What do you spend your time on? What do you want to be spending your time on?
Every productivity methodology aims to increase your ”productivity”—but the way each defines “productivity” and the methods each uses to do so differ.
The Day Optimizer methodology focuses on time: how to think about it and use it effectively to live a life full of intention.
It is designed for those who have multiple competing priorities, are largely in control of their own time and benefit from using that time effectively.
In this context, the ”productivity“ we seek aims to be:
To find a successful, sustainable allocation amongst our priorities, rather than enabling a single aspect of our lives to succeed by allowing the others to suffer.
To be deliberate with how we use our time, at both the micro and macro levels, rather than going through each day on autopilot or holding onto habits and identities that no longer suit us.
To accept that time is limited, and if we want to use it wisely, we need to acknowledge this constraint and work within it. Every one of us has 24 hours each day, no more, no less.
These are naturally in tension with one another.
Being balanced among several priorities does not mean we can have unlimited priorities. We still have to be realistic about our limited time and make intentional trade-offs on how to use that time.
How do we determine that balance? How do we understand our constraints and make those trade-offs?
By creating a map of our time that reflects our goals and intentions—a map we can use to reorient ourselves when we drift off course in our day-to-day lives. A map that forces us to be intentional and realistic as we build a balanced life.
The map we’re going to create is called a “life portfolio”.
What Is a Life Portfolio?
A life portfolio is a visual representation of where you spend your time and which activities you find valuable. It can be used to help you understand your current life and your intended life.
The term “portfolio” is intentional, since it reflects not only the idea of investing your time, but that our time is limited and we must allocate it wisely to get the most value (to us) from that limited time.
Thinking in terms of a portfolio not only helps us understand how our time is distributed across different activities, but gives us the concept of reallocation.
Each week we have a fixed amount of time. Nothing can change this. When we add new tasks and activities, we must reduce the time spent on our existing tasks and activities.
Recognizing this reallocation of our time can be hard. Too often we don’t consciously decide what activities we’re eliminating or reducing when we say yes to new things.
The result: an unintentional, haphazard reallocation of our time that results in more stress and less control.
While in our dreams we can do it all, in reality, we each only have 168 hours each week to live our lives. Deciding how to spend that time—what is truly important given the constraints of reality—is how we can start living an life full of intent.
Building a Life Portfolio
The process of building a life portfolio can broken down into 3 steps, which create the acronym AID:
Create a structure for thinking about how you spend your time.
Identify where you currently spend your time using this structure.
Decide what you want to change to create the life you want.
At the end, you’ll have a visual representation of your desired life from a time perspective, which you can then use to prepare, plan, execute and review against to start crafting the life you want.
TIP: The process of working through these steps takes time, and works best when you take breaks to let yourself ponder what you are creating.
Set aside at least two sessions of an hour or two each to work through this material and create your own life portfolio.
The first step in building a life portfolio is defining a useful structure for how you spend your time—to break down your life into meaningful chunks that provide a clear overview of your life and how the various parts interact with one another.
Some people resist this step. They want their life to be fluid and not constrained to a series of boxes.
However, our working memory is limited. Thus, to effectively reasonable about our time, it helps to chunk our activities into groups.
A life portfolio organizes our time into three levels of grouping:
The high-level aspects of your life. When we talk about them, we often append the term “life”, e.g., Work Life, Personal Life, Spiritual Life, etc.
Groups within each pillar that represent a single aspect of that pillar, e.g., Marketing might be one facet of your Business pillar.
The types of tasks or activities you engage in within each facet, e.g., Reading might be a slice of your Personal Improvement facet.
Each of these levels should have about 4-8 groups.
More than this and we can quickly overwhelm our working memory, making it hard to reason about our time use and how these groups relate to one another.
Fewer than this and we likely don’t have the granularity that helps us make effective decisions on designing our life.
That said, each life portfolio is personal. Feel free to use as many groups, and levels of grouping, as makes sense for your life.
Define Your Pillars
Pillars define the key aspects of your life, the high-level aspects you think of when you seek to define balance or your life goals.
Let’s start with defining those pillars. Some ways you can define your own pillars include:
- By Identity
Aspects of your life where you use different skills or play a different role, such as Spouse, Parent, Mentor, Employee or Friend.
- By Social Group
Groups of people who you have a shared purpose with such as Family, Friends, Church or Colleagues.
- By Life
Lives that you live, often with different identities and social groups, such as Personal, Spiritual, Community, Professional or Work.
It can be useful to define pillars as the different aspects of your life that you want to balance with each other—those aspects of life that you need to feel fulfilled and that you need to make sure to set aside time for.
For example, my pillars have traditionally been:
What I do for myself and my immediate friends & family.
What I do for others, as a citizen in the broader community.
What I do to grow in my profession, separate from any specific job.
What I do for my current job or business.
Your pillars will likely be different. If you have young kids, you might split Personal into Family, Spouse and Personal to ensure you’re spending time tending to your kids, your spouse and yourself.
Take the time now to write down your pillars. We’ll use them in the remaining steps of building a Life Portfolio.
