Overview of Our Problem with Time
Our most precious commodity is time, for it’s the stuff life is made of. And because it’s a non-renewable resource, it has unlimited value. Yet, don’t we sometimes kill time? But when we kill it, isn’t it killing us? When we waste time, aren’t we committing suicide in slow motion? Why do we guard our possessions from thieves, but think nothing of the thieves that steal our time (life)? Those thieves are our own bad habits, which cause us to waste time. Isn’t it time we stopped spending our time the way politicians spend our money?
Normally, we don’t reap a reward unless we first exert some effort. My garden doesn’t just burst into bloom; first I have to water, fertilize, and care for it. Time represents an exception to this rule. Without any effort on my part, as soon as I wake up in the morning, another 24 hours are bestowed on me. Imagine, each day our cups are magically filled with 86,400 seconds for us to do with as we will. Each second is filled with promise. Each moment is a dab of paint that we apply to the canvas of our lives.
How can we take advantage of our daily allotment of time? A good way to begin is by avoiding the following common mistakes.
1. Thinking there’s lots of time. Never be misled by the number of days in a year. Their number merely represents the time that is potentially available to us. If it is misspent or wasted, it all comes to nothing. What if you were told you had one hour to live? Wouldn’t you believe you had very little time? Is there much difference between an hour and a day? A day and a week? A week and a month? A month and a year? A year and a decade? A decade and a lifetime? Understanding how little time we have available is the beginning of wisdom.
2. Not valuing time. It would be wise to heed the words of Peter F. Drucker, “One cannot buy, rent or hire more time. The supply of time is totally inelastic. No matter how high the demand, the supply will not go up. There is no price for it. Time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Yesterday’s time is gone forever, and will never come back. Time is always in short supply. There is no substitute for time. Everything requires time. All work takes place in, and uses up time. Yet most people take for granted this unique, irreplaceable and necessary resource.” Unless we value ourselves, how can we value time?
Of what value is diamond ring, unless we occasionally pause to appreciate its beauty? If we wear it unaware, we might as well be blind. As the sands of time slip between our fingers, shouldn’t we be enjoying its grainy texture and glitter? Like diamonds, time has value because of its scarcity. When Henry Twells reflected on the value of time, he wrote, “When as a child I laughed and wept, time crept. When as a youth I waxed more bold, time strolled. When I became a full-grown man, time RAN. When older still I daily grew, time FLEW. Soon I shall find, in passing on, time gone.” Lydia H. Sigourney had this to say, “Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered for they are gone forever.”
3. Not realizing today is the most important day. What moment can be more important than the present moment? “One of the illusions of life is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive hour.” writes Ralph Waldo Emerson. He continues, “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. No man has learned anything rightly, until he knows that every day is Doomsday.” To which Seneca adds, “We let go the present, which we have in our power, and look forward to that which depends upon chance, and so relinquish a certainty for an uncertainty.”
4. Squandering time. Why do we squander time? It’s almost as if we are afraid we will wear out if we keep busy. But it isn’t the moving gear that gets rusty. Instead of passing time, why not spend time. If we use it like money, squeezing out maximum value for each cent and moment spent, we will enrich our lives. John F. Kennedy also offered good advice: “We must use time as a tool, not as a couch.”
5. Trying to manage time. We mean well when we try to manage time, but think about it for a moment, how can we manage it? Can we expand or compress it? Time is inflexible. There is nothing we can do about it. It is merely the measure of passing events. So, it is not time that we should be focusing on, but the events themselves. For when we control the events, we control our lives. If we neglect our tasks, they will pile up and we will find that we will have emergencies to cope with. Spending the day putting out fires is both stressful and unproductive. We can regain control over our lives by getting into the habit of performing our tasks as soon as they arise. And we value time by doing the important stuff first. The unimportant can be done later, if time remains.
6. Staying up late at night to ‘relax’ or get extra work done is self-defeating because you are denying your body the rest it needs to perform at top efficiency.
7. Another mistake some make is refusing to say NO to the excessive expectations of family, friends, and coworkers. Sure, doing favors is fine, but when others do far less for you than you do for them, it places an unfair burden on you. You keep their friendship, but become your own enemy.
