Stop Trying to Manage Time

The things we say about time. We waste time. Time is precious. We kill time. We use time wisely. Time is an illusion. There’s no time like the present. We pass the time. Time slips away. Father Time. Time heals all wounds. The Wheel of Time. Lack of time. Time is on our minds constantly. How many times did you check your watch today?

We humans have been talking and writing about time for literally thousands of years. Lately, we blame our lack of time on the pace of our world. Smart phones. Social media. And on and on. But humanity has always been keenly aware of the precious nature time, and how we choose to spend that time. See, I can’t write a single sentence about time without using some familiar phrase.

When I was in school, the school day and the school year seemed to last forever, and summer vacation seemed to last about 10 minutes. Where did the time go? How does time go fast, then slow, then fast again?

Here’s the thing, we can’t control time. We try. Oh, we try. I’ve lost count of how many different planners there are on the market. I just picked up a new one myself. Panda Planner if you’re interested. I don’t think I go a single day without hearing someone talk about time, or at the very least, me scolding myself for being a little late somewhere.

But here’s the problem. We keep trying to manage time like it’s a bank account. After all, we spend time don’t we? Stop it. It’s not possible to manage time. We can only manage how we relate to it.

It’s all about priorities.

We make time for all kinds of things. Some make sense, like lunch. Some don’t, like scrolling through Facebook for the second hour in a row. “Wait, why am I still doing this?” Somehow, both of those activities, and everything in between, have priority in that moment. "I'm hungry," leads to, "I'll eat lunch." Facebook scrolling, maybe not so much.

We make time for the truly urgent things. At the most extreme level, it doesn’t even seem like we have a choice, and we don’t. Car accident. House fire. Severe illness. At the next level down, things like the broken dishwasher that puts the kitchen floor under an inch of water, the air conditioner stops working in the dead of summer, a surprise visit from a family member. Maybe we get to chose a little bit. You get the idea.

Below that is an exceedingly long list of activities and events that merit attention. We basically get to choose which ones get our time and which ones don’t. But we don’t seem to choose very wisely, or at least we protest in hindsight.

After the aforementioned Facebook scroll-fest, we complain that we’re tired from lack of sleep. We delete the app from our phone for a day, or an hour. A Saturday night Netflix and chill turns into an all-out two-season binge, and we have insomnia for the next 3 days. We cancel our account for a week, or a day.

Okay. Great. We make some unwise choices. So what? No harm, no foul. Maybe. And . . .

We could just say to make time for the most important things first, and move down the list of importance. The “Rocks, Pebbles, Sand Analogy” is a great illustration of this idea. You can see Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People explain it here:

It’s a great idea, but what are the most important things? What if there are too many important things to fit in my day? For that matter, what’s really important? How do I know? What if my priorities change? This seems like a hell of a lot of work!

True. It does take time and energy to plan how to use your time most effectively. But, the time will go by whether you plan it or not. Stress is a major consequence of not prioritizing how we spend our time. Who wants less stress? Not me. Okay. Get to it.

There are a lot of ways to think about what is important in our lives. Health, family, relationships, material comfort, and a whole lot more. Start with the big things. But . . .

Here’s an example of how this can get tricky. Maybe you don’t want to take the time out of your busy day for a physical exam. Who does? But, if staying healthy so you can enjoy time with your grandchildren is high on the list, guess where you should be? You guessed it. Getting that blood drawn.

Go big! Think big about what's important. Our lives reveal our real priorities all of the time. What are you doing right now? What do you think you should be doing right now? Hopefully, this blog post is high on your list. If you aren’t doing what you think you should be doing or what you’ve decided is the most important thing right now, then you are either mistaken about your priorities or some part of you just doesn’t believe in them. It won’t hurt my feelings if you decide this is the last sentence of this blog you read for now. Well, maybe a little.

Until we get clear about what’s really important in our lives, we will always struggle with how we spend our time. There will always be conflict between what we are doing, and what we feel we should be doing.

By the way, I hope that taking care of your body, mind, and spirit are very high on your list. Without a healthy you, they others in your life won’t get your best you. So, a Netflix binge? Maybe that’s the most important thing right now. Maybe not. You get to decide. Choose well.

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