Time is of the essence, but YOU have to make it and take it back. Here’s how.
It’s a Tuesday morning. My newly drivers’ licensed son has just taken off for school, and my daughter’s finding her way out of bed. Our dog, eyes glued to my face, begs for breakfast. My assistant will be here in an hour, and I have six meetings today, all on camera. I’m not dressed (though I’ve brushed my teeth!), and I have company coming for dinner, with no clue what to serve. A workout sometime today would be awesome. I have to pee. And I’m sitting here typing this article — with, I might add, no business typing this article. Why? No time. But “she” stood up and said, “Enough! It’s my time now.” The article—or is it my muse?—has demanded the keyboard. And if I’ve learned nothing else about writing over the last couple of years, when she “asks,” I type.
So, time will have to work itself out.
I breathe. And sit, cold coffee in hand (no time to reheat). I am trusting time. Trusting I will have the wisdom and resilience and stamina and energy to do exactly what must be done today—and when—because my inner knowing gets that THIS right here, right now, is the best way to spend my time.
Plus, hot damn, it will feel so good to complete this. I’m tired of trying to silence the words while I “wait” for more time.
This topic of Time and how I’m spending it started working its way around my system after seeing a TEDWomen Talk on Time Debt—one of the most powerful TED talks I’ve ever seen—by bestselling author Linda Sivertsen. As I watched her encapsulate something nearly all of us wrestle with but few of us have heard of (the disease of “Time Debt”), my brain instantly recognized the truth of her words and saw myself in them. I connected dot after dot in work I do with business leaders and organizations around energy, presence, performance, impact, service, culture, joy, and simple self-care. At the end of the day, and from moment to moment, these things all quickly lead back to time and how we either make our experiences richer and more meaningful, or impoverished and frustrating.
In short, our relationship to time either amplifies our effectiveness and allows us to “create” time, or finds us chasing our tail in never-ending cycles of not-enoughness—which, as Linda pointed out in a stunning way I’d never heard before, can be dangerous, even deadly.
Almost every client challenge I’ve ever faced, whether via triage or optimization; every organization, industry, position, or desired solution has had time, energy, and presence as either key impediments or key optimizers to up-leveling their experience.
The GREAT news is that time, energy and presence all work together. They serve (or hurt) each other. They leverage one another. When you amplify one, you automatically up-level the others.
I see it all the time in my life and work; when a person desires more time, energy, or presence (which always involves other people); and intentionally partners with one, the other two are automatically impacted.
This is transformative because people—even the most successful among us—often feel powerless. Think about it. Try asking someone close to you why they haven’t created a result they want (a happier marriage, losing ten pounds, asking for a raise, finishing their article or book proposal—ahem) and see if they blame time, energy, resources, or someone else for their lack of effectiveness. Listen for answers like these:
“We used to go on date nights, but that was before the kids.”
“My morning commute leaves me too tired to exercise.”
“I don’t have my graduate degree, and I’m too old to go back to school.”
“I’m dying to write, but when? My schedule’s packed!”
But… Time is not the culprit. I’m guessing they have more time than they know, and more choice in how to spend it. Energy is not the culprit. They can manage it better; optimize it, and take such good care of themselves that it becomes a non-issue (or far less of one). And people? They’re the author of their life and can choose not to be a victim of time.
Here’s the thing. Life throws everyone curveballs. Maybe you have recently been hit by a few. There will be periods of time where your best efforts won’t be enough. That’s life. And even in the most conscious of times, there’s no immediate fix to negative patterns. But they can and will transform. (Linda’s aforementioned TEDWomen talk has a miraculous tool for changing patterns through a free color-coded calendar iPhone app.) Ultimately, with patience and intention, you’ll look up and see that you’re at choice with your time, energy, and how you relate to and blame—or not—others. You’re at choice with how you respond and Show Up. You’re at choice with how you spend your resources.
A good place to start is with our internal game—what’s happening “inside us.” Our mindset, our mental presence creates our experience. Speaking of calendars, mine used to be at odds with my internal game…
From chaos to purpose—on my calendar.