8. Some other mistakes. Don’t seek to live a longer life, but seek to live a fuller life. For as Thomas Fuller wrote, “He lives long that lives well, and time misspent is not lived, but lost.” If you run out of time, it is not because of insufficient time, but insufficient willpower. We can always find the time to do what we want to do. The trick is to learn to want to do what is best for us. If you are unsatisfied with the current state of affairs, don’t believe time will change things, for it is not time but YOU that are the architect of your future. We must take responsibility for our own lives.
The Bane of Busyness
An aerial view of most cities would reveal swarms of people frantically racing about. Everyone is in a hurry. If you stop someone and ask how they are, they will reply, “Busy. Very busy.” They certainly are active, but often their actions are undirected or misdirected. They seem to be busy for the sake of being busy. They are involved in the business of busyness. Disheveled and unorganized, they are too busy to get organized. They are so busy mopping the floor, they have no time to turn off the faucet.
The price they pay for their endless flurry of activity is high. At the end of the day, or before, they are stressed out, burned out, and wiped out. Instead of a life of serenity, they lead lives of frustration, resentment, and anger. Because they are too busy to have time for anything important, they feel empty. They feel as though they are plodding through a meaningless existence.
Also, because they have forgotten that people are more important than paperwork, their relationships suffer. They are worried about losing time, but not about losing their potential. They work hard for the growth of the company, but ignore their self-growth. The toll of their busyness is also the loss of excellence, for they abandon the practice of doing few things well for that of doing many things poorly. The speed at which they work causes errors and drains them of the energy that is needed to cope with problems.
Self-educated longshoreman and author of eleven books, Eric Hoffer, had this to say, “We are warned not to waste time, but we are brought up to waste our lives.” The cult of busyness is destroying our spirit. How do we fight against the assassination of our spirit? How do we find the time to live? How do we disentangle ourselves from the web of busyness? Here are some steps we can take:
1. By taking time and making time to collect our thoughts. If we are to move from impulsive action to directed action, we need to take the time to plan, marshal our resources, and build our enthusiasm. If we are to go from “I’m busy” to “I’m productive,” we must make the time to focus on what is important and then take purposeful action. Our spirit is a creative force that has the power to bring about our dreams. But it needs quiet time to study our options, analyze obstacles, and build a road map to success. If we allow ourselves to get ensnared in a cyclone of busyness, the ember of our spirit’s dream will be blown out. Many people are too busy worrying about what they’ve done to think about what they’re doing. We have to reverse that trend by being aware of our actions, always thinking before we act, always reflecting on the results of our actions.
2. Traditional approaches have been to turn to time management with the hope of learning how to squeeze extra hours out of the day. Assuming that I uncover another three hours a day to work with, how does that help me if I’m too exhausted to do anything else? So, the solution seems to lie in ENERGY management, not TIME management. To read about this fascinating idea and learn how to untap your energy with the Full Engagement Training System, get a copy of the New York Times best-seller, “The Power of Full Engagement“ by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. For more helpful books, see the References section at the end of this article.
3. One of the best ways to save time is to do things right the first time. “Desire to have things done quickly prevents their being done properly.” If you agree with that, you agree with the words of Confucius. There’s something else you can do to regain control of your life, and it’s something Confucius never thought of; mainly, turning off the TV.
4. An excellent way to create more time is to perform several goals simultaneously. For example, when you take the family to the park for a game of volleyball, you are enjoying family time, calming the mind with recreation (re-creation), caring for your body with exercise, and recharging your spirit with the beauty of nature.
5. Another factor to consider is your interpretation of ‘success.’ Are you striving to HAVE more or BE more? I know a lawyer who sold his practice, moved to the country with his family, and opened an inn. He and his family have discovered they are getting far more from life, despite their lower income. Do you really need a Hummer or will a Honda Civic do? The savings in the price of the car, insurance, maintenance, and gas means you don’t have to work as hard. Is it a Hummer you want or happiness? Remember, even if you win the rat race, you remain a rat, trapped in the maze of busyness.
