What If You’re Using Your Time Wrong?

Karen Banes

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Allocating your time is scarily easy to screw up. Time is perhaps our most precious resource, yet many of us simply don’t use it that well. It’s sad enough that we all tend to waste a day or two here and there using time badly, but it’s tragic that some people use time wrong their whole lives, and don’t realise it until it’s too late. I recently read an article in which the author decided to interview the oldest people she knew. Her interviewees were all 90-plus, and she asked them about their deepest regrets and happiest memories.

Many of the nonagenarians interviewed had regrets around family issues, such as breakdowns in their relationship with their children, or relationships between their children. When asked about their happiest times, they mostly referred to a time when their spouse had been alive and their children had been living at home.

Unsurprising, of course, but also significant, because marriage and parenting are inherently stressful, at least some of the time, for almost all of us. How many of us who are currently juggling marriage and children and everything else that life throws at us, are routinely taking time to savour the hours we spend with our spouse and kids?

How many of us mindfully put time into nurturing our family relationships, especially something specific, like the relationship between our children. (One of the interviewees mentioned in the article stated that her deepest regret was that her two children hadn’t spoken for over 20 years.)

Maybe that kind of thing won’t bother you when you’re 90-plus, but maybe it will. Now is as good a time as any to have a think about what you’d really want your life to look like, if you were 90 years old, looking back. What would make you happy? Give you a sense of accomplishment? Provide you with comfort in your later years? Would it be how hard you worked, how much you earned, how many tasks (some of them unnecessary and meaningless) you crammed into each day? Or would it be family? Legacy? Maybe just having had a ton of fun, adventure and pee-your-pants laughing fits?

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You’ve probably heard of the somewhat morbid experiment that can help you change how you spend your time. You simply have to imagine your own death. What would your obituary say? What would they put on your grave? What would the speakers at your funeral say? What stories would people tell about you at the wake, once they’d had a few drinks and lost a few inhibitions. A little dark? Maybe. But that’s the person you want to be.

What you want people say about you after your death dictates how you need to live your life. For years, I didn’t want to ever ‘play favourites’ with my kids. Then I watched a TV interview where someone was talking about how she interviewed the four daughters of a deceased friend. As I remember, it was to help her write a piece about the recently departed woman, for a publication in the small community where she’d done a lot of good during her life. Every one of the four daughters, interviewed separately, said something along the lines of:

“She’d never have admitted it, but I think I was Mama’s favorite”.

Four daughters. Every one believing she was the favorite. It changed the way I parent. I no longer want my kids to think I don’t have a favorite. I want to live my life, and spend my time, in such a way that when I die, they’ll both be left secretly convinced that they’re my favorite.

Spending time wrong is easily done. There’s no one-size-fits-all plan that guarantees you a life well-spent. But there are some guiding principles that apply to the majority of people. In his book,Time And How To Spend It, James Wallman identifies what he refers to as 7 rules for richer, happier days. They include getting outside and offline on a regular basis, spending time with people you love, and embracing intense experiences.

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Wallman’s is a book worth reading, and most people can relate to the principles in it, but how you spend your time is highly personal. You just need to make sure the way you spend your time is right for you. Bite the bullet. Do the exercise. Imagine your own death and how you want to be remembered. Then do a few other exercises:

Make a list of everything you love to do

Don’t hold back. Put everything on there. Big things and small. Simple and complicated. Reading, traveling, climbing mountains, hula hooping, riding horses. Include the things you used to love to do as a child, or at some time in your life before the current phase, at which point (you believe) it became impossible or impractical to do it. Then put a checkmark by everything on your list that you’ve done in the last month. You’ll probably be shocked at how few checkmarks you have.

Make a list of everything you hate to do

Including the things you have to do, or feel like you do. Again, include everything, from dusting to confrontation to dealing with difficult clients. This can feel like a negative exercise, but you’re heading towards the ultimate, and practical, next step, so be honest. Put a checkmark by everything on this list you’ve done in the last month. You may find there are way more checkmarks on the second list than the first. How depressing is that? Sit with it for a while, though. It’s important to let it sink in.

See if you can ‘flip’ your lists

How much of what’s on the first list can you get back into your life, or do more of? You can generalise or lump things together if it makes sense, especially if something on your list isn’t as practical as it used to be. Maybe multi-day hikes and wilderness camping become ‘spending time in nature’. Maybe water skiing or going on cruises become ‘spending time on the water’ (long story short, I bought a stand-up paddleboard after doing this exercise).

Now look at your ‘hate’ list. What can you cut down on? What can be delegated, outsourced, or at least streamlined so it takes less time? If you’re a business owner or service provider and one of your clients is on this list, can you replace them with another, more likeable, less troublesome client? If it’s parts of your job you hate, can you delegate them to someone else? Your whole job? Maybe it’s time for a job hunt, or a re-train. Not everything you don’t enjoy doing is something you can abandon, but the purpose of this exercise is to figure out how much of it is. It may be a lot more than you thought.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. — Annie Dillard

If you’re using your time wrong, you’re using your life wrong. It’s scarily easy to do, and surprisingly easy to start fixing.

Image credits:

Pexels from Pixabay

Priscilla Du Preez from Unsplash

Hu Chen from Unsplash

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Freelance writer & indie author sharing thoughts on health, wellness, lifestyle, creativity, and productivity. https://karenbanes.com

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