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 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 by 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 (1813 ~ 1887) 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, 1780 ~ 1842) “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, 1803 ~ 1882).
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.” (http://www.mayaangelou.com). 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 (1889 ~ 1977) 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 on the left side of this web page: http://www.archive.org/details/allthetimeyounee012996mbp
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 (d. 2004) 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 (1872 ~ 1970) said, “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” John Wanamaker (1838 ~ 1922) 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.
For more on the subject of time, see:
And to dive into the subject more profoundly, consider reading:
THE TIME PARADOX, The New Psychology of Time that Will Change Your Life by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd, Free Press, 2008.
The Tao of Time by Diana Scharf-Hunt and Pam Hait, Simon & Schuster, 1991
I’ll end with this advice by Emile Littre (1801 ~ 1881), “He who would make serious use of his life must always act as though he had a long time to live and schedule his time as though he were about to die.”