Which of these is your favorite mantra?
- “There’s not enough time in the day.”
- “I just don’t have enough time.”
- “I don’t know where the time goes.”
- “Time is money.”
- “I’m out of time.”
- “Time flies.”
- “Time’s a wasting”
Or do you have one I’ve not included? The topic of time, or rather the lack of it, is a recurring theme for many of us. We all are so busy being friends, parents, spouses, sons, daughters, employees, professionals, neighbors, home owners, citizens, and volunteers that we can’t seem to fit it all into a 24-hour day. Our plate is full, and yet our time cup seems empty. So how do we find the time to be all and do it all? Well, let’s start with three themes:
- Start valuing time more – it is not “free”
- Accept that time cannot be managed
- Establish time policies
Time is Our Most Valuable Resource
One of the ways we really limit ourselves is by viewing time as “free”. The truth is, time is our most valuable resource. Yes, I hear you thinking – yah, yah, yah, time is money but that’s not what I mean at all. Let me ask you – when you reach the end of your life, do you think you’ll say “I wish I had more money?” or “I wish I had more time?” My guess – you’ll wish for more time.
However, we often act as if time is endless and spend it far more frivolously than we spend our money (well, many of us do!). Consider these questions …
- What percentage of your time do you spend doing things you do not enjoy or actually dread?
- What percentage of your time do you spend doing things that do not directly contribute to your goals, wants, priorities or interests?
- Add up these percentages. Would you spend this portion of your income buying things you did not want, need, enjoy, or get value from?
What can you do to start placing more value on your time? You might write down your top 10 priorities for your life and then assess how you can orient your time around them. Or, if your time is drained by commitments and obligations that you feel you “should” do rather than those you are thrilled to do, think about ways to eliminate ½ of those things right now. Can you delegate them to others? Hire it out? Just stop doing it? Be creative. Be focused. Reclaim some time!
Time Cannot Be Managed
In terms of resources, time is the great equalizer. We all get the same amount – 24 hours per day. No one gets more or less. The amount of time we have is fixed and, as such, cannot be managed. What we can manage is our choices and our actions. If you don’t have enough time, ask yourself why. Have you let too many things creep into your day? Have you taken on too many obligations or commitments? Have your actions and priorities gotten out of sync?
I have come to believe that the notion of “time management” is a myth to a large degree. When we try to manage time, what we really end up doing is “borrowing” from other places. When you “manage” to squeeze in more time at the office to finish up a project, you are borrowing time away from family, friends, or yourself.
How often do you “borrow” time from one part of your life (work, family, friends, fitness, sleep) and lend that time to another? And, how often do you pay it back? Is there one area of your life that is not very good at meeting its debts (borrows far more than it lends?). Quite simply, if we keep borrowing without paying it back, eventually we will drain the account dry. Maybe we’ll get sick (from borrowing too much from self-care time) or lose important relationships or miss out on meaningful events. If this is happening to you, it is time to take stock and ask yourself – “What can I do to stop juggling time and start giving time to what matters most?”
Create Some Time Policies
Ok, here is where we get down to the “tips” you may have been looking for. But I warn you, these tips will not help solve your time problems unless you effectively begin to value your time more than anything else and you start managing your choices and actions, rather than your hours and minutes.
I really like the idea of policies and use them frequently. Businesses use them all the time. Once we have a “policy” on something it takes on an official, can’t-be-changed-without-an-act-of-God level of seriousness that helps us stick to our plans. If I tell someone “I have a policy of …” they almost never question it the way they might if I simply said “I don’t think I can.” Here are some sample time policies, but I encourage you to develop 2 or 3 policies that you feel will best help you to focus your time around what matters most.
- “We have a family policy that each child can only participate in 1 scheduled activity at a time”
- “I have a policy that I only volunteer for one event per month”
- “I have a policy that I only do one evening commitment or late night per week”
- “We have a policy that each family member plans 1 dinner per week”
- “We have a policy of not discussing problems or concerns during dinner”
You know what kinds of limits would really help you make peace with time. Write them down, and start telling people about them. You’ll be amazed at how simple and effective this is!
So, if you’re serious about making peace with time, here is your action strategy:
- Write down your top three priories, for your life, as they exist right now and post them.
- Identify two policies you plan to create for yourself and immediately implement them.
- Clear 1 hour off of your schedule for “unplanned time” every day for a week – do what thrills you or draws you in.