For 168 Hours, I interviewed hundreds of people about how they manage their time. Some of these people were also career and life coaches who advise other people on managing their time. Caroline Ceniza-Levine is one such person. She is currently running a company called SixFigureStart which coaches young people as they try to figure out "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
It's a tough question. So in her workshops, Ceniza-Levine pulls out a signature exercise she calls the "List of 100 Dreams," which I think is a fascinating way to figure out what we should and should not be doing with our 168 hours.
Here's how it works. Start writing down a list of all the things you'd like to do during your lifetime. This could include 10 restaurants you'd like to try, 10 financial goals, places you want to visit, etc. Go ahead and include a few you've already accomplished, like graduating from college, or having kids. You'll probably be stumped by the time you get to 100, but if you find brainstorming easy, call it the List of 1000 Dreams and keep going. The point is to shoot for such a big number that you're not editing yourself. Winning a Nobel Prize in chemistry and maintaining a nice stash of Trader Joe's dark chocolate covered caramels can all go on there.
Come back to this list several times over the next few weeks (or years) as you think of more items. Here's a small sampling of mine, which I wrote in April as I was writing the chapter with this exercise:
* Attend performances of Bach B-Minor Mass
* Commission a major choral work
* See the Ring Cycle live
* Have fresh flowers in my office regularly
* Write a regular series of columns/articles for a major magazine or newspaper on an important issue that involves traveling to exotic places around the globe
* Get novel published
* Do African safari with my kids when they're teenagers
* Hit the best-seller list for fiction and non-fiction
* Teach journalism and creative writing at a top tier college
* Have a clothing wardrobe I love that makes me excited to get dressed
And so forth. Once you're tapped out, it's time to look at the dreams you haven't turned into reality. Go through the list and start knocking off items that are cheap or require a few hours or less. In the past few months, for instance, I got nosebleed section $20 tickets for a performance of the Bach B-Minor Mass at Carnegie Hall. I bought a nice orchid for my office.
Ceniza-Levine calls this exercising the "passion muscle." The experience helps people figure out "what it's like to like what they're doing." You will do a few things by grabbing this low-hanging fruit.
For starters, you will learn that some of your 100 Dreams have no business being on the official List. If "win an Oscar" is on your list, and also "act in a play," and you knock off the latter with a community production of Evita and discover it wasn't life changing, you can stop writing the speech in which you thank the Academy. That's now mental energy that can be devoted to other things.
But most importantly, by trying lots of things you think you might enjoy, you will learn more about yourself, and what you actually are good at, what might be your core competencies, and which of the biggies are worth going for. You may be shocked by what you discover. This is why you just have to be open-minded and try things.