Both busyness and laziness lead to the same end, the neglect of important goals. Our task, then, is to treat time with the respect it deserves. After all, it is both a limited and a non-renewable resource. Time is our lifeblood; it is destined to reap great benefits if we use it wisely. Of course, we cannot change overnight, making a 180-degree turn from a life of busyness to one of purposeful and carefully thought out action. But we can begin to take baby steps today and bit by bit regain control of our lives.
If you are ever tempted to think that you don’t have enough time, consider this poem of Purzil Crofe:
A busy man complained one day:
“I get no time!” “What’s that you say?”
Cried out his friend, a lazy quiz;
“You have, sir, all the time there is.
There’s plenty, too, and don’t you doubt it —
We’re never for an hour without it.”
15 Ways to Align Ourselves with the Nature of Time
Do you feel mired in projects, overwhelmed by responsibilities, and crushed by the lack of time to do everything you want to? If so, you’re not alone. A growing number of people feel cheated. They feel their life is out of control because there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. More and more people are saying, “I just don’t have any time.”
Yet, after consideration, there are two glaring contradictions. First, as long as we are alive, how can we say we have no time? For life is time. If we are alive, we have time. So, the problem isn’t the absence of time, but how we choose to use it.
The second contradiction is while men and women bemoan how little time they have, they waste and kill it. How can we plunder time by wasting it and later complain that we have not achieved the level of success we had hoped for? If we wish to feel in control and enjoy all the benefits of life, we will have to change our attitude toward time. Although by no means complete, what follows is a list of 15 things we can do, or avoid doing, to align with the true nature of time. We won’t be able to master time until we understand it better, so let’s go through the list.
1. We must be honest. For example, to say “I don’t have the time to do that” is dishonest. If we were truthful, we would say, “I am unwilling to take the time and make the effort to do that.” Consider the results of being honest or dishonest. When we say “I don’t have the time…” we feel powerless and adopt a victim mentality. We end up shirking responsibility and taking the easy way out. This is the path that leads to mediocrity, or worse yet, failure.
Yet, when we are honest and say to ourselves, “I’m not willing to do that”, we place ourselves in a more powerful position because we are reminding ourselves that we are using the power of choice. We are not victims, but decision makers. And “I’m not willing to do that” can quickly become “I’m not willing to do that YET”, and it can later become, “Now that I have considered the benefits, I’m willing to do that.”
2. We always find the time to do what we want. But the problem is we are torn between two wants, what we want NOW and what we want in the FUTURE. The reason we are torn between these two wants is because our brain is hardwired to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. For example, a student wants to excel in school because that will lead to a successful life. However, there is a conflict between the desire to party with his friends NOW (pleasure) and the desire to study hard, which will result in FUTURE joy and immediate ‘pain’ (hard work).
The first step in overcoming this dilemma is to be aware of it. So, when you are tempted to party rather than study you can say to yourself, “My desire to party comes from the programming of my old brain. It just acts automatically and doesn’t know what is best for me. But I do, so I will use my thinking or rational brain to consider the consequences of my actions. Therefore, I choose to study now and will party later to celebrate my good grades.”
The second step in overcoming temptation is to focus on the pleasure of our future success rather than the present ‘pain.’ The third step is to take action, for when we do so, we will discover the task was not as difficult as we had imagined it would be.
3. We cannot create time, but we can save it. One way to do so is my doing our job correctly the first time. When some people are confronted with the mistakes they made, they retort, I didn’t have the time to do it properly. If they don’t have time to do their job properly, where will they find the time to correct their errors? As humans, we will make mistakes, but we need to learn from them. Repeatedly making the same mistakes is a waste of time.
4. Don’t pretend you’re going to live forever or that you have an unlimited supply of time. You don’t. Some say time flies, but it is not time but we that fly. Here today, gone tomorrow. Others don’t mind killing time, unaware that time is killing them. But because there’s so little time, like gold or diamonds, it is precious. Value it. Cherish it. Jealously guard it from waste, for wasted time is worthless. But time that is carefully used has the power to transformour lives.
5. Focus your attention on one task at a time. When you try to do too many things at once, nothing gets done.
6. Start the day off right. As Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “The first hour of the morning is the rudder of the day.” Rise and shine; don’t rise and whine!
