“What you do today is important, because you are exchanging a day of your life for it.” ~Unknown
When you take cash out of your wallet to give to someone, you surely expect something of equal or greater value in return. Do you treat your time the same way?
At one of my first jobs, I found myself spending a massive amount of time on tasks that didn’t really add value to me or my purpose.
“Ah well, at least I got something done today,” I would often mutter to rationalize wasting time on just busy work. Or even better: “Well, that took a lot of my time, but at least I’ll have tomorrow to take care of what I really need to do.”
I found that I didn’t truly own my time. I would arrive home from work exhausted, unwilling to do anything, and dreading that I only had an hour to sleep before waking up to do the whole thing over again.
Why did all of this happen? Because I let my boss, my friends, and poor decisions take ownership of my time.
Do you find yourself saying yes to too many requests, including those of your boss? Do you give away your time? I understand that you’re at a job and are getting paid for your time, but we all need to take ownership of how you spend your time.
I found out this the hard way when I began getting sick from working too hard and depressed from a lack of balance in life.
I realized something had to change and made it a point to respect my time, because time is the only thing I’m given for free in this life, every day that I live.
I started by promising to myself that I would do just one activity per day that added value to my life, or planted a seed for me to have more time in my life.
For one day, adding value meant challenging myself with a new piano piece to experience the joy of music and refresh my creative side. For another day, this meant completing an action item on my list for the startup I had been forming on the side to achieve financial freedom.
Ultimately, what is important to you in life?
All the time management strategies in the world won’t help you a bit if you don’t know what you really want. These need not necessarily be aspirational things, such as career achievements. They could be small things that you enjoy, but are really important to you.
Whatever they are, get clear on them, so that you know what to focus on, and actually have something to do when you generate free time!
Owning your time is not just about having more free time; it’s about knowing what you want and using the time you’re given productively to get there. So how do you actually use your time productively, in a practical sense? I humbly propose it’s a combination of three things:
1. Setting boundaries.
This is by far the most difficult if you have a busy life, a demanding boss, and a problem with saying “no.”
Setting boundaries means you recognize what’s important to you, you set a reasonable amount of time to enjoy/take action on it, and do it no matter what. You may encounter resistance from others on this, but think about it: This is your life, and you are the most important person in it.
Even if you’ve devoted your life to helping others, you won’t be able to carry out what’s important to you unless you respect your own time.
2. Leveraging time and other resources.
You may have a “to-do list” with several tasks that can move you forward. However, for the same amount of effort, some tasks will yield tremendous results, and some will only pay off marginally. If you want to truly own your time, replace the numerous activities that give you bits and pieces of enjoyment and progress with the few that pay the absolute highest in joy and movement toward your goals.
3. Distinguishing between consumptive and productive habits.
When you “consume” time, you use the time you earn every day to “buy” things that either provide short-term pleasure, or subtract time to spend on what you really want in the end (e.g. excessive TV, pointless arguments with coworkers, too much miscellaneous tasks in your day).
On the other hand, when you “produce” time, you use the time you’re given to move closer to your goals and even free yourself from consumptive tasks.
Sounds simple enough, right? Just set boundaries, leverage your time, and cut out consumptive habits. Of course, if it were that easy we wouldn’t be having a discussion now.
The truth is, fear plays a big role in trying to prevent us from living a life of true freedom. When I first embarked on my mission to own my own time, certain questions arose from within:
- What will they say if I start behaving in this new way? Will they mock me?
- What if I get fired?
- Won’t I run behind schedule if I only do only a few things a day?
Fear can produce an endless string of questions like this. Obviously your time is important to you, so moving past this fear is integral. The solution: ask the right questions, because these ones certainly won’t serve you. How about these instead:
- How great will my life be like if I start to own my time?
- What career opportunities could open up to me when people begin to respect me for my self-respect?
- How can I adjust my schedule to remain productive and meet my original intentions while doing minimal work?
I hope I’ve inspired you to see the value in the gift you’re given each day. Unfortunately, it’s not a gift you can keep, because you have to spend it each day. The gift I’m referring to, obviously, is time.
The question is, who owns your gift? If it’s not you, who is it, and what do you plan to do to get it back?
Photo by Moyan Breen