Any lifestyle is within reach. We just have to balance the books. Do the math.

In a lot of cases, this means tallying up our available resources and reallocating them accordingly.

You might want to write a book, for instance. Writing a book is typically a monetarily cheap endeavor, but requires a great deal of time. As such, you look at the time you have available — 24 hours each day, 7 days a week, etc — and sort out how much of that time you can dedicate to the writing of this book.

Most of us already have most or all of our time accounted for. We spend it at work, or on our habits or hobbies. This is where the seeming simplicity of the math falls apart: how do we choose between two possible ways to spend this precious resource?

We have to decide, then, what’s more important. Between writing this book and, say, binge-watching Netflix or playing board games with your family, which do you choose? Between writing your book and sleeping a little more each night, or working full-time at the office, which do you choose?

The trouble is that there’s no clear answer. Working is good because it helps us keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. Spending time with our families (particularly if there are board games involved) is good because these are (hopefully) people we enjoy spending time with, and we want to prioritize happiness in our lives. Sleep is good because it helps us stay healthy and mentally alert. Even binge-watching Netflix can be good, when it’s part of a balanced (or intentionally imbalanced) lifestyle.

In this case, then, we might start looking at other ways to make those numbers dance.

Perhaps we figure out systems which allow us to do our work more efficiently, and which free up a few minutes each day. Over time this might liberate more time, say an hour or two each week, which we can then spend on our book.

Or maybe we reduce our monetary needs, moving into a smaller space, eating more simply, living with less stuff in favor of liberating more time. This might mean working part-time, instead, which frees up many previously entangled hours to spend however we like, possibly on that book.

Or maybe we step away from TV for a bit, to focus on this book. We decide to take two months for a lifestyle experiment during which we’ll dedicate all of our spare time to writing instead of consuming.

Perhaps we’ll attack this from the other side. We can write in short bursts each day, a few minutes here, a few minutes there. Because of this practice, after several months we are able to write more, and better, in less time. This means that each liberated minute is more valuable in the pursuit of this book-writing endeavor.

It could be that we already have some time freed up, but it takes ages to get into the right mindset and focus on the task at hand. Spending some of that time on working out, instead, could be the right move. Maybe a healthier body, feeling good more regularly, could allow us to be more in tune with ourselves and as such, more capable of stepping away from the everyday stresses into a more productive mind-space.

Or perhaps the same movement but with meditation or some other mind-focused ritual. Perhaps you’ve freed up an hour each day, and you spend ten minutes doing jumping jacks and push-ups and stretches, ten minutes sitting quietly, doing nothing physical at all, allowing your brain to sort itself out, and then use forty minutes to sit in a chair and write, the internet turned off, as many distractions as possible kept out of reach. Though this is a deviation from the ‘free up as much time as possible to write’ methodology, it’s a combination approach that could lead to more and better words landing on the page, faster.

The path to achieving a certain lifestyle or goal, then, isn’t always a straight line. It’s something with an infinite number of variables and with uncountable legitimate paths that will take you there.

It helps to sort out the math, though, to juggle the numbers so that you’re aware of what variables are in play, and so that you don’t feel these goals are impossible tasks.

Piece by piece, pick apart what’s in your way, sort out what’s necessary and what’s just habit, just a psychological barrier that can be overcome, and then start moving toward where you want to be.