Timehack # 1_ Believe it's possibleThe 21 Day Timehacker Project matches readers with coaches who help them find time for their most important goals.

DAY ONE: Vardhan Mulik, 48, is a busy Information Systems professional for the oil and gas industry in Calgary, Canada. When he isn’t working, he’s busy with his wife and daughter, who is about to go off to college.  But Mulik really wanted to find time to practice classical guitar. Mulik, who has loved guitar since he was a child, has been trying to seriously study classical guitar for the past six or seven years, with the hopes of one day performing in public, or creating an ensemble.

But, with so many other more important-seeming things on his plate, he could never seem to make it happen. He’d procrastinate. Whenever he tried to sit down to practice, he’d get distracted. He’d just get warmed up, then jump up to do something else that seemed more important. “It doesn’t go as well as it should, as I’m constantly thinking about other, unaddressed issues to do with work, and life in general,” he said.

THE TIME HACKS: Mulik worked with time and productivity coach Terry Monaghan, of TimeTriage. Monaghan came up with three time hacks:

1. BELIEVE IT’S POSSIBLE: And worthwhile. Monaghan found that a big part of what was holding Mulik back was not his  time management skills but his own skepticism not only about whether it was possible to find the time, but whether his music was really worth his time.

“Let’s face it, we all have so many demands pulling on our time and attention, it feels impossible or like an irresponsible luxury to allow ourselves to focus on something fun,” Monaghan said. “But that is essential.”

[Related: How a ‘workaholic robot’ finally found time to play – and how you can, too]

2. SET A SPECIFIC TIME TO PRACTICE: Even when Mulik left his guitar out, hoping that closer proximity would make him practice, he wasn’t practicing consistently. Monaghan told him to find a specific time just to practice music. “Lay it out on the calendar so you can see that you’re not neglecting work, family or other areas,” she said. “He needs to see that he can actually take the time to make music.”

3. UNCONTAMINATE YOUR TIME: With so many competing demands on his time, and his worries about whether he was using it well, Mulik was often distracted when he tried to practice, which was ultimately unsatisfying. “Like many, Vardhan suffered from contaminated time,” Monaghan said. “While he wanted to have time for family, for music, and other things, he found himself worrying about work while practicing music, or worrying about family while at work, etc. He had no opportunity to be present in the moment and really focus on the music!”

DAY 21: By the time I caught up with Mulik, he had been consistently practicing for 45 minutes a day, even after his schedule was disrupted with a family emergency and a trip to India, and an emotional and busy time preparing his daughter to go off to college.

As a practical matter, what helped him most was making a plan for what he wanted to accomplish during the day as soon as he woke up. That kept his expectations about his workload in check, so when he’d met his work goals for the day and it was time to stop working, he was more able to allow himself to quit.

He also found a regular time to practice. Although his work schedule can often change, he decided that the first 45 minutes after he got home in the evening, no matter the time, he’d devote to practicing the guitar.

“But the biggest thing, for me, was the realization that it really was possible to do,” Mulik said. “And worthwhile.”

[Related: ‘Is this even worth my time?’ We help this mom make space for her passion project]

He’d just passed his 6th grade exam with the Royal Conservatory of Music. And he’d become confident enough in his skills through practice, that he’s decided to skip the 7th grade exam and has begun studying for the 8th grade exam. The highest level is 9th grade.

He’s making time for monthly guitar society meetings, and was just starting to get a three-person guitar ensemble together.

“The biggest thing I feel right now is a real sense of accomplishment,” he said.

Terry Monaghan’s TOP TIMEHACK: “You will get more done in any area if you allow yourself some time to focus, instead of contaminating the time worrying about other things. So, if you are going to make music – do that. If you are going to be with family, do that!”

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