If you’re like most people, you’ve encountered numerous situations where you felt you had to do something, even though you wanted to do something else. Perhaps you wanted to take the kids to a movie, but you had to be on a conference call. Or maybe you had to attend a meeting, but you wanted to spend the afternoon working out. Chances are that whatever you had to do won out, and what you wanted to do got put on the back burner… yet again.

Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to choose between personal and work activities—between what you have to do and what you want to do? Fortunately, such an option does exist. You simply need to stop multi-tasking and start multi-purposing.

The Basis of Multi-Purposing

Multi-purposing means you’re using one event, situation or activity for more than one purpose. It’s akin to the old saying, “Kill two birds with one stone.” With multi-purposing you’re scratching two items off your to-do list—one you have to do and one you want to do—with one activity.

Let’s say you have to attend an awards dinner for your company. As part of that obligation, you have to fill a table with attendees. While you admire your company’s leaders, you’re not particularly interested in attending the dinner, so this is on your “have to do” list. You also have some people in your organization that you mentor on a regular basis. You love mentoring, so this is a “want to do” item.

To multi-purpose this work-related activity, you could invite your mentees to the dinner. This way you’re filling your table (thus fulfilling your professional obligation), you’re providing your mentees with great information (either from you or from the speakers at the event), and you’re reducing the stress in your life as now you don’t have to have multiple mentoring sessions or wonder how you’re going to fill a table at the awards dinner. This is what multi-purposing is all about—integrating two activities so everyone wins.

Unfortunately, most people don’t naturally think of combining activities. They think they have to do each item on their to-do list separately. And because they’re so caught up in the day-to-day “have to do” activities, they neglect the things they enjoy doing. But the more you compartmentalize your life by separating work activities from personal activities, the more fragmented your time becomes. Multi-purposing involves training your brain to think a little differently: focus on those things that bring joy to your life and find ways to incorporate other tasks into those activities.

In order to make the most of multi-purposing, consider the following tips.

1. Discover your personal values.

To rediscover what’s important to you, brainstorm a list of key words that reflect who you are. For example, your list may include such words as “inquisitive,” “integrity,” “respect for others,” “family,” “community involvement,” and “honesty.” Once you compile your list of words that resonate with you, review them to look for themes. You’ll find that when you engage in activities that epitomize your key words or values, you’re much happier, even when you’re working in your “have to do” list.

This exercise of discovering your values will crystallize the things that are most important to you. More important, it will give you the freedom to say no to certain “have to do” items. And don’t worry: when you say no, lightning won’t strike you down, nor will your friends and business acquaintances shun you. The only difference will be that now you’ll be spending time on those things that mean the most to you.

2. Get perspective on where you are spending your time.

If you find that you are spending too much time in areas of your life that are disconnected from your values, is it because of a short-term obligation (such as a temporary work project) or a long-term obligation (such as working in a permanent position you dislike)? If it’s a short-term project, acknowledge it and see if you can find some integrated activities that can keep you happy during that time. Be intentional with your focus during this time so you can get over the hump and be true to your values. If it’s a long-term obligation, then realize that you can make a choice—find a new job, resign from a volunteer position that is no longer fulfilling, stop living beyond your means, etc. Decide what’s best for you and then choose to do it.

3. Build a library of experts.

To alleviate the burden of some of the items on your to-do list, turn to your network. Everyone has a network to find people who can help you save time and keep you from reinventing the wheel. Too often we search the Internet for hours for some key piece of information when our next door neighbor has the answer.

When you access your network of experts, you’re not delegating work to them or asking them to do anything; you’re simply asking for advice—something we all love to give. For example, suppose you need to choose a nice restaurant where you can have a lunch meeting with a key prospect. Rather than spend time searching online for the ideal venue, why not turn to your network of experts, especially those who regularly have lunch meetings with clients? Again, you’re not asking them to research restaurants for you; you’re simply leveraging your network for a referral. You’re multi-purposing by saving yourself time while strengthening your relationships with your network.

These days, time is more precious than ever. In order to keep your sanity and happiness in such a fast-paced world, you need to think in terms of integrating your “have to do” and “want to do” activities. Focusing solely on one or other is a recipe for stress and dissatisfaction. Assess your values and current focus, and remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself. With a small shift in thinking, you can make positive and productive progress in all areas of your life.

CAROL RING is a speaker, author and an expert on Integrated Life.
Through her presentations and seminars, she empowers audiences to
integrate their values within their personal and professional lives.
Carol is author of
Who Hid My Crayons?, a book on creativity,
imagination and problem solving.