Investing Your Time Mindfully

Do you feel time-rich or time-poor?

We typically think about investments as monetary, but it could be said that a more impactful investment that each of us makes every single day is the investment of time.

The pandemic has left some feeling awash in time and wandering a bit aimlessly as a result, not getting as much accomplished as expected. Others are scrambling to keep up with seemingly relentless demands on each waking minute – and some minutes when they really ought to be sleeping. (Working and parenting from home? I’m talking to you.)

In short, whether you feel time-abundant or time-poor, time is a precious resource that, invested mindfully, can help us live meaningful, happy lives.

Making a time inventory

In an interview with Dan Harris on the Ten Percent Happier podcast (episode #318), Harvard Business School assistant professor, Ashley Whillans describes a “Marie Kondo method” of reviewing the way that you are investing your time each day.

She recommends doing a “time inventory” of an average day. This inventory invites us to consider each investment of time. It includes all activities, even the “in between” minutes, such as minutes spent mindlessly scrolling through your phone or playing Words With Friends. We are to consider each investment and determine if it “spoke to my heart or sparked joy.”

If yes, then this was a beneficial investment of time. If no, we have an opportunity to look a little deeper.

Did the activity, albeit perhaps less rewarding than snuggling with a loved one, bring you closer to a goal or a dream? Did it help someone you care about get closer to their goal or dream? Did it help empower you to one day be able to pour more time into something that does spark joy?

If yes, this too was a beneficial investment of time. If no (fellow phone-scrolling, Words With Friends junkies, listen up), you might have discovered an investment you’d rather make differently in the future.

Seek awareness, not perfection

Please resist the urge to get frustrated with yourself. All is not lost – just a few minutes. Like a yoga or meditation practice, time inventories are intended to recast our mistakes as our greatest teachers: we’re developing awareness. From that awareness will come more mindful investments of time.

You are the boss, not your technological tools

Another of Whillans’ time management tips is the minimization of something she calls “time confetti.” What is this? It’s the nasty habit our technological tools (text messaging, emails, news alerts, calls, and the like) have of slicing and dicing our time into infinitesimally tiny bits.

For example, if we’ve chosen to invest a chunk of time into a meaningful activity such as playing tennis, polishing our presentation for the board of directors, writing in our journal, editing our company newsletter, or volunteering at the local senior center, we want to give this investment 100%. (Please note: “meaningful” does not always mean it’s not for work.)

Each time we look away (even for a second) to react to the siren call of technology, we dilute our investment with distraction. In essence, each time we allow ourselves to be pulled away, we are turning activities that could be rewarding into short(er), unenjoyable, and unproductive moments that leave us feeling stressed and scattered.

What are we to do?

From easiest to hardest, here are a few suggestions that might make you feel like your time is more abundant:

  • Set your devices on Do Not Disturb. Check them at regular intervals – I’m not suggesting you exist “off the grid.” But be militant about taking charge of these tools rather than allowing them to take charge of you. This will minimize “time confetti.”
  • Mindfully invest little time “gifts.” These gifts include cancelled meetings, the “free” time when your doctor is running late, and even the ten minutes between clients that you schedule to protect your sanity. Instead of frittering away these minutes, take a walk, meditate, call your mom, or listen to music that makes your heart soar.
  • Set “appointments” with yourself and treat them as if they were as non-negotiable as a command performance meeting with your boss. Use these chunks of time as investments into leisure or work activities that are meaningful and rewarding. It helps to plan ahead what you will do during these appointments.
  • Be the gate keeper for your own schedule. Leave yourself space in your days for the activities and people who matter – whether that’s an impromptu chat with a colleague or a walk with your spouse.
  • Periodically (perhaps when you realize that you’re feeling stressed or constantly rushed or even a little antsy) sit down and do a time inventory.

Become a mindful investor of time

Whether you are new at this or an old pro, keep coming back to your intention – to live more mindfully and to receive each moment of your life as the gift that it is. As you work to become a better time “investor,” remember that, with time and practice, baby steps will get you there.

Topics like how to invest your time are great stepping off places for spiritual direction. Interested? Drop me a line or give me a call.