Years ago, I realized that if I woke up and checked my schedule first thing in the morning, I set the tone for a crappy day. Glancing at my fifteen to-dos before getting out of bed, I couldn’t help but tell myself a story about how busy and overwhelmed I was. I was wiped out before my feet even hit the ground!
I experimented with making this ritual better. I soon saw that I could look at those fifteen items and tell myself a different story. Talk about a game changer. Baby steps; I was still in bed when looking at my calendar. But I asked myself with each item what impact I wanted to have. After all, I’d put these things on the list! Me! Why was I doing them? What did I feel was important about each thing?
Instead of “overwhelmed” and “busy,” I used different definitions. I was setting myself up with the story of being “on-purpose,” “richly scheduled,” and “well used.” I looked at every meeting as an opportunity for impact and connection. Over time, I realized that if I didn’t feel excited and on purpose about something on my calendar, then it shouldn’t be there. This brought up boundary issues and intentionality with my scheduling, which helped me get good at saying “no” and delegating. Did I let some people down? You bet. But as I got more present with how and when I said “yes” in the first place, there were fewer issues.
Something magical happened. My scheduled stayed rich (full), but I was more on purpose, energized, and useful. And my time, while precious, became less of a thing to fight for and more of a thing to use and cherish with intention.
I’m happy to report that while old habits die hard, like Linda, I don’t check the calendar (or email or really anything) in bed anymore. I take the first nine minutes of my day 100% for me before I put my feet on the ground. I set my intentions. I check in with my body, my emotions, and see how I feel. I experience gratitude for whatever presents its. And I breathe. I start the day intentionally, owning my days instead of allowing them to own me.
It’s not until I’m out of bed and “owning” my day that I look at the calendar. And ideally, the richness of it is rarely a surprise to me anymore because by being present and using my time well, I’ve already done my homework the day before and made sure my schedule for the next day worked before I closed out the current one. I’ve already mentally prepared myself with intentions, energy, and presence for what’s ahead.
Creating your experience from the inside out.
The external game is what’s happening “outside us”—in the world, in relationship, all around. The external happens, and it’s often totally out of our control. But that doesn’t have to jack us up; it’s the internal that deeply impacts and creates our experience. In the case of checking my calendar first thing in the morning, for example, my calendar is external. But my mindset and presence with each to-do is my internal game. I choose my reaction. I can have fifteen things to do right now, and be overwhelmed by them (losing presence by becoming overwhelmed), or I can be present with each item at this moment, and my experience becomes very different.
The more intentional and aware we are of our mindset and presence, and the more we stay connected to what and who is here now and the impact we want to have (why something is worth putting our time into), the better we play the internal game. And the better chance we have at happiness.
Ripple effects, we can’t lead and serve from busy and burnout.
Beyond the U.S., I work with people in China, Japan, and the U.K., and attend regular Buddhist Retreats, where I have friends around the world. And let me tell you, no one is exempt from issues around time and energy. Everyone feels the pressure. Even Buddhist monks. (See my article on “Time’s Not Just Money, It’s Your Credibility”.)
Thankfully, there are solutions.
Intention. Energy. And presence.
Time is plentiful in the present moment. At the start of this article—in bed with it—I trusted time to lead the way. And my day flowed. This piece got done. And the dog got fed, the kid got to school, and I served a mighty good meal, thank you very much, to those dinner guests. Sure, I had to greet my assistant between paragraphs, and lead two meetings in the midst—which isn’t my ideal way to write by a longshot—but it feels good. Intuition and wisdom informed how to use and optimize my time.
In the present moment, we know.
Awareness first, decisions second. It’s a practice. And practice is in every moment. Every. Single. Moment. I liken it to the old following breadcrumbs analogy.
Breadcrumbs led the way.
By being present to the NOW, without blame or a story; without drama or stress around being busy/overwhelmed, my best self emerges and brings me back to what matters. No time wasted.
I now feel that I’m in a beautiful relationship with my time; caring for it, nourishing it, honoring it, and loving it up. Feel free to try on any of my strategies—with the bigger visionary stuff first, followed by more specific how-tos below. You’ll see that many of these suggestions overlap. There’s no set order to this fluid process. See what works for you.