When defining your pillars, aim for 4-6 pillars—enough to capture the core aspects of your life, but not so many that it’s difficult to figure out your priorities.
The Foundation “Pillar”
One pillar that everyone should have is a Foundation pillar.
Your Foundation pillar contains those activities that support your other pillars or your life in general. Within the visualization of a Life Portfolio, this pillar is lying on its side to represent its support role.
Included in this pillar might be activities like:
Cooking & eating, doing chores, grooming, etc.
Exercise, meditation, sleep, breaks, etc.
Organizing your life, learning, developing systems, etc.
Getting enough rest.
Whether an activity belongs in a specific pillar or your Foundation pillar is up to you.
For instance, I put Exercise in my Foundation pillar because I use it to stay healthy and give me energy to do the activities in my other pillars. Someone else might enjoy exercise for its own sake or because it gives them time to spend with themselves, so might put it in their Personal pillar.
Don’t worry right now exactly what facets go into your Foundation pillar. We’ll be defining those in the next section.
Create Your Facets
Next, we need to define the facets of your life that go in each of your pillars and in your foundation.
To develop our facets, we’re going to use a process called Brainstorm, Group & Name.
First, we’ll brainstorm everything that you do in a specific pillar, then group related activities together and finally name the group as a facet in your portfolio.
As you work through this step, use the Create Your Facets Worksheet to develop your facets.
Using the Create Your Facets Worksheet, pick a pillar to start with and write down all things you spend time on within that pillar, such as:
Pieces of work with a fixed scope that you do for a specific period of time. For instance, building a treehouse or finding a new job.
- Roles & Responsibilities
Roles you play or responsibilities you have. For instance, volunteering for an organization or doing the dishes twice a week.
- Hobbies & Interests
Ongoing activities you do within a certain area of interest or with a specific social group.
- Other Activities
Anything else you do within the context of the pillar that takes time.
To ensure you’ve captured everything, it can be useful to mentally walk through your day, starting from when you wake up and ending when you go to sleep.
If you do different activities on different days, do each of those days separately. Also do a similar mental scan of your week, month and year, to capture more infrequent activities.
Group Into Facets
Take your list of activities and group related activities together.
On your worksheet, start with your first activity and put a number 1 next to it. Then put a number 1 next to all of the other activities related to that activity. Go to the next unnumbered activity and put a number 2 next to it. Rinse and repeat until all of the activities have a group number next to them.
When grouping activities together, aim to put activities that provide a similar level of value and enjoyment to you together.
For instance, I group “exercise” and “massage” together; while I enjoy getting a massage more, I also enjoy exercise and they both provide the same value in helping me renew my body. If you hate exercise and love massage, then you should put them in separate categories.
Name Your Facets
Choose a short 1-3 word title for each of your groups. The title should represent the category or common thread of the activities within that group. It doesn’t need to be descriptive to others; it just has to mean something to you.
Keep it short to make it easier to read on your portfolio and to ensure it’s a category and not a miscellaneous basket of activities. I often search an online thesaurus to find the right words that make the most sense to me for each group.
If you need to elaborate on a title, use subtitles to represent any slices within that facet. For instance, under Relationships, I have “partner, friends, family”.
Don’t Forget Your Foundation
After you do all of your pillars, create the facets for your foundation. These will be activities that don’t neatly fall within a single aspect of your life. Instead, they support your foundation.
Activities like sleeping and eating are critical to maintain life; others like showering, exercising and doing your finances are important to support the activities within your pillars. I also put activities here such as organizing, learning and strategizing (e.g., developing life plans) that help me be more effective in my pillar activities.
Draw Your Life Portfolio
Using the Life Portfolio Template, or by drawing your own, write each of your pillars into one of the vertical rectangles. Next, take each of your facets and write them in the boxes in the appropriate pillar or foundation section.
Your Life Portfolio should now look like a black-and-white version of the example given at the beginning of this chapter.
Put it down and take a step back. This is your life. Does it accurately represent everything you do? If not, go back through the exercises and add in any missing elements.
I often find that just getting to this stage gives me great insight about my life. What about you?
Now that you have a structure for thinking about how you use your time, let’s use it to identify which facets and activities you find valuable and where amongst these you currently spend your time.
Determine What is Valuable
Architecting a framework of what we do in our lives can be a useful exercise to see where we spend our time.
It becomes even more useful, however, when we can see what we value and what we don’t. Without this information, it’s hard to make smart investment decisions with our time or to reallocate how we spend it to design a better life.
To start, we’re going to use three levels of value:
These levels are intentionally vague. Value in this case is personal. It’s what it means to you.
If you have specific goals, value may be relative to what supports those goals. If you have low energy, high value may be what gives you energy or and low value may be what takes it away.
To start, grab three different colored highlighters, markers or crayons. Fill in each of the three boxes in the legend at the bottom of your Life Portfolio.
Next to each box, write 1-3 words describing what this level means to you.
Using these colors, shade in, outline or otherwise highlight each facet on your life portfolio based on its value to you.
Now take a step back again. Does this accurately represent what you value in your life?
Take a look at your low value facets. What can you do to eliminate these from your life or reduce the amount of time you spend on them?
