Time Is Not Your Enemy

Categories Metaphors

Everybody wants to fight time. They want to find more of it. Optimize every last fucking niche of their life to locate that speck of time that will help them achieve whatever goals they think they have to accomplish. They “hack” everything.

This might even be you.

In all fairness, it’s me too. I’ve tried my fair share of hacks looking to wring that last-minute out of a busy life. And really, some of those hacks are helpful. Things like the 80/20 rule and such can help streamline your life and processes at home and at work, and ensure you’re working on those things that will give you the biggest and best impact.

The problem with hacks, and what not, is when we misuse them. When we use them in an effort to capitalize on each passing minute. To find 15 seconds hidden somewhere amid the chaos of our everyday life. When our life is so out of control, so busy, so crowded, that we actually believe that time is the enemy.

But here’s the thing. Time isn’t your enemy. It’s not your friend either. It’s just a universal constant. A constraint that we’re all evenly required to work within. It is neither an advantage or disadvantage. It’s just a giant, unmovable boulder resting comfortably in the middle of your life.

This article doesn’t suggest you spend even a moment trying to move that boulder. I believe it’s unhelpful and ultimately destructive to try to bend time to your whim. That’s like trying to arm wrestle god, you’re probably gonna lose. (He’s got them guns).

Instead, how about we analyze what we’re spending our time on and why. Once you’re equipped with your why finding the time should become a lot easier.

Being busy isn’t a good thing

First things first, being busy isn’t good.

I can’t fucking stand when people tell me they’re busy. Like it’s a badge of honor. At work, all the time, there’s some jerk running around sweating too much, telling you that they can’t get this or that done for you because they’re so busy. They typically stay at the office too late, get there too early, and soak up all their time looking like they’re about to keel over from a heart attack.

But very, very, very rarely is this “business” actually tied up with results.

In fact, the majority of the people at work who are dying in the trenches are the poorest performers. And it’s the same with those that take this mentality into the home.

The reality is that if you’re so busy you can’t breathe, you’re probably doing shit you don’t need to do.

Unfortunately, the real problem is that people just love looking busy. They believe it’s synonymous with being productive. On top of that, they’re scared of not looking busy. This culture, specifically America, celebrate the fatigued, overly committed worker. It probably has some roots in factory culture, but that’s irrelevant. It’s fundamentally and foundationally incongruent with the thought labor economy we’re now part of.

Apologies to all of those spending their days breaking rocks.

Now, I admit there could be fringe cases here among the busy. But even then, we’re all human. And if we recognize the immovability of time, then it’s incumbent on us to find more pertinent and relevant solutions to our business.

For me, this solution is 3 fold:

  • Realize that being busy is sub-optimal
  • Coordinate and prioritize what you value in this world
  • Figure out how to use the awake time you have in congruence with your values

Realize that being busy is sub-optimal

I don’t know how much more I can say. I’ve already babbled on about this for a page and a half. We all know what it feels to be tired. We all know what it feels like to be frazzled.

Think of a time you spent trying to do something of intellectual value in either of these conditions? How did it go? Did you forget critical things? Did you flub things you would typically have not had to think about at all?

How did it go emotionally? Were, or are, you always in a terrible and grumpy mood? Does doing anything other than watching TV make you feel like killing others or yourself?

We’re not evolutionarily designed to be thinking 100% all day and night. You’re over processing, and you’re getting diminishing returns.

Okay, enough of this. I’m not here to inspire you to be better. You should arrive here in that way. Being busy is stupid, and who gives a fuck what others think, etc.

Coordinate your values

Ultimately, I believe people struggle with time management because their actions are incongruent with their values.

Full stop.

People that fully and intentionally understand what they care about in this world, don’t struggle with time. They know what they want for and from themselves and those around them. They know what they think is truly important, what they think is kind of important, and what they think is dumb.

The problem for the vast majority of people isn’t that they’re wandering around without values. In fact, most would take offense if this critique was leveraged against them. They would say things like, “I value my family,” or “I value my career development.”  And you know what, they probably do.

The problem is that these people are a) not fully intentional of all things they value, b) how those things work when they bump into each other, and most importantly c) what they don’t value.

“But look,” you say. “I don’t want to do that 40 hours of work, but if I don’t I can’t pay my mortgage.” But I’d argue that “taking care of your family” or “living at a certain lifecycle” is very much a value that reflects how you use your time.

If you value being a rich, successful business person, then maybe you should be dedicating all your time at work. However, if you value paying your mortgage as well as another handful of activities, then maybe work stays at work. You accept that your upward career mobility will stall a little, and you invest time in other pursuits.

This is the negotiation that’s missing from most people’s assessment of their time.

List, Group and Stack Ranking your values

As I’ve outlined above, time is a scarcity. There’s no getting around it. Hours tick by, days rise and fall, and at some point, you’ll die. Sorry to remind you.

