Have you noticed that we describe time in the same way as we do money: spending, wasting, saving, not enough, running out of. It makes sense because our time is a similar resource: we have a clear ‘budget’ of 24 hours in a day, and once it’s gone, we can’t sneak in an extra couple of hours from another day!
So what do we spend our time on? Do you stop and think about it? Every day, we have the chance to start afresh, with a new budget of hours, and use our time well. To me, this means that we need to consider what we want to feel like at the end of the day, and then decide what will make it likely that we will feel that way.
Of course, we usually have some things that are ‘fixed costs’ in our daily budget of time- sleeping, meals, work – yet we all have some ‘spare’ time that we can make choices about. Do I watch random TV at the end of the day, because I’m tired, or do I watch something that inspires me or makes me laugh? Do I do the housework, or do I spend my time with friends or family?
If we stop to think in terms of how it will make us feel, rather than automatically ploughing through the habitual list of things to get done in the day, we can change the nature of our days. And it is obvious that we haven’t thought this through properly, because we now have so many ‘time-savers’ like internet shopping, washing machines and driers, our own cars rather than public transport etc. etc. When this advance was talked about before it happened, the prediction was that we would all be able to work fewer hours, and have much more leisure time to do what we wanted. Yet we all seem to be busier than ever! My mum had more to do physically than I do – food shopping for her was three times a week by bus – yet she had more time to talk with neighbours, to play a board game with us kids…
If we are saving time, what are we saving it for? What are we spending this spare time on? I don’t know about you, but I know I would prefer to spend it on things that make me feel good at the end of the day.
So let’s start with the fundamentals: what use of my time makes me feel good at the end of the day? You need to consciously think about this and create your own repertoire, so that you have a clear idea of what is good use of your time for you, and can spend any time you save wisely.
It will probably be a mixture of categories, which you adjust according to the demands of that particular day, and your mood in the morning, to give you a balance in the day. For example, if I have been working all day, I may want to spend some of my spare time doing something physical instead of mental, or I may want to do something relaxing and quiet.
Possible categories of daily activities for your repertoire
I have developed a set of categories that help me to find a balance in my days, so they may be a useful starter for 10 for you.
- I like to feel I’ve achieved something in the day: done some work, done some writing, answered some emails, sorted or cleared something (Careful! This list can take over!) So I choose 1 or 2 priorities in a day.
- I like to have spent some of my time doing something physical: pilates, a walk, some gardening. It feels good to use my body and nowadays that isn’t built into our normal days like it was for my mum.
- I like to have spent some of my time in contact with others: time with friends or family, phone calls, chatting to the sales assistant – something which is proper human interaction (facebook doesn’t count!)
- I like to have some stimulation in my day, something to get my creative mind going: writing, a documentary or article on something that interests me, a good conversation.
- I feel good if I can just be for a little while, time to keep it all in perspective, to assess where I’m up to.
- And I feel good if I have allowed myself some time to just relax and do something I enjoy: a good movie, reading a good book, pursuing a hobby.
This sounds like being busy all day when I spell it out like this, doesn’t it! And of course in some sense it is – after all we do all use our time each day in some way or another. The difference is that by thinking about the different ways in which I can use my time, I am more likely to keep a balance and not waste my time on things that don’t enrich my day.
Notice that some of the things we have been taught to think of as a waste of time are really valuable. Waste of time seems to have become linked to not having a result or product that is tangible, instead of what is truly a waste of our time – engaging in activities that don’t add anything to our feeling of well-being. Which is better for our soul, clearing our in-box or taking 15 minutes to stroll in the fresh air on a pleasant autumn day?
The criterion for whether something is a waste of time is not the activity itself, it’s how you feel at the end of it.
And remember that often the things that make all the difference to how we feel at the end of the day don’t actually use that much time. Just 15 minutes of sitting back and just drifting can make us feel so much better when we resume what we were doing. And some categories can be catered for in one activity: I can be with friends and have stimulating conversation, and relax – what good use of my time resource!!
So, how are you spending your time today? You can’t save it for tomorrow: the budget disappears at the end of each day. And each morning you have a new budget, so there is always another chance to choose to spend your time in a way that makes you feel good, and sends you to bed saying: ‘That was a good day!’