Now look at your medium value facets. Can you delegate these to someone else?
Finally, look at your high value facets. What can you do to make your experience of those activities better?
Quantify Your Time
The final component of a Life Portfolio is time. It’s not only where you spend your time that matters, but how much time you spend.
For each facet in your portfolio, estimate how much time you spend per week. For instance, if you spend an hour a day commuting, you would write 7 hr next to Commuting to represent 1 hour x 7 days.
For activities that you do monthly, divide your time by 4. So 2 hours once a month would be 0.5 hours per week. Aim to get a rough estimate, not to be exact.
When you are done, add up all of your facet times. They should equal 168 hours (24 hours x 7 days). Go back and adjust your times until they all add up to 168.
Once you have approximate times for your facets, add up all of the facets within each section and write that number in the upper-right corner of each section box.
Most people will have the bulk of their time in the Foundation section, if only because sleep takes up a lot of our week (8 hours x 7 days = 56 hours).
Auditing Your Time Use
As an optional step, consider creating a time use audit. This can be helpful if you’re not sure where you spend your time, or want to double check your estimates from the last step (which, when we’re remembering where we spent our time, can often be wrong).
A time use audit is a log that tracks what you do for every minute of every day for a specific period of time.
If you’ve never tracked your time before, auditing your time use in this way can be an enlightening experience and help you to see exactly where all your time is going.
To get a good sense of how you use your time, plan to audit your time use for 1-2 weeks.
Tracking Time Manually
The easiest way to create a time use audit is to manually track your time.
Either on paper or using a spreadsheet create these columns:
- Start Time
The time you start an activity, which will be the end time of the last activity.
The activity or task you are doing.
The facet the activity or task you are doing belongs to.
The pillar the facet belongs to.
The amount of time you spent on the activity.
When tracking your time, all you have to do initially is write down the start time and the slice. You can defer filling in the facet, pillar and duration until later on when you are analyzing your time.
Notice that there isn’t a Stop Time column. This is because when you are auditing your time, you want to keep track of everything you are doing.
Since starting a new activity implies you are stopping the previous activity, all you need is the start time of each slice to calculate its duration. This is called 24/7 or continuous time tracking.
If you multi-task a lot and so have many overlapping slices, or want to track only parts of your day, you can add a Stop Time column.
But my recommendation would be to not multi-task (or if you do, only track the “primary” activity) and to track all of your time so you generate a holistic view of where you spend your time.
Tracking Time With an App
Time tracking apps can be a great alternative to a manually tracking your time.
For a time use audit, it’s best to use a continuous or 24/7 time tracking app like Eternity Time Log on iOS or ??? On Android.
A continuous time tracking app doesn’t require you to stop your previous activity before starting a new one, since they are designed to track everything you do.
Instead, whenever you switch activities, you merely select the new activity and press start and the old activity will be stopped. This reduces the effort required to track your time.
If you are using a conventional time tracking app, just be sure to stop the old activity before starting your new one.
Either way, you’ll want to configure your app to mirror the structure of your life portfolio.
If your app supports hierarchical categories or tags, use your pillars as the top-level, your facets underneath those, and your slices underneath those.
Otherwise, create titles for each category that combine these, to make them easy to sort and analyze. For example, “Personal > Renewal > Exercise”.
Update Your Life Portfolio
Once you have tracked your time for 1-2 weeks, go back to your time use logs and add up the time spent in each slice, facet and pillar.
If you audited your time for 2 weeks, divide the time by 2 so it becomes an average of your time each week.
Now, go back to your Life Portfolio where you estimated your time usage for each facet and pillar. Update these times with your actual time usage from your time use audit.
Now you have a clear picture of exactly where your time is going and how it maps to how you value that time. In the next step, we’ll work on redesigning and reallocating your portfolio to create a more powerful life.
Now that you have created a structure to think about how you invest your time and identified where you your time is currently going, it’s time to start reallocating your time toward things you find more valuable.
The simple act of creating a Life Portfolio can be enlightening. Having a single visual representation of everything you are currently doing in your life shows how aligned you are between what you want and/or need to be doing, and what you’re actually doing.
With this knowledge, you can use your Life Portfolio to:
- Remove Lower Value Activities
Remove lower value activities from your life by either stopping them (if they’re optional) or giving them to someone else (if they need to be done). Even when there’s an upfront cost, the long-term benefit often outweighs the cost.
- Make Deliberate Trade-Offs
When saying yes to someone or deciding to do a new activity, look at your portfolio and determine what you’re going to reduce or eliminate to make room for the new activity. If the new activity is lower value than your existing activities, consider staying no.
- Refine Your Time
Periodically audit your time use to track where you are actually spending your time versus where you think you do. Use the same categories in your time log as your Life Portfolio to make it easier to integrate.
- Appreciate Your Current Life
Use your Life Portfolio to appreciate how much you have already have in your life. When doing high value activities, use the awareness created by your Life Portfolio to appreciate the value these activities bring you.
- Revisit It
Did you notice the date on the top of the example Life Portfolio at the beginning of this chapter? Write today’s date on the top of yours. Then periodically go through this exercise again and watch how your Life Portfolio changes over time.