You must begin with this premise.

I’m not suggesting that you throw everything overboard and go move to Bali, but this awareness should at minimum be an organizing principle in your life.

Now that we’ve fully internalized the profound existential sadness of time, let’s get to work.

We will now list, organize and rank our values.

Let’s do an exercise

Pull out a piece of paper, spreadsheet, cardboard, poster board. I don’t care. Something where you can write.

You’ll need to be able to create 3 columns, so factor that into the medium. Me, I prefer spreadsheets.

Step 1 – Brainstorm

We’re going to spend 5 minutes jotting down things that we think are important. Don’t censor, don’t over thinking. This is free writing. The trick is that I want you to only write things down that complete this prompt:

“It’s very important to me that I…”

Okay go do it and come back.

***

Welcome back.

Here’s part of my list:

It’s very important to me that I:

  • Take care of my kids
  • Support my family
  • Make a difference at work
  • Write and record songs
  • Learn new languages
  • Run at least 30 miles a week
  • Be nice to my wife
  • Keep my house clean
  • Eat a plant-based diet
  • Take care of my health
  • Spend time writing
  • Meditate
  • Read the news
  • Live somewhere with good access to the outdoors
  • Learn how to take better pictures
  • Read often

Step 2 – Categorize

This part is easy. For step 2, we’re going to organize our list into categories. I’d probably aim to bucket them into maybe 4 – 6 categories. But if you go over or under, don’t fret.

So if you’re doing this in excel or good spreadsheets, just write your categories in the next column over

Here are my grouped categories:

Support the family

  • Take care of my kids
  • Support my family
  • Be nice to my wife

Cultivate Creativity

  • Write and record songs
  • Spend time writing
  • Learn how to take better pictures

Do Meaningful Work

  • Make a difference at work
  • Stay Smart
  • Learn new languages

Stay Physically Healthy

  • Run at least 30 miles a week
  • Eat a plant-based diet
  • Take care of my health
  • Live somewhere with good access to the outdoors

Stay Mentally Healthy and Informed

  • Read often
  • Meditate
  • Read the news
  • Keep my house clean (mental health, y’all)

Step 3 – Rank

Great, you’re doing fantastic. Now let’s finalize this. Stack rank your categories. Now look, you don’t have to share this with anyone. This is your own private organization of values as they pertain to YOU, not your wife, not your friends, not your parents, not your kids.

So for example, mine might look like this

  1. Support the family
  2. Do Meaningful Work
  3. Stay Physically Healthy
  4. Cultivate Creativity
  5. Stay Mentally Healthy and Informed

Let’s add one more, that I’ll talk about in a minute.

6. miscellaneous

Categorical Time

So the final, and obvious step, is to partition time to these. Now don’t think about this in actual minutes. You can do that on a weekly or monthly cadence. I talk about that here, here, and here, btw.

Instead, think about it as a holistic partition of your overall time across a large span of time, like maybe a year.

Let’s go back and look at my categories.

  1. Support the family
  2. Do Meaningful Work
  3. Stay Physically Healthy
  4. Cultivate Creativity
  5. Stay Mentally Healthy and Informed
  6. Other

If I have 100% of time to spend, I might give:

  • 50% of my time to supporting my family (which works out to about 40 hours a week of work and hang out time)
  • 15% to meaningful work
  • 10% to Staying Physically Healthy
  • 5% to cultivating creativity
  • 5% to staying mentally healthy

And that leaves about 15% of the rest of my time for the “other” category.

The other category is important because it accounts for all your downtime and random shit that comes up. I mean, you can’t be going all the time. Do try to keep this under 20% (but not much less).       

Now your categories and time partitions might be different. Maybe you have no family and are super career driven. Maybe you just have 3 categories

  1. Career development
  2. Physical Health
  3. Hanging out with friends
  4. Other

You might do a

70% / 10 % / 10% / 10% split.

What Matters

The important thing isn’t to hit your percentages on dead accurately. The point is to intentionally determine how you want to spend your time. Sure, these percentages will swing day in and day out. Sometimes wildly. But by being intentional about how we ideally want to spend our time, we’re more likely to keep ourselves in check.

In my case, if I start working 60 hours a week, I might begin to wonder how this job isn’t congruent with my values. Or, if I start filling up that other bucket by watching too much pointless TV, I realize that this isn’t the life I want to live.

In short, it’s the intentionality of the exercise that drives the change.

Takeaway

Time, it’s here to stay, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

Our best approach is to understand that time is limited, and from there, adapt not time, but ourselves. That way we can use time to craft a fulfilled and meaningful life. That requires an intentional approach to how we understand our use of time and being aware of how our activities are reflections of the values we hold inside.

Everybody wants to fight time, but time isn\'t the enemy. I believe time management starts with prioritizing your values. Click through to see why!
Your partner in crime.

My examples: writing, music, musing, birdhouse building

Leave a Reply