Oh time! How many songs have been written about your passing? How many tears have been shed upon realizing your fleeting nature? Some of the biggest, most important decisions we make are about how to spend our precious time. Time is no small matter. In fact, it’s our most valuable resource.
Our beliefs about time and how we choose to spend it can be a beautiful expression of our passions and priorities. Too often, though, this isn’t the case.
Take a moment now to reflect on these questions:
- What activities bring you the most joy?
- What is most important to you?
- Is there an issue or cause that you care deeply about?
Now answer this one: How much time do you spend every week on these things you care so much about?
When I asked myself these questions, here’s what I came up with:
- Activities that bring me joy: dancing, writing, meditating, and being outside
- The number one most important thing to me is my family and friends
- The cause I care about: women’s rights
When I looked at my calendar for an average week, I noticed a Grand Canyon-sized gap between my priorities and how I spent my time.
Nowhere on my questionnaire did I report perfectly folded laundry as a major life priority. Even further down on the list was a spotless refrigerator. And yet, much of my time was spent working late at the office, cleaning the house on the weekends, and running menial errands.
If you do this exercise and find that your intentions for time well spent and your actual life don’t quite line up, here are a few tips to bring them closer together.
Put It On the Calendar
I live by my Outlook calendar. If it’s not on there, chances are it’s not happening. The days and weeks can get away from you if you don’t make a plan for how you’re going to fit in that weekly dance class, quiet time alone, or coffee with your old college roommate.
Studies have shown that breaking routine can keep you young. However, this also requires more brainpower because you have to concentrate on whatever new activity you’re trying. If you want to start painting, set yourself up for success by thinking through exactly how you’re going to get from work to the art studio, find parking, and change into clothes you don’t mind getting paint on. Thinking through these details in advance will help you feel more prepared.
For a while, I felt enormous guilt for not quitting my job and moving to Africa to work for an NGO. There are women deeply suffering and here I sit, typing away in my comfy air-conditioned arm chair. How could I claim to be a caring person?
For some people, making a radical move like that is the right step. But there are plenty of other ways to use your talents and resources to make valuable contributions to the world, too. This might mean hosting a fundraiser at a local restaurant, or donating used clothes to an organization whose mission inspires you. Make the decision to contribute with your time, your dollars, or your brain.
Detach from the Outcome
When it comes to big issues like poverty and bullying, or engaging in our own creative pursuits, our fear-based egos can stop us before we even start.
How can I, one little person, solve climate change? Why should I even pick up a paintbrush when I’ll never be as talented as Van Gogh?
With the possibility of failure looming so large, it can be easier not to start.
When this type of thinking takes over, come back to your breath and the present moment, and just release. It’s not your responsibility to solve all of the problems of the world. And you don’t need to create the most brilliant painting of all time; you only have a responsibility to share the story that’s in your heart.
Begin with an activity, cause, or project you really care about and think of a small way you can make a positive impact. If you want to spend more time creating art or motivate friends and family to live healthier lives, the baby steps could be doodling on a note card or sharing a health article on Facebook. You’ll build your confidence and your muscle memory. Now that’s not so scary, is it?
Talk to an Old Person
Or, if you already consider yourself to be an “old person,” then talk to yourself. Ask this person with wrinkles and wisdom what, if anything, they wish they had done differently in their lives. Then really listen. If you can’t find an old person who will share their thoughts, read this eye-opening article on the Top Regrets of the Dying.
Most end-of-life regrets center around two things: spending more time with the people you love and having the courage to follow dreams and aspirations.
In Daniel Gilbert’s bestselling book Stumbling on Happiness, Gilbert shows how terrible we are at predicting what makes us happy. Now is your chance. Learn from your wise aunt, your next-door neighbor, or your former army sergeant. Let them tell you what they are most proud of and what they regret; make their mistakes mean something by not repeating them yourself.
We all want to create something, even if we think we aren’t creative. We all want to make a contribution and do something meaningful, even if we believe our capacity is small.
If you don’t listen to your own deep knowing, one day you’ll regret having taken life too seriously and worrying too much about what others think.
Now, excuse me as I run off to dance class.