Everyone’s life is shaped by limitations. We all have them. The limitations that people most often blame for their struggles are in the areas of money and talent. “If only I had more money” or “I am just not as fast, smart, or artistic as they are”. These limitations are, however, areas that can be addressed. If we don’t have enough money or run out of money, there are ways to make money. We can create ways to save money or spend more wisely. Our talents can be improved as well. We can lift weights and grow stronger, read books and become smarter, or study with a master and improve our artistic abilities.
There is one limitation, however, that is more problematic than a lack of money or talent. Time is a fixed commodity that we can never replace. We all have a finite amount of time each day, 24 hours. Once those hours are gone, you can’t get them back. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. So, how we spend our time is one of the most important decisions we make every day.
It’s because we recognize that time is so valuable that we so often over-fill our hours with activities and obligations. We are in constant motion from the time we wake up until we collapse into bed at night, hoping to make every minute count. That’s why it’s so hard to create margin in our time. It seems unproductive. Why would we deliberately set aside time each day to remain empty?
The biggest benefit of creating margin in our hours is that it allows us to get the most out of the other hours of the day. When we leave a few minutes early for our meeting, we can take some time to think about the meeting, or we have a cushion if something like traffic or an emergency phone call gobbles up some time we weren’t expecting to use. Some free time at the end of the day allows us to reflect on our day or just decompress. The events of our day can not be accurately understood without some time to process them. Creating margin in our time isn’t easy, but here are a few tips that can help:
Accept your limitations.
It’s not heroic to try to cram 40 hours worth of work into 24 hours. It’s delusional. You can rob your sleep and relationships of the time they need for a while, but eventually, you’ll pay the price. Accepting your limitations allows you to make better decisions about how you spend your time and prepare you for the next tip.
Prioritize important over urgent.
When you accept that you only have a finite amount of time each day, you can then start determining what is most worthy of your time. When you take time to evaluate what is most important to you each day, you are able to avoid the pseudo-emergencies that pop up and detract from what you care about most. Your time is valuable so make sure you spend more of it on what you value most.
This one is difficult. It may seem like scanning through your emails while talking to your son is getting two things done at once, but in reality, it cheapens the time and robs your son of the attention he needs. Multitasking seems like a great idea, and sometimes it’s unavoidable. Sadly, doing two things at once doesn’t normally save the amount of time you would think (doing two things at once slows the speed at which you can do each), and it normally results in doing two things poorly rather than doing one of them well.
So start creating margin in your daily minutes by going to bed 10 minute early. Or, leave 5 minutes early to travel to your meeting. Over time you will feel less stressed and more able to excel in the activities of your day.