Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.
~ William Penn
I must govern the clock, not be governed by it.
~ Golda Meir
What is the most valuable commodity?
Plutonium? Diamonds? Platinum?
I bet many people would say that it’s time.
Yes, I know—time is not technically a commodity, but we often treat it like one—we save it, trade it, and consume it.
How do we respond to all the demands on our time?
Some people treat it as a public good, or as something that is available on a first-come, first-served basis, to anyone. They give of their time freely, to whomever asks for it. Although that approach can produce some interesting results, most of us have too many responsibilities to be able to give away our time so generously.
Some are very selfish with their time, and give hardly any of it away. Although these people may seem to have a high level of control over their lives, this approach can get a bit dry. Nothing unexpected or surprising is likely to happen, and therefore they will never learn anything new about themselves.
Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We have many responsibilities, so we have to guard our time, but we end up giving a lot of it away—to our families, to our jobs, or to our friends. How many of us do this in a systematic or organized way?
There is always a barrage of demands on our time, as well as endless expectations about what we should be doing with it. We may feel that we are constantly behind and trying to catch up, or at least trying to address the most important things in our lives—but sometimes everything seems urgent (see “Busy”). We may feel that there’s no way to catch up and tend to everything that is needed.
Ultimately, we are the only ones who can make decisions about our lives, and no matter how talented we are—we can only do one thing at a time. Of course, there are those who engage in a Pavlovian party of e-mail, phone calls, and firefighting—and call it multi-tasking; but ultimately—at any single moment—we are doing exactly one thing.
All of our time is ours (see “Choice”). It might not seem that way, but everything we do with our time is up to us. Most of us do decide to go to work and take care of our children, but the fact remains that we could choose not to.
It can be helpful to take a fresh look at our priorities on occasion. We can start from zero—rebuild our priorities from the ground up, evaluating each one for what it contributes to our lives and our goals.
Think of what you do—hour by hour, and day by day. Does it make you happy? Does it give you what you need? Is it the “best” use of your time?
We may feel that we’re caught up in a tide of demands and commitments, but no matter what direction we’re moving, it’s never too late to change that direction or make adjustments. Our time belongs to us, and only we have the power to decide what we are going to do with it.
It is not only what we spend our time on, but also how we spend it. Do we use our time efficiently?
During the course of a typical weekend day, I’ll make several trips to the hardware store. Is this because my projects are so fascinating and complex that I can’t predict what I’ll need to get them done? Absolutely not—I’m just not using my time efficiently; I’m throwing it away.
Time is too valuable for that.
We all have methods for keeping track of our money, but somehow our time gets a short shrift. Why is that? For many, time is just as (or more) valuable. We should treat it that way; we should budget it, and fully understand how we spend it.
In the end, nothing in our lives is worthwhile unless we have the time to spend on it.