If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important and then give it all you’ve got.
We had a conversation with my mom about spending time yesterday, specifically about choosing to spend your time. She is an entrepreneur who loves her job, and so she naturally spends a lot of time working. The bulk of our conversation revolved around how much choice she has as to how much she works and how much she does other stuff.
This got me thinking about choice and values. I think a sign of what you value most is what you choose to invest your precious time in. Someone who spends three hours a day exercising must value his or her body higher than someone who spends three hours a month exercising, right?
Don’t get me wrong, the person who exercises three hours a month (let’s call her Wendy) might well think her body is very important to her – it’s just not very high on her hierarchy of values. She has twenty four hours every day just like the three-hour-a-day exercise buff, Lauren; she just chooses to spend that time differently.
So far, so simple, right?
What about obligations? What about work? What about all the other things that Wendy has to do, like feed her four children and work?
Already, we know something more about the values in Wendy’s life: the well-being of her family might be a high priority, as well as work. She probably has at least fifteen to twenty other values – friendship, learning, justice, peace, reputation, wealth, for example – that she has to juggle every day, every week, just like the rest of us.
The more things we value, the less time we can dedicate to acting according to each individual value. Even more so, if our values contradict each other.
By dedicating time to improve her health, Wendy is forfeiting the time she could be increasing her wealth. When she spends a night about town with her friends and takes the kids to Grandma, she is catering to the friendship value, but might be undermining her reputation as a mother, if Grandma is very strict about such things.
I notice I very easily start ignoring my loved ones when I have a lot of work to do. Case in point: last fall. Even though I value my relationship with my fiancé very highly, I’d routinely get home after a long day at the University and slop down on the couch, exhausted. I’d have a few hours left until I have to go to sleep, and those hours I’d spend in front of the TV or at my laptop. Hardly inspiring.
The thing is, I chose to take on each activity that exhausted me during the day, and I knew it. I didn’t have one single item on my time table that I couldn’t have declined, had I wanted.
But since I’d promised the people I’d do my share, I did. And there were so many shares to go around I finally had only the shreds left when I got home.
This was not the scary part, though. The scary part came when I realised that my time spending patterns reveal something about my value hierarchy. And, as much as I hated to admit it, I seemed to value my schoolwork, band, and volunteering more than my health or my relationships with my fiancé, my parents, or my friends from outside school.
This is when I realised I had to start making conscious choices about my scheduling. Just like values guide our choices, our choices guide our values as well, and I wanted to steer my focus more towards the important people in my life.
Aligning and balancing values
I’m still a work-in-progress with the whole values and spending time part. I realise that I can’t divide every single day into equal increments of friend time, spouse time, school time, family time etc., especially since I’m more a project person than a routine person.
I suspect that someone who thrives on routine would enjoy having a “friend hour” every day, be it for a coffee date, a phone call, or a thoughtful email – spending time contacting someone you haven’t heard from in a while.
As a project-oriented scatterbrain, I need to include friends, family and fiancé into my mental todolist along with my more “official” obligations such as school and band stuff. In practice, this means saving some time every week on my calendar to actually meet people and do nothing special. Whoah, that might well be a routine right there. Who knew!
As for the health part – that’s where I definitely thrive on routine and habit. Remembering to eat every now and then and doing some form of mind-and-body exercise same time each day keep me functioning properly without me thinking about it.
And before there’s a habit, there’s choice. Over and over again. Why do I want to do this? Why is it important to me that I remember to eat? Why do I really want to see my mom and dad a few times a week?
Which reminds me: go eat something and call Mom. 🙂
Have a happy New Year’s celebration, and until we meet again – keep catching your own insightings!