As the UK eases out of pandemic restrictions and here, in the US, The American Academy of Pediatrics shares its guidance for the return to in-person learning for schools in the fall, I wonder how our lives will look in a few months.
Will we drift back to filling up our schedules and find ourselves rushing all day between appointments and after school activities or will we hold onto what we learned during our enforced time out about what is really important to us? Will we be more careful about how we use our time?
With the loss of our regular daily schedules and the weekly milestones many of us found our relationship with time changed during the Pandemic. Our collective experience spanned everything from how precious each moment is because we endured great loss to wishing away long lonely hours and days of isolation, deprived of the basic human need for connection and touch.
Will you rush to fill up your schedule to make up for “lost time” or will you be more protective of your time and focus on what is important to you. Either way, you may find it useful to think about your relationship with time and how you want to deal with the demands for your time that will inevitably come your way as the pace picks up once more. This will be particularly valuable if you typically feel you never have enough time in the day or could do so much more if you could just find a better way to manage time.
Here are two fundamental truths regarding time to consider:
Firstly, we each have a lifetime. Our lifetime. We have so many hours, minutes, breaths. We can’t know how many until we take our last one, but we can choose how we spend them.
Secondly, we cannot manage time we can only manage ourselves: the decisions we make about what we do, what we think and how we show up.
What are you choosing to spend your time on? Are these activities moving you towards or away from your goals? How much time do you spend on the activities that really fulfil you and give you joy and satisfaction?
How we use our time is a good indicator of how we value ourselves. If we go through life without much of a plan and react to things as they arise, if we over schedule ourselves so we are constantly rushing to the next appointment, if our days are so full we don’t have time to think, these are all indicators that we are not valuing our time or ourselves. If we value ourselves then we value our time. We treat it as a precious resource and are intentional with how we use it.
One useful exercise to consider how you are using your time is to imagine yourself 5 years from now. When your future self looks back, how will they feel about what you are spending your time on now? Will your future self be grateful that you invested your time wisely?
There will inevitably be trade-offs between short term pleasure and long-term benefit and juggling priorities but if you are clear about what you value and have defined goals then most choices will become easier to make. This puts you, not someone else’s needs, in control of your schedule.
Let’s say you value quality time with your family and you have a goal to spend an hour 3 nights a week doing an activity together. You also value financial stability, so you have a goal to complete a certification to further your career, which requires you to write a paper this week. If you are asked to make cakes for a bake sale and you know this will take away time from the family activity or writing your paper, you can see what the cost to you of agreeing to bake the cakes would be.
When you understand the real cost of saying yes is actually saying no to progressing your goals then you make your choice from a position of clarity.
It can be difficult to say No if this feels bad. Usually this is either because it triggers a feeling of guilt or alternatively concern about how we imagine we will be judged. I will write about these debilitating feelings and how to manage them in the future. Suffice it to say here, if you have difficulty with the discomfort these feelings bring you still have a clarity of choice. Stay in control of your schedule or trade the time that you want to spend on the things that are important to you so that you can avoid feeling bad in the short term.
Sometimes we can use being busy as a way to avoid difficult things. Is there an area of your life that you want to change but use lack of time as an excuse for not addressing this?
Are you filling your days with activities that keep you busy but don’t move you forward; that leave you depleted rather than energized?
I invite you to choose a day this week and for each activity you find yourself engaged in ask yourself what is the real reason you are doing this. How does it help you be the person you want to be? Does it fit with your values and needs or are you doing it to avoid some other discomfort? Where are you mistaking urgent for important? What did you do that made you feel good about yourself vs what you thought would make others feel good about you? If you are not happy with your answers then maybe it’s time for a rethink about what is important to you. If you are already forming the words “Yeah, like I have time for that” then consider what you may be saying No to.