We live in a culture where a number people are beginning to wake up to the reality that time is a limited resource. We are giving up busyness as a badge of honor and learning how important it is to choose how we spend our time.
Like money, if we mindlessly spend our time, we will wake up one day and realize it is gone. Worse than that we won’t know how we spent it. Why is it so hard to choose what commitments to keep and which to leave behind?
Strangely for those of us who live in this daily tension, this is not a universal problem. Our early ancestors, for example, weren’t wrestling with the stress of busyness as they were working to hunt and gather their food. Priorities clarify themselves when you’re fighting for your survival.
Not to mention, consider the generations before smart phones, or even the Internet, when there were fewer choices for where you were going to go, what social events you might attend, or where you might volunteer your time.
The fewer options we have, the easier it is to prioritize. No wonder we feel the weight of this. Our choices today are virtually endless.
In a modern age, with every opportunity and option available to us — every vacation, every friendship, every job opportunity, every volunteer position — these value choices have become our own version of life and death.
Choose what matters most or die the slow, painful, death of overwhelm — a death of your spirit and mind. So yes, this is a first-world problem.
It is a product of our privilege. But it is a problem that matters because it deeply affects our own personal satisfaction and happiness, as well as our ability to share our highest gifts with the rest of the world.
How do we learn to be more frugal with our time? Here are three suggestions.
1. Think of time like money and budget it.
If you think of time the way you think about money — where you have a certain day, month or year you have to make decisions about where to allocate it — this will help you to overcome that tendency of always thinking you can “fit one more thing in.”
Thankfully, budgeting your time also gives you an easy “out” when someone invites you to an opportunity that, while great, isn’t part of the budget. Rather than, “No thanks,” you can say, “That sounds like a great opportunity but I don’t have space for that right now. Maybe next month/year.”
If you don’t control your schedule and your time, it will control you.
2. Don’t just schedule work. Schedule rest.
Most people make the mistake of scheduling work, appointments, commitments, carpools, etc and then use whatever is left over for relaxation or rest. Don’t fall into this trap.
Just like you put a line in your budget for rent, food and entertainment, you should budget for work, leisure and play. As a happy benefit, when “take a nap” is on you calendar, it helps eliminate any guilt you may have otherwise felt taking one. It’s on the calendar! Who can fight that?
3. Err on the side of under-committing.
Did you know those who under-commit have more control over their lives and more to offer to the world than those who over-commit?
When you have margin left at the end of your day, and energy left to give, you have choices about what to do with it. Those who stretch themselves to the very end aren’t left with the same flexibility.
Maybe you’re already on the path to simplifying your life and being frugal with your time. Any improvement is a step in the right direction. You don’t have to live your life stressed and over-worked. There is a better way.
Give yourself the gift of rest — you deserve it.