How to get more done by changing your relationship to time


One of the most common challenges that people bring to coaching is that they have difficulty managing their time.

I often hear I don’t have enough time, or how can I have more time, or how can I use my time more efficiently?

My answer to this question is that first; you need to change your relationship to time.

The concept of time is one that we struggle to understand. Time is harder for us to understand than space and location. Because for the most part, the mind represents time poorly.

We are only really aware of this present moment.

Our awareness of the past is an amalgamation of events, but we don’t grasp the whole series of moments together as a continuous thread.

And many times we are time travelling in our heads. Creating a future or reliving the past try to make sense of how we got to now.

Thus our self-awareness is limited as we are usually on autopilot. We are apparently aware but not entirely in the present moment.

This is probably why our metaphors for time are so varied and place time as something external to us that has a position in space, or exerts a force on us.

Consider the metaphors you use for time, and how they mean different things.

The deadline is fast approaching. Time is a moving object.

Don’t let the time get away from you. Time can escape.

Christmas is looming on the horizon. Time is a landscape.

You are almost out of time. -Time is a resource.

Were you on time? Time is a location.

Do you have time? Time is a possession.

Time heals all wounds. Time changes things.

We did it in three minutes. Time is a container.

You can’t hide from the past. Time is all knowing.

They spent their time wisely. Time is money

Put simply; you cannot manage time. It continues inexorably forward no matter what you do, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

You can’t manage time.

But it can manage you.

If you allow other people to take control of how you spend your time.

So what can you can do to change your relationship with time?

The first step is to become aware of how you are using your time.

Mindfulness of your time use is paramount.

Understand that when you say to yourself or someone else.

“I don’t have the time to….”

What you are saying is that.

“I am choosing not to spend my time on…”

Not pretending that time rules your life invites you to have more responsibility, more honesty, and more freedom.

Saying “I don’t have time” protects you from the realisation that something else is more important to you, or from noticing and mourning your limitations.

The simple phrase “I don’t have time” shifts the responsibility to something outside of you.

Instead, shift your relationship with time to something inside of you.

Here’s a painful example.

I am almost invariably aware of the unimaginable suffering of refugees and people fleeing from oppression in the world. I see the emotional anguish and suffering these people go through, and I would like to do more to support them.

But I can’t say I don’t have time to do something about it.

I face the realisation that I am choosing to put my attention elsewhere.

I choose to live with this knowledge because my passion is to help people to achieve their best potential.

I’m aware that at this moment, right now how I am choosing to spend my time.

I’m present in this moment and instead of using my time to help refugees. I’m choosing to write this blog post instead.

The critical point is to understand that time isn’t an external force.

In reality, time is always available to you.

You have all the time you want to achieve your goals just that once used on a task it is spent.

So how do you change your relationship with time?

I think it is better to think of time as three different metaphors.

A non-renewable resource,
Currency or money
And as a gift.

A non-renewable resource

As a non-renewable resource, you can spend time, but you’ll never get it back. So carefully choose what you want to spend your time on.

Find out what is important to you, what are your values and how do you want to spend this moment and the next moment? Then decide how you want to represent those values at this present moment.

Then understand that values compete against each other. I can not represent all my values equally in the present moment.

Imagine you took a six-sided dice and wrote your top six values on each side. Then you threw the dice on the table you would see one value on the top. Four others would be on display, but one value will always be hidden.

Never lose sight of the reality that each moment you are making a choice where you put your attention, what you do, and what you don’t do.

You know you are making those choices based on what’s most important to you.

Keeping your awareness of this reality helps you maintain a degree of honesty.

Saying to someone “sorry I didn’t have the time to get back to you,” is simply not true. There were a thousand moments where you made choices not to get back to them.

Each of these actions meant that you were making something else more important than getting back to the person who contacted you.

Make your time use an active choice with the knowledge once spent it will never return.

As a currency

As a currency, you can spend your time or invest it.

When you spend money, you exchange it for something you need or want.

When you invest it, you’re delaying the return for something that will benefit you later.

Think of your time use in the same way. I can spend it now to get something in return immediately, or I can invest it for a return later on.

When you are working, think about the tasks that you spend time on that give you nothing and don’t position you well to get something better later on.

For example, writing this blog post doesn’t give me something immediate. I doubt you will immediately book an introductory coaching session.

But it is an investment in building a relationship with potential clients. And even if you do not become a client I am representing my value to help people improve their lives and become more efficient.

My time use now is an investment in relationship building, helping others, and investing in producing content that will remain forever.

My time use now has purpose and meaning for me, and I feel more fulfilled.

Most work requires you to spend time on tasks that just give an immediate return but look for ways that you can maximise the time invested.

Try to find tasks that keep you learning new things. Use your time at work to improve yourself, whenever possible.

Your use of your free time can also be seen the same way.

I can spend time on activities that give me an immediate pleasurable feeling or even help me avoid unpleasant feelings. As a way to zone out for example and get lost in a movie.

But I can also use my free time to invest in myself. Learn something new, make a connection with my partner or those around me who I love.

Spend it on creating memories that I will keep forever.

I may recall the details of a movie or TV series I watched. But compare this with remembering the time you went for a walk in the forest with loved ones. Or sat and caught up with a friend over coffee.

They are different experiences.

Invest your free time, learn something new, create memories and connections.

Time as a Gift

Whatever time is, you have it.

You could die now or 40 years from now either way that is too short. Every second, minute, hour, day, week, you have left is a gift that you have to make the most whatever you have left.

You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. You’ve only got this moment to act, and then it is gone.

It is your most precious commodity, and you should guard your use of it.

It is also the greatest gift you can give to others.

This is why something as simple as keeping a gratitude diary is powerful.

It helps you realise the time you have been given is precious, and you need to spend on the things that nourish you rather than deplete you.

Of course, just changing your relationship with time doesn’t make it easier overnight.

And with some of my clients, we spend a lot of time talking about what they feel is essential and how to remove the time they are spending on unimportant tasks.

But the point of using a different metaphorical approach to time management is to remove the adversarial relationship that you have with time.

Once you see time for what it is, an abstract concept with no power over you, you stop fighting to control it.

Then by becoming more self-aware about what you are doing with your time, you can align your use to serve your values.

In any 24 hour period, I can make choices about how I want to spend my time.

If those choices reflect values that I want to express, none of my time will feel wasted, and I’ll feel fulfilled and more at peace with myself.

My partner recently told me, you seem to have more time than everyone else.

Which isn’t obviously true, I have the same amount of time as you do, but I’ve made peace with my relationship to time.

But it has taken me time to do that.

I’ve looked at what is important to me and what isn’t.

I’ve invested time in meditating, which makes me aware of the amount of time I waste on planning, dreaming, ruminating etc.

And I’ve slowly created a different approach and built a different relationship with time.

That isn’t to say that I’ve not had and still have my share of wasting time and spending time on tasks and activities that don’t move me forward.

When this happens, I try to understand the reasons why I choose to waste time.

Was I trying to avoid uncomfortable situations, thoughts and feelings?

Was I overwhelmed because I took too much on?

In these moments it is important to give yourself some compassion and then understand that you have all the time you need.

Then make an intention to start the next day being more mindful of how you will be spending your time.

Thank you for spending your time reading this I know how valuable your time is to you.

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