Time is precious, and scarce. None of us know when it will run out. But if you’re anything like me you may feel that your time hardly belongs to you anymore. As part of my slow living experiment this year I’m taking working on exactly this, and I’d like to talk about how to take back your time.
The one limited resource
We have only one resource that is truly limited: our time. Everything else is flexible. We can get more, or become more efficient at how we use other resources. We can even recycle and reuse them. But time is fixed, there is no more. The only thing we can do is control how we spend this resource.
But before we go any further let me acknowledge that I am uniquely privileged in this. I do not have children at home. I have a husband who makes enough that I can work for myself and for a very flexible religious organization. Most don’t have that luxury. Many of our brothers and sisters are working every waking moment trying to keep their heads above water.
We are none of us free if we are not all free
This article is about how we can better prioritize our time, reclaim and reshape our lives. But for that to be available to all people we need to work for the common good. That means we have to push for change that ensures all people the dignity of a life beyond poverty.
It means advocating for work that respects our humanity, and provides a livable income. If we are blessed with the privilege of shaping our lives for something beyond survival we must see to it that others can do so as well.
As we discover how to take back your time I hope we will also discover how we can help all people enjoy the same blessings and freedoms. One of the things my year of slow living is revealing is how upside down our social expectations actually are.
We live in a world rich in resources, and yet the vast majority of people barely survive with extraordinary effort. That’s something we can change, it was a choice for us to order society the way we have, and we can choose to order it differently.
It begins at home
That kind of change from a social structure built to benefit a few, to one that cares for all, starts small. It requires inner change within all of us and that starts here. Change that sticks begins at the ground level, it doesn’t flow from above. If we all rewire our own expectations, shift the ways our lives work, and stick to our own values eventually (like turning an aircraft carrier) the world shifts too.
So let me start by saying that you are changing the world when you change yourself. This isn’t just a selfish thing you do, reclaiming your own time, it’s world building.
Step One – Set Your Priorities
We got into this mess almost entirely because we haven’t ever been clear on our values. We sort of inherit our values from our parents, our affiliate groups. They get passed down to us through our culture and hardly ever really considered. But if we’re to have any hope of changing our lives and our world we’ve got to know what is actually most important to us.
So step one is figuring out exactly what you value most. And the answer to that might surprise you. I have an article (complete with worksheet) that will walk you through the process of identifying your top three values step by step. You can find it here. I suggest working through that sheet before you do anything else.
Here’s why this matters so much.
A while ago I was on a podcast, one of the things we talked about was success, and how we defined it. That made me really think intentionally about success and what it mean to me, and I realized that the traditional definitions of success having to do with money, social position, etc meant almost nothing to me. (Almost, I do in fact enjoy having a comfortable income.)
Getting Off the Hamster Wheel
I realized that my definition of success didn’t look a damn thing like most of the world’s. It wasn’t about making a million dollars a year, or buying a bigger house, or driving a fancy car. In fact when I really thought about it most of those things actually made what I did value harder to come by: time with people I love, quiet, creativity, free time. And it occurred to me that I could get off the hamster wheel and stop chasing “success.”
I will never weigh what I did in high school. (Nor really do I want to, with my 40 year old body that wouldn’t be healthy.)
I will never be a millionaire (meh, from what I’ve seen once you’re a millionaire you just dream about being a billionaire.)
I will never be the head of my denomination/religious group (thank you, JESUS!)
I’ll probably never be a New York Times best selling author either.
But that’s OK.
What We Want
Because here’s what I discovered when I actually defined my values, and pinpointed what success meant to me: I don’t give a rat’s fuzzy butt about those things. And that freed up a lot of time. I do not in fact have to kill myself at yoga 7 days a week, or spend hours planning and prepping elaborate meals to try to reach some sort of “target” weight.
I do not in fact need to spend 12 hours a day “hustling” to make it big in business.
The politics of my denomination can continue to go right over my head thank you very much.
And I can worry more about writing stuff you all want to read than about what a publisher or agent would be willing to publish.
And that, surprisingly left me with a lot more time.
You are going to have different revelations but probably not entirely. Maybe you realize that you don’t care if you kid gets into Harvard, you’re perfectly happy with your state school education. Whew, there’s a whole bunch of activities you were forcing them to do for their resume that you can all quit.
I could throw around a lot of fancy words, the bottom line is simple: we should be spending our time on the things that actually matter to us. When we do that we change the culture in our families, we change our relationships, we change our communities.
We are all we have to give, to the people and things we believe in. But that’s not what we’re taught. We’re taught that we need to make a lot of money, or continue to get promoted. We are taught we have to prepare our kids for the best and most competitive schools or we’re failing as parents. But what our kids really want? Our time, a chance to play, to question, to learn.
Trips to Abilene
There’s an old story about a couple that gets in the car and drives to Abilene, Texas every single Sunday. They do this for years without fail. Then finally one week for whatever reason one of them just can’t go. That spouse apologizes profusely, “I’m so sorry honey, we just can’t go this week I know how much you love it.”
“Wait.” The other responds. “I don’t like going to Abilene, I’ve been going because it means so much to you!”
This is what we call a “trip to Abilene.” We keep doing something because we think it’s what the other person wants. Maybe it’s that you work overtime for years trying to afford that big house, and fancy car that you are sure your spouse wants. When really, your spouse just wants a simple little house and a chance to go camping together.
Here we go again!
We do this to ourselves as well.
All those shoulds that are floating around in your head pushing you to do things you really aren’t all that enthused about? Those are also trips to Abilene. If we’re going to take back our time those have to go, all of them. And it’s easy:
- Ask the people in your life if what you think they want is actually what they want. You might be surprised.
- Get real with yourself about what matters to you, and ditch the stuff you think you ‘should’ care about, but don’t.
Ready to take the first steps? Download the planning tool I use every week to make sure my time is spend on what I love. It has changed my planning, and helped me find balance and joy, it can do the same for you.