In this month’s podcast, I invite you to take inventory of your time by participating in a short-term challenge: track where every moment goes using the tool Toggl for at least one week. Today’s post is an opportunity to expand further on why knowing where your time goes is an essential component of living a life in alignment with your values.
Time is one of the only resources that isn’t relative.
Money is relative. Having more money than someone else makes you richer. Having less makes you poorer. With money, position changes based on an ingredient that can fluctuate greatly and (occasionally) instantaneously.
Time is different.
Everyone has 24 hours to spend each day. You and I can have varying sums in our bank accounts, but we will have the same amount of time in our calendars. Cash might be able to buy us better seats on planes, but it won’t be able to buy us longer days. There is no lottery ticket to win millions of minutes.
With the time allotted to you, how are you spending it?
The more life I live, the more I realize how limited time is on this earth. I’ve absorbed news in the last few months of loved ones and strangers dying suddenly and without warning. In mourning these losses and celebrating these lives, I’m also reminded once again that death isn’t a future reality for only some of us.
By being alive, we all have the certainty of dying. It’s simply a fact.
Our physical bodies, barring the return of Christ, will face a physical end. This end isn’t something to avoid contemplating or obsessively fear. But we should believe death to be real, and we should remember this means our moments in this body aren’t infinite. Whether sudden and unexpected or slowly anticipated, there is a close to this chapter and none of us are exempt.
With the time we have, we have choices about where and how we will use it. If you were to pay attention to every step of your day and look at where your time is actually going:
What would you change? What would stay the same?
Often, time can easily go into the abyss of mindlessness absent of intentionality.
Investing time is hard. Spending time is easy.
If you take the challenge with me to track your time as an experiment, I imagine—like me—you’ll find out how badly your body and mind follow distractions and change course. We all can fall victim to the pull beckoning us to spend time on things we don’t need. In fact, over the course of working on this very piece, I looked up after an hour of researching things on my phone for no reason.
When we’re walking through a grocery store or mall with a list of things we want or need, we find direction and clarity about why we’re shopping. The list gives us direction, a goal. We enter into a store on a mission.
This list of objectives keeps us from letting ads or salespeople at kiosks draw us off course. We don’t even really think about them because we know why we’re there.
The same is true about time.
When we have a mission, we’re better stewards.
When we wander around without a plan, we can get distracted and spend it on things we don’t really need or want.
Here are common traps that tempt us to spend time unwisely.
Contemplating decisions before they need to be contemplated
We can waste far too much time and energy worrying about things we can’t control. Wait until you actually need to consider something to actually consider it. Doing the worrying and researching when both are irrelevant (for now) only zaps time and can keep you from experience the joy before you today.
Spending time on the internet without a reason
If you’re on the internet and don’t know why, you’re probably wasting time. Choosing to spend time on the internet for leisure can be a fine choice. Mindlessly finding yourself there is a recipe for wasting time.
Worrying and talking about things completely out of our control
Like contemplating and worrying about decisions before they need to be made, worrying about things out of your control is only going to suck time and energy. Drama in another department, something going on in the life of a stranger, a situation happening where your actions will do nothing to change it--all of these are examples of things completely out of your control.
If the answer to the question,
“What contribution can I make to improve this situation?”
“There isn’t one,”
then you should let it go and lock in to what you can control.
Checking email more than necessary
Leave your email offline most of the time. More often than not, checking email is a chance to peek inside a mystery box with little value. Check it less. Check social media less. You can get by with far less email and social media than you think, and you’re probably spending more time than you think trapped in Inbox Land. I know I am.
Doing the wrong things
Making the incorrect things inefficient simply gets you off track faster.
Simple question: Is the thing I’m doing right now the right thing to do?
If not, stop doing it.
Believing it all depends on you
Believing you’re the savior of the world (or your office or house) only burdens you with the belief that you are the most important ingredient in the recipe of life.
It’s actually good news that you’re not. I’m not. We’re not.
A savoir complex is not only exhausting, it also can cause you to use time poorly. Believing it all depends on you often leads to believing you have to do everything. Failing to allow other people to step into their God-given gifts by absorbing all tasks on to yourself leaves more work for you than can be accomplished with excellence. It can also be a barrier to deep relationships with others in your life.
Believing nothing depends on you
The flipside is laziness.
If you believe everyone else has responsibility and you have none, you become prone to checking out and letting your time slip away into the Land of Leisure.
It doesn’t all depend on you, but you have a unique contribution to make.
Staying “busy” but unfocused
Noise and music are similar, but different.
You can bang on a piano for thirty minutes and get tired producing nasty sounds. You can also use the same amount of time to intentionally press the right keys and produce a beautiful song.
“Doing” doesn’t do anything. Doing the right things does everything.
If your goal is to feel frantic, you can easily meet your goal. If your goal is to make progress, you will face resistance.
Press into it.
Do the hard work of knowing what’s best to do. Your goal isn’t to live a life absent of downtime. Your goal is to live a life filled with things that matter.
Do the things that matter.
Putting tasks over relationships
What matters in the end is less about what you got done and more about how you cultivated relationships and the way you made the people around you feel.
Getting tasks done with excellence is excellent.
Making tasks the only thing that matters doesn’t get you to greatness, however.
Your work will be there again tomorrow. Protect time with your family and friends.
Stay focused and don’t get distracted, sure. But sometimes the Holy Spirit prompts you to allow interruption. The sidebar conversation with a colleague can be worth it. The long lunch, the extended phone call, the weekend with friends--all can be inefficient from a task- perspective but essential ingredients to a meaningful life.
Choose to allow yourself to be inefficient in your relationships. They matter more than your to-do list and don’t play by the same rules.
When it does come to tasks, though, relentlessly focus on how to make your process and outcomes better. Batch similar tasks together, figure out how to automate what you can, and guard your attention like it’s the most valuable thing you own.
Ask yourself: Now that I’m doing the right thing, how can I do the right thing quicker and better?
Setting few boundaries
Without saying no to most things, you’ll find yourself having said yes to unimportant things.
Protect your time and invest it in what matters most by setting firm boundaries with love, willing to occasionally bend to meet the needs of someone else.
Starting the day without a plan
A journey without a map is a decision to get lost. A day without a plan is similar. Dave Ramsey often says you should tell your money where to go or you’ll wonder where it went. The same is true with time. Five minutes spent planning your day can save you from hours thrown out the window.
Beyond tricks and tips, it’s most important to remember time is a finite resource.
Like money, stewarding time is about giving it away, investing it for the future, and spending it for the glory of God.
Lastly, don’t let this mentality create guilt, shame, and anxiety in your life. At breakfast with a mentor recently, I asked what wisdom he’s learned in the last few weeks that I could benefit from.
Have more grace for yourself.
Take a deep breath. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s going to be okay. Stewarding time well isn’t about slapping yourself in the face every time you waste an hour on Instagram. It is about uncovering the deep, rich joy found in focusing on what matters.
Know what you should make efficient, and know what’s better inefficient. Long, slow mornings can be great. Relationships matter, and they can’t be turned into a perfect system. Sometimes God speaks into our day and invites us to let our to-do list stay undone in order to do the work of the Kingdom.
All of this is, as Andy Stanley says, is a tension to be managed--not a problem to be solved.
If nothing else, remember that time is short. Steward it well.