We all have the same 24 hours a day — how wisely are you using yours?

The clock can make you a little cuckoo if you let time get away from you. Flickr photo by Jim Woodward.

One of my favorite insights is that when someone says they don’t have time, what he really means is, “I choose to spend my time on something besides that.”

Because we all have the same 24 hours, and we all choose how to spend those hours, even if we don’t always choose wisely.

A great Wall Street Journal piece headlined Are You As Busy As You Think? suggested not rushing ever harder to get more done, but to be smarter about where our time goes.

Author Laura Vanderkam suggests:

  • Keeping a time log. Like tracking meals, tracking time keeps us from spending it mindlessly or lying to ourselves about what we do with it. Checking Facebook five times a day at six minutes a pop adds up to two-and-a-half hours in a workweek — curiously, the exact amount of time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends we exercise .
  • Being honest. One study tracking people’s estimated and actual workweeks found that those claiming to work 70, 80, or more hours were logging less than 60.
  • Asking yourself what you’d like to do with your time. Claiming to be busy relieves us of the burden of choice. But if you’re working 50 hours a week, and sleeping eight hours a night (56 per week) that leaves 62 hours for other things.
  • Changing your language. Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.

We value being busy as a culture — if you ask someone how she’s doing, the answer is often “crazy busy” or some other such statement of how booked and important we are.

I’ve been consciously pruning activities from my life that seemed like time sucks, preferring to relax at home with my hubby or practice piano over many other busy-making obligations. But I’ve still been neglectful of regularly scheduling doctor’s appointments and haircuts, and need to face that it’s not time that prevents me from doing it but my own failure to make self-maintenance a priority.

Saying it that way makes me face that it’s not consistent with my values, and surely in my 24 hours a day, I can squeeze in taking better care of myself.

Making lists helps me — both the basic to-do items I want to bang out today and the high-priority goals I want to keep in focus. I like the idea of tracking my time, like a calorie log for the clock, and seeing how it lines up with the priorities on my lists.

What do you spend time on that you don’t value? What do you value that you need to fit into your regular schedule?


Categories: career, health and well being, lifestyle

Tags: , , ,

9 replies

  1. Loved it. We can’t; see it, smell it, feel it, hear it. Let its moving. The dimension its using is complex.

  2. This is a tough one. I feel like so many people see time management as doing everything quicker so you have more time in the day to do more things. That’s exhausting, and a sure way to get burnt out fast.

    Instead I prioritize tasks by enjoyment. Is this something that I don’t like doing? Then I’m going to execute it as quickly and as possible to make more time for the things i do enjoy and am good at. Is this something that I really enjoy and want to spend extra time doing? Then I can stretch my time.

    I think we need to stop thinking that we need to get more done, and start thinking about getting more things done that we enjoy!

  3. Hey Colleen,
    If u listen to people say things like “I’m missing ____activity”, or “I can’t handle that”, or “I should be _____ more”. I think, and often say: You are missing not only that activity, but everything in the whole universe, except for what u are doing. As for handling stuff: what one is saying is “I don’t LIKE the way I’m handling it”.Doing nothing is just another way of handling stuff. When u look back over your life the day before u die ..U have handled EVERYTHING. There are 7 billion people on earth and everyone who has ever lived, is living, and will live, will have a unique life. So, since we all make up our lives moment to moment, whose to say what we each SHUOLD be doing? No 2 people are ever doing the same thing.

    • It’s a great point, Alan — you can’t do everything, and by choosing to do X, you’re typically choosing not to do Y and Z. When you accept that you’re going to have to pick and choose, and that hopefully those choices reflect your priorities, then you can focus your energies on what you are doing instead of fussing about what you’re not.


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