Photographer: Rodion Kutsaev, Source: Stocksnap.io
Time is a non-renewable resource. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. This is also what makes it our most valuable resource. In a period of intense technological advancement and economic flourishing, we find ourselves with more choices and more opportunities. There is always more to do, more to see, and more to experience. Yet the average amount of time spent on social media and television is almost 6 hours. (No, that isn’t a typo.)
It’s not that we don’t see the value and importance of time. There are services like Ritual, ChefsPlate, and grocery delivery services for us to pay money to save time on feeding themselves. There are thousands of “Time-Saving Tips” blog posts swarming the web. Facebook’s Newsfeed is fluttered with posts like “Time is the most valuable thing I have…It’s the only thing I can’t make or get more of.” (The irony of this posted on the most time-consuming social media site is not lost on me.) We intensively try to make every aspect of our lives more efficient. We double check traffic to take the fastest route, grab coffee on the go, and finish our makeup in the car. Yet, more often than not, this “saved time” is redistributed back to social media and other shallow, low value activities.
This about it this way. The value of money is clear. $20 is worth more than $10 regardless of whether you are buying a house or a piece of candy. $20 today is worth more than $20 tomorrow because we can earn interest in that one day. We have an entire industry dedicated to measuring, tracking, measuring, and increasing the amount of money we have. The financial sector is $500 billion industry. THAT’S how much we understand the value of money.
Yet despite the fact that most of us understand the value of time over money, we don’t budget our time the way we budget our money. We don’t plan our time out the way we plan our retirement savings. There is no “time consultant” industry and we don’t analyze the best way to distribute our time to maximize our return.
Imagine there is a bank account that credits your account each morning with $86,400. It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening the bank deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to used during the day. What would you do? Draw out every cent, of course? Each of us has such a bank, its name is time. Every morning, it credits you 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off at a lost, whatever of this you failed to invest to a good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no over draft. Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no drawing against ‘tomorrow.
It seems harder because the return on time isn’t always a clear cut as the return on money. Is 1 hour spent on a client’s project more valuable than 1 hour spent with friends and family? But, in reality, time is just as easily trackable, measurable, and manageable as money. The best part is, if you do it well, you can get returns far more valuable that money (or more money, if that’s what you want). But it’s also harder, because there is no way to compensate for lost time, without sacrificing something else. We get 86,400 seconds in a day. That’s it.
So here’s how to start spending your time wisely:
Start by keeping track of how much time you spend on different activities throughout the day. You can use time tracking apps like Toggl and Hours, or just plain old paper & pen. Go about your day as you normally would, but mark down every time you start and finish an activity. This can include work, sleep, commuting, cooking, personal projects & time spent with friends and family. But be honest with yourself. It also has to include the 1 hour spent on email, 30 minutes on Facebook, and 3 hours on TV. Do this for a week and check your results. You may be surprised that the 40 hours spent “working” each week were, in reality, closer to 20 or 30.
This step focuses on getting a true understanding of the value of your time. Create a To-Do List or whatever task system you’ve already been using. Now, track how long it takes you to finish each task. Repetitive tasks are most valuable to track because it’ll help you manage your time better in the future when you have a clear understanding of how much time each task takes.
Try experimenting with doing a task once normally, and once with all social media & other distractions completely turned off. Did it take you less time? When we check social media for only 5–10 minutes, it actually takes our brains another 15–20 minutes to get back to the level of focus we had before. So the 5 minutes you’ve spent distracted is actually costing you much more than that.
This is, of course, the most important step of all. Without managing your time, tracking and measuring it is useless. Take a look at your time-tracking sheet and identify areas where you are unsatisfied with the amount of time you’ve spent on an activity. It may be social media, or it may be cooking and socializing. I often spend too much time commuting (despite the fact that I live 10 minutes away from work) because I’ll make excuses to go back and forth for arbitrary reasons as a form of procrastination.
Cal Newport, on his blog Study Hacks, promotes a intensive time management system where every day is planned down to the minute. Each morning, he lists out the tasks and activities for the day and schedules them in for a specific time slot (just like an event). There is no room for procrastination or distraction because every minute has an assigned activity. While some may see this as a bit overboard, I’ve personally found it incredibly useful in my own life. This method of planning is actually still quite flexible. If anything suddenly pops up throughout the day, simply revise your plan. The value comes from getting a clear understanding of what you’re sacrificing by spending your time. When you spend 30 minutes on Facebook, it’s no longer 30 minutes of arbitrary time. It’s 30 minutes that you should have spent working on finishing up your client’s website redesign. Now, you’ll have to find a way to squeeze out an extra 30 minutes from another activity in order to finish your task by the end of the day.
This method also makes it glaringly clear how limited our time is each day. Personally, I have a habit of making an optimistic To-Do list for the day. Yet when I’m forced to assign time slots to each activity, it suddenly becomes clear that, even with no distractions, the list is unrealistic. This continuous and tangible realization of my limited time helps me avoid distractions throughout the day.
If the world started budgeting time like we budget our money, the technological advancements, scientific breakthroughs, and humanitarian efforts would be endless. Time is our most valuable resource, let’s start treating it that way.
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