MACRO STUFF you can do…
- Claim ownership over your time. Who’s time is it? Who owns it? Look at the stories you’ve been telling yourself about time, and if they serve or hurt you; expand or contract your energy. Decide what you want—who is in control—and commit to taking the reins.
- Look at how you support your time and energy. How do you nourish your time and energy? How do you set yourself up for success? What habits have to change to realize your goals? Think of time and energy as life partners who are precious to you. How will you treat them over time?
- Affirm time as something that serves you. Write down a few lines that inspire you and repeat them often. A few examples could include: “I own my time.” “I am safe. I have all the time I need.” “I love my schedule, and my schedule loves me.” “I choose my life and love what I do.” “No matter what I’m doing, I do it all with love and presence.”
- Redesign how you will use your time. Get out your calendar and look at the nitty-gritty. Prioritize what and who will get your time, and how long. If it’s not on the calendar, it probably won’t happen, so be sure and prioritize your dreams right along with your carpool.
- Identify three things you can do to optimize your energy over time. How’s your self-care? Are you eating well? Getting sound rest and sleep? How about exercise and health-care? Downtime and white space? Self-talk and boundaries and relationships, oh my! I didn’t say this was going to be easy, but you didn’t expect that, did ya?
MACRO SPECIFICS to try…
- Own your morning: You first. Before you check email, news, or anyone else’s agenda.
- Intentions before any meeting, conversation, or anything that matters: Ask yourself the three most important things you want to get out of the experience. What’s the experience you want to create? How do you want to feel? How do you want others to feel? Hint: If your intentions are in service of something/someone, give yourself more points for energy and time optimization. (Check out the IEP Method’s® 5-Steps to Intentional Impact for a framework around this.)
- Morning rituals for being grounded and present in your body: Dancing, meditation, journaling, breathing, stretching, walking, running. It’s your call, work it out.
- Take breaks every 90-120 minutes: Whether it’s 5, 10, or 20 minutes, give your brain a rest. It will be well worth the time.
- Shorten your meetings: from 60 minutes to 50 minutes; from 30 to 25 (or less). Gift yourself an extra 5 to 10 minutes between gigs. Use that time for rebooting, setting intentions, and preparing to show up. Everyone will be better for it.
- Fuel up intentionally. Eat well. No crap. The food you eat, the fuel you put into your body hugely impacts your time. Eat well —> more brain and body efficiency —> more mental and emotional clarity —> clearer decisions and brain performance —> you’re smarter —> wow, you can do more in less time. Really.
- Move. Move. Throughout the day. Get into your body. Get your heart pumping. Activate brain waves and neural pathways and all sorts of magic that happens with movement and exercise. Then see #6, the same idea.
- Say “NO” when you mean it. And “YES” when you mean it. By the way, “no” can be a complete sentence. You do not have to spend time justifying or excusing or even explaining your no away. (Most people don’t want you to anyway. Plus, yeah, time.)
- Watch your self-talk and storytelling. Oh boy! The assumptions we make; the stories we tell ourselves, and our internal self-beatings are the greatest time + energy suckers. Change the conversation in that big beautiful head of yours. No assumptions. Stick to accurate reporting. Just the facts ma’am. If you’re going to tell a story, at least make it one that’s energizing and empowering (be kind to yourself). You “messed up” and you’re upset? Great, how can you make that a compassionate pat on the back of: “Nice work. I care. What can I learn from this?” Be self-kind and watch time expand.
- Nip the complaining. Underneath every complaint is an uncommunicated request. If you find yourself or your people moaning and groaning, stop the time and energy link and get in there; what’s the request? What do you, or they, want? What’s the quickest way to make that happen? If you can’t do it — revert to #8, or ask them how they can make it happen for themselves.
Phew. There we have it. The real cost of time is more significant than we realize, AND, fortunately, the ability to create time, enjoy it, and own it, is also easier than we expect.
It’s never too late to start. I hope this series of articles has found you just in time!
(For more on this topic, check out “The Real Cost of Time (and How to Create More of It)”—the first in this series on inc.com and “Time’s Not Just Money, It’s Your Credibility” on my blog.