The New Year Brings with It New Opportunities

Before we can take advantage of the new opportunities that the New Year is sure to bring, we need to reevaluate our thoughts about time. To help in that regard, I’m offering 15 points to consider. But first, 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 consists of 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 you can do, or avoid doing, to align you 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 change, transform, and develop our 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 two 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)

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. Updegraff explains 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 classic book on time, “ALL THE TIME YOU NEED: The Greatest Gift In The World,” click here.

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.

Mistakes to Avoid

1. Thinking there’s lot’s 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. 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 for us 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.

Do you know what time it is? It’s later than you think! To get the most out of life, let’s remember that everything in it takes longer to do than we expect. The only exception is life itself, which is shorter than we anticipate. So, let’s make the best use of time and measure it by the good we do. For it is then that time becomes sacred and we come to know, as Jean Paul Richter did, that “Time is the chrysalis of eternity.”

Case Study

Did you ever feel so overwhelmed with things to do that you wanted to study time management, but couldn’t find the time to do so? That’s the dilemma of a 22 year old reader who writes from Nigeria. He’s frustrated that he can’t get more done, learn faster, and remain focused on what’s important, so he’s asking for suggestions.

But to put things in perspective, he’s already doing far better than many of us. You see, he’s a student (who will graduate next year), lives alone, and works on a contract basis as a software engineer and system developer. He’s also interested in singing, programming, innovative thinking, technological gadgets, and giving motivational speeches. As you can see, he has his plate full and is accomplishing a great deal.

However, from his point of view, he’s frustrated that his busy schedule makes it difficult for him to find time for himself. And on those lucky occasions when he does have time alone, all he feels like doing is sleeping. “I just don’t know how to help myself,” he writes, “perhaps you can help.”

Thank you for writing, Charles (not his real name). One of the afflictions of youth is lack of patience. You will graduate within a year and at that time you will find it much easier to cope with the many things you wish to do. Continue working hard at school because it will pay big dividends in the future. As long as you regularly remind yourself that you will have more time available a year from now, your present situation will be easier to bear.

Also, to make the most of your present and future situations, you need to make a shift in the way you look at things. Your desire to accomplish much is admirable, but to avoid stress and frustration, it should be tempered with realism. You need to understand that we cannot do, get, or become everything we hope for. While you are dying to do many things, you forget that you are dying. I’m not trying to be morbid, but just trying to say you do not and never will have enough time to do everything. After all, our desires are unlimited, but life is not. So, we have to compromise by asking ourselves questions such as:

  • Of the many things I wish to do, which ones can I realistically expect to achieve at this time?
  • Since I cannot achieve everything I would like to, which ones should I focus on now?
  • Which ones are the most useful and important?
  • Is what I am doing now making the best use of my time?

You will find that when we focus on the important things, we will accomplish a great deal more. Isn’t the purpose of achievement to enjoy life? If we are not enjoying it, it is a signal that we may be trying to do too much.

You also seem to be anxious to achieve a great deal, but resent the fact that hard work is ‘robbing’ you of free time. Again, a shift in the way we look at things is called for. You see, hard work is not robbing you of free time, but giving you the opportunities to gain new insights, solve problems, gain experience, develop relationships, and sharpen your skills, all of which will help you save time and grow more successful.

By focusing on what’s important and willingly giving up unimportant goals, you will be able to create free time for recreation and rejuvenation. When you lead a more balanced life, you will be free of the stress that now causes you to sleep away your free time. Incidentally, there is no need to feel guilty during your free time, fun time, or recreation because they are major achievements as well, and necessary ones at that.

Now, Charles, what is time management? It is nothing more than life management. That is, it is self-management or self-discipline. It is the discipline to focus on doing what is most important. But what if everything is important and there isn’t enough time to do everything? Everything may be important, but everything is not equally important. If we wish to go on living, breathing and eating are important. Yet, we may be able to live for a week or more without food, but only for a few minutes without air. The point is, we should be focusing on what is most important at the time.

We can do anything if we stop trying to do everything. We do this by regularly reassessing our values, goals, projects, and tasks and prioritizing them. If we always do what is most important, when we run out of time, the most important would have been done. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, begin by understanding that it is impossible to do everything we would like to do. The knowledge available to humanity is expected to double within ten years, some say within five years. That means that as you grow older there will be many more things that you can do and learn. Yet, your allotment of time will not increase. On the contrary, as you grow older, it will decrease.

Charles’ problem is a valuable lesson for us. It reminds us that we need to regularly reassess our commitments and goals. We need to question ourselves. Is it time for a change? Have I already achieved my goals and is it time to set new ones? What is most important and best for me?

It is also helpful to reflect on the nature and value of time. They say that time is money. Rightly so, for both are valuable resources, both are spent, and we have a limited quantity of both. Some people develop an addiction to gambling and as a result end in the poorhouse instead of a mansion. But wasting time is just as harmful as wasting money, in either case we impoverish ourselves. In fact, wasting time is worse than wasting money, for lost money can be regained, but lost time is gone forever.

Perhaps more than time management skills, we need time consciousness skills. A. B. ZuTavern tells us how to improve in this area: “If, before going to bed every night, you will tear a page from the calendar, and remark, ‘there goes another day of my life, never to return,’ you will become time conscious.” Why is it that we are abhorred by the thought of suicide yet think nothing of killing life bit by bit? We seem to be comfortable with killing life in one wasted moment after another. If in every moment of our consciousness we are aware that everything passes, everything perishes, and everything palls, it will be easier to decide what is most important to do.

To use time wisely, all we have to do is plan it. For as Victor Hugo wrote, “He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out the plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life.” Besides our morning plan, it is wise to reflect on our activities at the end of the day. Did we do all we set out to do? If not, did we at least do the most important things? Finally, we need to ask, “What did we do wrong and how can we improve?”

What do you think about government deficit spending? Isn’t that the same as robbing our future? We do the same when we procrastinate. Through some strange twist of logic, we try to convince ourselves that we will have more time in the future to spend on a project than we have now, so we put it off. But by doing so, we rob our future. We don’t have more time; we have less time because we could have done it today.

So, there you have it; taking advantage of the opportunities brought by the new year is a matter of self-discipline, focusing on what is most important, regularly reassessing our priorities, concentrating on whatever makes us a better person, valuing time, using it wisely, and acting now.