Which of these appeals to you:
A month-long business trip?
A three-day weekend?
A five-minute dinner?
Our preference for how much time we want to spend on something depends on what it is. In Slow Living we talk about taking the appropriate amount of time to do something, and this can vary from a few seconds in the case of removing a Band–Aid to years when it comes to building soil and relationships.
So how do we begin to make the appropriate amount of time for the things that matter? As the designer of your time (if you are not yet familiar or convinced of this yet, see Embracing Your Own Slow Life Designer), we offer the following strategies to help you find and create the time you want to focus on the good things in life.
We live in a time of abundance, both of things and opportunities, to the point of overwhelm. Once you identify what is meaningful to you (yes, this is key), it is important to find ways to say "no" to the rest. Often a lot of "yeses" and "maybes" (you option–lovers know who you are!) mean that you are actually saying "no" to something else. This can include spending time on things that are most fulfilling to you as well as on quality of life activities like sleep, reflection, exercise, friendships, or relaxing. One striking example of this comes from Sallie Raspberry who describes how she said "no" to a fender bender. Once she determined that the other (at–fault) driver and his car were okay, and that the minimal damage to her car was of no significance to her, she hopped back in her car and got on with her day. This is just one example of how much you can actually say "no" in order to have the time to say "yes" to what you want.
The urgent often grabs our attention and energy, even though working toward our long term dreams and ambitions is ultimately more satisfying. We can use the urgent/important matrix to help us sort out what we can ignore (things like most YouTube videos), what we should prioritize (like important deadlines), and what we should make time for on a regular basis (like our life goals).
Creating time to reexamine and set long term personal goals is a part of this, too. New Year's is one obvious possibility, as is your birthday, and shifts from old to new, such as a business cycle or a new moon. Experiencing steady progress toward these goals can help you learn how to plan and then develop a more future–oriented time perspective, especially if you tend to be very present–focused. This is in addition to the ultimate reward of directing your life energy towards your highest dreams and biggest hopes.
While you may think of the "To Do List" as a dour task master, we suggest you reconsider the liberating effects of a few good lists. David Allen in Getting Things Done describes how to make different types of lists in order to reduce stress and free your mind to be more creative and efficient. These lists help you focus on priorities and goals while clarifying what to say "no" to and what is "not important." In The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande outlines the performance enhancing nature of checklists, especially for complicated and repeated tasks. Checklists are also useful for groups and when delegating tasks to others. And do not underestimate the smug satisfaction to be gained from crossing things off your list, especially if you are rewarded by having some "free" time.
We all get the same 720 minutes a day—you, President Obama, every parent, everybody. And while there are some givens in life, we also have options as to how to allocate our time. The best place to start is by getting really clear on what you want more time for—creative projects? time in nature? learning a new skill? working? Then with these goals in mind, you can start applying these strategies to begin to make your wish list your reality.
In addition to the reference books mentioned above, check out our essay It's About Time for more ideas on how we perceive time and ways to manage it.
Take a look at your e-mail or your calendar. What's on them that you can say "no" to? Consider creating a long term list and then daily lists to help you better prioritize and navigate through your tasks. While it may seem counter–intuitive, taking time up front to set up systems and declutter can save you time in the long run.
Wishing you time for the good life,
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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