7. Take advantage of spare moments. Here’s what three great minds had to write on the subject: “An earnest purpose finds time, or makes it. It seizes on spare moments, and turns fragments to golden account.” (William Ellery Channing); “Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson); “Much may be done in those little shreds and patches of time which every day produces, and which most men throw away.” (Charles Caleb Colton)
8. Use time wisely. For instance, use it to become a better person. Maya Angelou explains, “Since time is the one immaterial object which we cannot influence — neither speed up nor slow down, add to nor diminish — it is an imponderably valuable gift. Each of us has a few minutes a day or a few hours a week which we could donate to an old folks home or a children’s hospital ward. The elderly whose pillows we plump or whose water pitchers we refill may or may not thank us for our gift, but the gift is upholding the foundation of the universe.” As an added bonus, when we spend time on improving ourselves, it is time not spent on disapproving of others.
9. Don’t brood over what might have been. Not only is dwelling on the past a waste of time, but it prevents us from acting in the present and thereby robs our future.
10. As in any other endeavor, the key to mastering time lies in balance. Robert R. Updegraffexplains it this way, “To get all there is out of living, we must employ our time wisely, never being in too much of a hurry to stop and sip life, but never losing our sense of the enormous value of a minute.”
To download Robert R. Updegraff’’s masterpiece, “ALL THE TIME YOU NEED: The Greatest Gift In The World,” click on the left side of this web page.
11. When we procrastinate, we make the error of believing this moment is not particularly important because we can always postpone our task to a later date. This way of thinking robs us of time. Does it make any sense to postpone life? Of course not. The master of time understands that this present moment is a critical one. To ignore it is to walk away from opportunity and life.
12. Start earlier in the day. I saw a documentary on a Japanese author who gets up and writes from 4 ~ 10 am, walks the dog 10 ~ 12 noon, returns home for lunch and then has the rest of the day to do anything he wants to. He has no problem with a shortage of time! Inspired by him, but not as ambitious, I moved the start of my working day from 9 to 7 am. Overnight, I suddenly ‘found’ two more hours. A little change can make a big difference in life.
13. Don’t waste time trying to stretch it. Reading book after book on time management is time better spent on getting things done. I’m not saying reading about time management is bad; in fact, I’m recommending some books in this article. But what I am saying is that sometimes research on a cure for a problem is really a ruse for procrastination that only further delays the cure, so exercise caution.
14. Prioritize. Do what is most important first. Not to do so is to waste time. Or, as Charles E. Hummel wrote, “We realize our dilemma goes deeper than shortage of time; it is basically a problem of priorities. We confess, ‘We have left undone those things that we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.’”
15. We need to balance work with play, so take time for recreation (re-creation). It was with this intent in mind that Bertrand Russell said, “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” John Wanamaker expands on this point, “People who cannot find time for recreation are obliged sooner or later to find time for illness.”
Don’t become a prisoner by serving time, rather make time serve you. Perhaps these 15 principles will help to set you free again.
1. We sleep, but time doesn’t. While we sleep, time is bringing to fruition the consequences of our action or inaction.
2. If there’s not enough time to do it right, how will there be time to do it over?
3.“Don’t be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of. One man gets only a week’s value out of a year while another man gets a full year’s value out of a week.” (Charles Richards)
4.“Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” (M.Scott Peck)
5.“People who cannot find time for recreation are obliged sooner or later to find time for illness.” (John Wanamaker)
6.“Lose not yourself in a far off time, seize the moment that is thine.” (Friedrich Schiller)
7.“Time Is a Gift. That’s why We Call It the Present.” (Mason Cooley)
8. Don’t mistake being busy for being productive; they’re not the same thing.
How can we complain that we don’t have enough time when every hour of our lives contains sixty minutes? It’s not time that we lack, but the willingness to make tough choices. Samuel Smiles reminds us that “Lost wealth may be replaced by industry, lost knowledge by study, lost health by temperance or medicine, but lost time is gone forever.” Doesn’t that signal to us that the time to make better choices is now?
by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd.
The Tao of Time by Diana Scharf-Hunt and Pam Hait.
by Sean Carroll
by Jim Randel
by Richard Koch