Time Management Series, Part Three - How to Live More

If you have read the other two articles in this series, you may now have a better appreciation of the value of your time, and more skills for using it efficiently.  Now, we're going to move to a larger perspective: how to use your time more effectively in the course of having a satisfying life. 

"Life is what happens while you're making other plans."  In the daily struggle to stay afloat, it can be easy to lose track of our real life goals.  When older people evaluate their lives, any regrets they have tend to be around lost or misused opportunities.  They may wish they had expressed their feelings more to the people they love.  They may wish they had enjoyed themselves more, or had a wider variety of experience, or actually pursued that illusive life's dream.  When speaking with such people, one does not hear: "I really should have spent more time cleaning under the refrigerator," or, "If only I'd worked late more often," or "I wish I could have rushed more."

Task management is geared toward the effective accomplishment of short-term goals.  So first, be selective about what you "have" to do.  Second, use task management to do it as quickly as possible.  Finally, use the freed-up time for things you want to do.  Remember the big picture when you look for your own best balance between efficiency and enjoying the moment.  We’ve talked about how to be efficient, so here are some principles for getting more life out of your time.

Slow down.  You've undoubtedly noticed that life moves much more quickly than it used to.  A couple of factors contribute to this: 1) The pace of the world is faster, due to various technological advances, especially in communications and entertainment, which create the expectation of shorter time frames.  2) We are expected to try to do it all, know it all, have it all, etc. as never before.  As a result, we literally move through our daily duties more quickly, multi-tasking when possible.  This results in the sense of rushing, which in turn makes life feel more out of control.

Remember that task management's real purpose is to free up time.  What you do with that time is what makes the difference in the quality of your life experience.  Look for opportunities to slow down when possible, like walking to a destination that is only a short drive away anyway.  Or when you walk, trade your power-walk for a stroll.  Pick up a phone and call someone instead of texting, e-mailing or Facebooking sometimes.   These kinds of changes, judiciously placed, will allow you time to breathe, to rest, and to think.  Also, try appreciating the breaks you receive when you least expect them, like being caught in a traffic jam, for instance.  You can spend the time fretting about being late, or you can accept that it's already out of your control, and enjoy the ability to have some guilt-free down-time.  Don't laugh, this is actually possible.

Minimize transitions.  Think about how you feel when you spend a day running from one place or task to the next, trying to get a number of small items taken care of in a limited amount of time.  Now think about how you feel when you spend a day on one big, slow task, like painting a room or putting in a garden.  If you're like most of us, you'll note more stress associated with running around.  The difference has to do with how often you switch gears psychologically.  It is generally more relaxing and satisfying to settle into an activity for a prolonged period of time than it is to switch rapid-fire from one activity to another.  Aim for spending more time on each of fewer activities, and the perceived pace of your life will slow to something more manageable.  While we all need to have activities and friends to enrich our lives, we also need to keep them down to a number we can manage and appreciate.  If you can fully devote yourself to a few activities and people that really matter to you, it will generally be more satisfying than having many choices for which you lack the time. 

It's worth commenting here about how connected we have all become in recent years. Thanks to mobile devices, it is now possible to check and receive e-mail, voicemail messages, texts and phone calls at any time of the day or night, no matter where we are or what we're doing. It's incredibly easy to do quick online research at any time, and there is a seemingly infinite number of apps available to make our mobile devices more entertaining and useful. 
The thing to be aware of is that each time you access one of these devices -- every single time -- you are creating an additional set of transitions in your day. You stop whatever you're doing to access your device, which is one transition, and then you get back to what you were doing before the self-imposed interruption, which is another transition. Thanks to our devices, we now have the power to create dozens, perhaps hundreds, of additional transitions in our day. This is costly in terms of both time management and psychological flow, and may therefore increase your stress and inefficiency in ways you don't immediately notice.

Invest your time wisely.  Many of us spend large amounts of our precious time in ways that don't add any quality to our lives.  How often have you devoted time to someone you don't even like very much, because you felt obligated, or simply unable to say "no?"  Was it worth it, after all? 

Many of us watch TV or spend hours online "to relax."  For many of us, this is not a pleasing diversion so much as it is a way to pass time in a numbed-out state.  Granted, time spent in this manner is not demanding, but it isn't particularly rejuvenating either.  Start paying attention to how much you actually process what you're seeing and doing when you're watching TV or are online.  If you can't remember what you watched or did in these activities last week, you probably spent most of that time being on mental "pause" rather than getting a recharge. You might find that you get more genuine enjoyment and invigoration in other ways.  Think about the memories you will generate for the future when you invest your time, and you will have a good test of whether it is a quality investment.

Be clock-free whenever possible.  Look for opportunities where you don't have to keep track of the time, especially when you are doing something for enjoyment or relaxation.  Checking the time takes you out of the experience, thus reducing its benefit somewhat.  Leave your watch in a drawer whenever you can, as an emotional vacation from efficiency. 

Look for activities that free you from time-awareness.  Washing the car, reading a chapter, or weeding the flowers are all examples of activities that can have natural end-points rather than scheduled ones.  It can be liberating to immerse yourself in an activity that simply takes as long as it takes.  There is another strategy for breaking the clock's hold on your life: Let's say you like to walk, and have a route that takes about 45 minutes.  If you do it when you have a 90-minute block of time open, that means you can enjoy the entire walk without once worrying about whether you're running out of time.  You are free to really notice and appreciate the experience of the walk, rather than hurrying your way through to get done "in time."

Have less stuff.  There is much emphasis in our culture on material acquisition.  Every object you own takes up space and more importantly, time.  Each possession we obtain uses time in the following ways: Time to decide whether to get it.  Time to actually go and get it.  Time to maintain/clean it once we have it.  Time using it, to justify having it in the first place.  Time fretting over how much stuff we have that we don't really use.  This is not to suggest that we should all live like monks.  Just be aware that each possession has time-related consequences, and that this is another way to evaluate how well you are investing your time.

Accept your limits.  The good news is that our world offers us a virtually unlimited buffet of experiences, knowledge, and relationships.  The bad news is that, within the limits of our life spans, we can only hope to barely scratch the surface of what is available.  Rather than exhausting yourself in a futile effort to "do it all," consider focusing on a more limited selection that will move you closer to those goals you cherish the most. 

Updated copyright © 2012, Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW.  All rights reserved. 
Original copyright © 1998, Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW.  All rights reserved.


Related articles:

Time Management Series, Part One: But I Don't Have Time for Time Management!

Time Management Series, Part Two: How to Accomplish More

Finding Time Where There Is None


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