
Improving 10% at a skill or vocation is unlikely to result in a significant increase in pay, but improving 10% at managing complex projects or managing people could potentially multiply your income many times over throughout your career.
Leverage in Life
Basically, there are leverage points in life. And it’s not always clear where those leverage points exist. Spending the time to make two new friends could be life-changing… if you have no friends. But it could also be a complete waste of time and energy if you rely on your social life as a way to avoid responsibility and doing something meaningful.
Spending more time with your kids could drastically improve their emotional health over the coming years. But spending more time with your kids could also drastically decrease their emotional health depending on how much time you already spend with them.
There are subtle and invisible leverage points all around us—situations where 1% of increased effort can produce 10%, 20%, or even 100% extra reward.
There are negative leverage points, as well, where 100% more effort will produce a 1% extra reward. These leverage points are fleeting and hidden in plain sight.
Perhaps an underrated and under-discussed skill-set is that some people intuitively know how to sense and act on these inflection points and most others do not. Especially because outsized benefits in one area of life tend to spill over and compound into benefits in other areas.
I think this is a useful topic to investigate, so I asked readers to send me examples that they could think of.
Below are some of the most significant and common ones you all sent in.
3 Ideas That Might Change Your Life
The Leverage Points of Life
For all the fad diets and insane workout routines out there in the world, becoming moderately active in your life is likely one of the most significant leverage points available to anybody.
Going from sedentary and no physical activity to basic physical activity (walking 30 minutes per day, light workouts a few times per week) is likely one of the single biggest boosts in physical and emotional health, mental clarity, mood, emotional regulation, disease prevention, sleep quality, and overall sexiness.
A little bit of physical activity provides massively outsized benefits. So, you don’t have to run a marathon—just stop being a couch potato.
The extra effort to seek out high-quality food provides a non-linear benefit.
I would estimate that the difference between eating something ultra-processed and full of sugar and salt versus something that’s fresh and locally sourced gives at least a 50% boost in energy, mood, attention span, and mental clarity for the next 6-8 hours. Not to mention the lack of “sugar crashing” and needing naps.
Seriously, when I eat a bunch of processed garbage now, it actually feels like I’m mildly hungover. It’s that big of a difference.
Not to mention eating properly sourced foods, which has all sorts of positive effects on the environment, local economies, and so on.
Years ago, I saw an interview with Warren Buffett where the interviewer asked, “What is the best investment for a young person right now?”
It seemed that the interviewer expected a hot stock or maybe a discussion of retirement funds or something like that.
But Buffett simply responded, “Knowledge.”
He then explained: money will come and go throughout your life. But when you learn a useful piece of knowledge, you have it forever. Therefore, the highest leverage use of a young person’s time is education.
Socially speaking, modest improvements in education generally have wide-ranging effects on people’s lives. Better education not only increases earning potential but it is also one of the best predictors of not being violent or committing crime.
If you dig deep enough into research on happiness and wellbeing, the biggest factor that comes up, again and again, is the quality of a person’s relationships.
If you’re able to maintain good relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners, you’re going to be healthier mentally and emotionally, experience less anxiety and depression and feel more satisfied with your life, in general.
This plays into the above: better social skills produce better relationships.
But better social skills can also have an outsized impact on other areas of your life.
You’ll progress in your career faster, you’ll be a better negotiator, a better collaborator, a better parent, and so on.
Similar to exercise, personal finance falls along “a little bit is far better than none, but a lot is only slightly better than a little.”
A basic understanding of saving, interest, credit, and debt will probably increase your lifetime wealth significantly.
My favorite of all of the reader suggestions.
I spent almost five years living abroad in cultures that—how do I put this politely?—couldn’t show up on time if their lives depended on it.
Most people from developed countries talk about how the third world helps you relax and not worry about time so much. It actually did the opposite for me: it made me appreciate time management so much more.
It’s absolutely incredible how much everything suffers for each extra increment of poorly managed time. Work life. Home life. Friendships.
If you aren’t able to reliably be where you say you’re going to be for the amount of time you allotted, then you become undependable.
Failing to manage time not only harms everything you plan to do, generating more stress and fatigue, but it also disrespects other people’s time, thus harming your relationships as well.
Both a cause and effect of many of the above.
People with poor emotional management tend to suffer in their relationships, struggle to find the motivation to exercise or eat well, manage their time and money poorly—yet their failures at the above cause them greater emotional turbulence and stress.
Therefore, you could argue that mastering your emotions (or your mind, in general) is The Ultimate Leverage Point in life.
Get your mind in order, and everything else gets that much easier.