How To Take Time to Make Time
When you wake up in the morning, the day stretches in front of you like an open road. You have a long list of things to do, but you don’t know how far you’ll get or what you might accomplish. You have 1,440 minutes ahead to fill with…whatever you want. And it seems like almost anything could happen. You believe that your only limits come from how you prioritize and how efficiently and quickly you move forward from each minute to the next.
But before long, you may start to notice that most of your minutes are already accounted for, and they slip away quickly. Your steady focus is interrupted by a text message that you need to answer. You’re waylaid by a hallway conversation. You need to snack, answer the phone, attend a meeting, then another meeting, provide customer service, snack again, answer a question, and then follow up on a sales lead. At nine in the morning, you felt you had eight hours to fill with progress and accomplishments, but halfway through, you realize that only about half of those hours are truly driven by your own choices. Maybe far less than half.
And as you scramble to pack eight hours of goals into four hours of available time, you realize that you’re left without any time at all to just sit and think and be present in the moment. And you’re not alone; this challenge has become a nearly universal reality of working life that seems to be taking a toll on our collective mental and physical health. Stress levels are up, focus and presence are down, and our quality of life is often exchanged for something else—some mysterious reward that isn’t well defined and doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.
Where do we find that reward? The one that should be ours in exchange for our time and sacrifice?
How can we slow things down, so we have the time to think carefully and implement meaningful plans that can take our organization to the next level?
And most important: How can we get off this treadmill and start charting our own path through the days and years of our lives?
As with almost all of life’s biggest hurdles, the first step is identifying the question and recognizing that we have a problem that needs to be solved.
Here are a few ways to regain control.
Hit Pause. Even Better: Hit Stop.
Unplug the treadmill, literally. Turn off your phone and computer and leave the demanding environment of your office for just one hour, or even fifteen minutes. Recognize that you own that time, and use it to purposefully pause, collect yourself, and do nothing.
Turn off the noise (or at least turn it down for a few minutes)
Mindful meditation means deliberately blocking off a period of time in which you focus on being present in the moment and observing events and feelings without reacting to them. On the outside, meditation looks like a person sitting quietly. But on the inside, the person is sitting beside the events of the world, including the rise and fall of his or her own feelings. The person is breathing, being, and not reacting. Meditation in any form is helpful, but some guidance and a conducive environment can provide the training you need to make the most of your session.
A few minutes of exercise each day can also help, no matter how or when you fit them in. Exercise provides a new venue and some fresh air for your thoughts, and it also improves your circulation, which means more nourishing oxygen delivered to the cells of your body and brain.
Think about how you spend your time.
Think consciously about how you divide and spend each minute of your day. Divide your day into a grid made of ten-minute blocks, then identify and account for the contents of each block. Review how you actually spend each block. Then think about how you’d like to spend that specific block instead. Here’s a concrete exercise provided by Tim Urban from Wait but Why: https://waitbutwhy.com/2016/10/100-blocks-day.html
Make Change Gradually
Building new habits into your routine—and getting rid of old ones—can be much harder than you might expect at first. But you can do it. You just need to consciously schedule and add (or delete) the new (or old) habit again and again until the habit has been solidified into the day and you can take your hands off the wheel. This make take ten conscious repetitions, but it may also take five hundred. Or even a thousand. Be patient with yourself. Start with small changes. Don’t feel guilty if you miss a repetition; just shake it off and start again the next day.
Rinse and Repeat
After you spend a couple of weeks consciously reforming a habit, revisit your 1000 Blocks to see what has changed. Some small changes or small improvements may give you the confidence boost you need to tackle bigger ones. What aspects of the change do you find easiest? Which ones are harder? Which changes are most satisfying? Which make the most difference to the overall quality of your life? Target those ones for further and closer attention. Repeat this process periodically. Our lives are constantly changing and maintaining balance can be tricky.
Some new habit patterns provide their own reward. For example, 30 minutes of exercise each day can lead to fewer aches and pains, more energy and better fitting clothes. These are fun and pleasant results that are easy to enjoy. But if your new habits mean you’re spending more time building client relationships or adding more money to your retirement account, you may not feel those pleasant effects directly. So give yourself a treat! Try a few minutes of you-time, an internal high-five, a night out, a brownie sundae, or whatever seems to fit the moment and re-enforce the message that your efforts are worth it. Celebrate your achievements! A healthier, happier and more meaningful life are waiting.