Time Management For Ambitious People

This is not what you think. This is not another thing on how the ambitious person should optimize his or her little free time in order to get closer to all those ambitions.

It is, instead, some ideas for ambitious people on how not to manage time.

The problem

I’m writing this in the wee hours of the morning. An hour ago, I felt extremely sleepy – barely awake enough to get through 15 minutes of bedtime reading. Now, I’m wide awake. As my normally rational thoughts started morphing into stranger and stranger dream threads, I let myself think one thought about all the things I want to do. Not just all things I have to do, but also all the things I want to do. Then, BAM. Awake. Thinking. Planning. Plotting. I’m a chronically ambitious person, and it keeps me up nights.

Sleep is only the beginning. Lately, as I’ve been allowing myself full immersion in my wild and plentiful ambitions, I’ve started to notice that I don’t watch a whole lot of movies anymore. Or see anybody on weeknights. Or cook dinner and eat it not in front of the Internet. Or read that David Mitchell book I borrowed from the library and have renewed three times just so I don’t have to shuttle it back to the library.

Don’t misunderstand – I actually ‘manage’ my time decently. I’m super extra crazily productive with work matters, I exercise every single day, and I cook and clean as well and often as a first-year housewife.

But, if my brain were an Apple device, this is what my time meter would look like:

iTunes activity meter

The ambitious people I know all sleep strange hours. And by ‘strange,’ I do in fact mean ‘few.’ Very few. 4 to 6 hours a night. I wonder if they’ll drop dead one of these days soon, and I hope not because I’m still looking forward to their guaranteed contributions to humanity.

They, and others like them, are major multitaskers – switching between emails and projects and phone calls and friends and IMs and sales meetings and press events every few minutes.

The problem is, multitasking makes me crazy, and it makes me fail.

Productivity graph

And I know I’m not the only one.

The solution

Right after graduating college, when I got interested in meditation (or at least, reading about it), I read about a technique called “One-pointed attention.”

With multitasking, your attention – and your power – are scattered in as many directions as you have thoughts. On the other hand, when you focus in a single direction, your attention transforms from a roomful of diffused light into a laser beam. Lasers can do a lot.

Nobody wants to argue with focus, but it’s pretty dang hard when it comes your turn to practice it. Meditation can help because your work is to notice all those flitting fleeting thoughts and tell them, “bye for now!” while you focus on nothing but your breathing.

I don’t love meditating, and I hardly ever do it officially, but there are a number of things that also get the job done:

  • exercise that lasts longer than 30 minutes
  • reading a novel for at least 30 minutes straight (NOT a magazine, webpage, advertisement, or short story)
  • staring at the wall and thinking about only what’s in front of me (lumps in the white paint)
  • watching trees (they don’t move all that much)

To smoothe the jagged edges of my ambition, the best solution I’ve found is to take away points of attention, and also take away ‘time management’ pressure. In my head, I picture removing files one by one from my activity meter. Sometimes, it feels good to clear your device’s drive.


It’s hard to do with all those cloying ambitions running loose in my head. But, in the end, this practice helps me to get closer to realizing them anyway.

2 Comments on “Time Management For Ambitious People”

  1. Susan,
    What is the goal of your ambition? What is it that you are striving towards in the end?

  2. hahaha I’m reading this at 4am. cant go to sleep because i’m plotting and planning. how familiar

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