On life management, I don’t know enough but I have experimented with a few tips that became habits and are now methods to deal within this complex system we call life.
To begin with, on life-work balance (note the change in order of the first two terms), I am here to live, I’m not here to work. I live 24 hours a day but only work a fraction of that. If I want to be at my prime performance, I need to sleep eight hours per night, every night of the week. I also need to spend some essential time “sharpening the saw” to remain effective at what I do. Things like exercising, reading, writing, connecting with others (not least my two year-old toddler and my lovely wife) make me a better person, a better professional, a better househusband.
I like to apply the Pareto principle to my productivity: to achieve 80% of the impact of my work in 20% of my time. It both means that I, like everybody else, have peaks of hyper-productive performance, and also that, in the near 33% of my day that I have left for work, 60% of it should render that level of desired impact. I have the fortune of not being hand labor as it was conceived in the XIX Century, where productivity was a function of repetitive tasks over a prolonged period of time. We are mind workers on a knowledge-based economy. At least that’s where most of new value comes from these days, from our minds and not from extraction of natural resources as it was last century.
Second, optimism is an attitude. This means that you can choose it at any given moment. If you every feel anxious, or fearful, or regretful about anything, especially regarding the use of your time that is already gone for good, interrupt that thought and spend ten minutes doing something you consider as productive. Set a timer for those ten minutes and go at it. I guarantee you will feel different when the alarm goes off because nothing is more motivating than action. It is important not to confuse optimism with delusion. It is also important to be realistic. But this is something one can only be here and now. And optimism is definitely better than any of its alternatives when it comes to visualizing a greener, more prosperous path ahead.
About those ten minutes, I imagine life broken into multiple ten-minute slots. Everything you do is pretty much constrained into one or a few of these pockets of time-energy. You can achieve remarkable things if you dedicate ten minutes per day during 30 years to pretty much anything. For example, it is said that one can learn the basics of a language with 300 hours of study. That is 1800 10-minute pockets, or roughly five years if you practice 10 minutes per day. This means that in 30 years of studying 10 minutes per day you could learn the basics of five languages. How come not everybody at the age 60 speaks at least five languages?!
Third, I beg to differ from His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, when he suggests that the purpose of life is to be happy. Happiness is an individual accomplishment. I believe we are intelligent, social beings and our role as members of humanity is to aspire for prosperity, which is a collective achievement. What good would it make to be the only happy person in your community, or the only happy nation in the world? We need to ensure our neighbors and fellow citizens of the world enjoy prosperity too. In that regard, prosperity is the collective attitude of optimism.
Fourth, every pocket of time has an opportunity cost. In fact, the costs are infinite if you consider everything else you could be doing during that same time. It would drive us crazy to think about this all the time. Instead, think about the big bang-like potential that every pocket of time has for you. In my case, I would say spending time with my wife doing whatever is a hundred times more enriching and nurturing than if I were alone. Similar to what I believe is my role as a father. I have perhaps three ten-minute pockets of time per day with my daughter. If I regard her unconditionally and positively for those minutes, interacting with her in the most engaging, constructive manner I can, I will be performing my duties as her caretaker and “universe discovery process” facilitator, which is what parents should be anyway. Most likely, I hope, there will be no room for regrets in 20 years time.
Finally, start with why, as Simon Sinek suggests. Find your purpose, or that thing you would like to be considered an expert at in 30 years from now, regardless of your age. Who knows, you might get there, so you might as well have spent a good 10,000 hours doing something you particularly like that gives you a sense of purpose to make this a better place to live, if only as selfishly as for yourself, but hopefully for a larger potion of humanity.