Making Friends with Time
6 Strategies for Shifting Your Mindset and Forming New Habits to Be in the Flow with Time
Time is a created construct. It has no pre-determined meaning until we give it meaning. In today’s fast-paced society, time is often seen as a valuable and limited resource. Collectively, we have adopted certain common narratives around time: “Time is money.” “Time flies.” “Time has gotten away from me.” “There’s never enough time.”
The truth is, time is neutral. It is neither good nor bad. It is our relationship with time that determines our experience with it. Some cultures seem to be in the flow with time, while others are constantly racing against time. In Western society, time is seen as fixed, linear, and unchanging, and we tend to complete tasks sequentially. This is how we tend to view our daily life and broader existence – with the expectation that as one event comes to an end, the next should arrive right at that moment. It is the part of us that tells us by the end of the day, we should have certain tasks completed. Or that by a certain age, we should have a job, a house, a spouse and children, in order for us to feel a certain sense of accomplishment.
On the other hand, in much of Asia and Latin America, time is more fluid and people adapt more easily to changing circumstances and new information. In a spiritual sense, there is trust and acceptance that everything is unfolding at the right timing for our highest growth, even if the process is out of our control. It might mean restarting your career when you discover a new passion at 50 or falling crazy in love at 78. The timing is not convenient or logical by your ego’s standard, but it fulfills a deeper longing and purpose than simply checking the boxes.
Simply put, our mindset, decisions, and actions determine whether time is our enemy or ally. Do you flow with time or are you racing against time? And this is a two-way relationship. You want time to be kind to you, but are you being kind to time? Are you using your time wisely to do the things most important to you, or are you doing lots of things but actually forsaking those that create the most meaning for you?
We outline several strategies to help you get in the flow with time in both your personal and professional life.
1. What can you say no to?
You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. Having a collaborative and respectful relationship with time means being conscious about when and how you engage your energy and resources. This translates into saying no to opportunities and invitations that don’t create a lot of value for you.
The test I use is the “gut check.” I experience sensations in my body or emotions with every choice I make, and I intuitively know what is best for me in a guttural way.
Ask yourself: How does this invitation or opportunity feel in my body? Does it create excitement or dread in my belly or my chest? Does my body make a literal sound (“mmmhmmm” indicating “yes” and “uhn-un” indicating “no”)? My bright-line rule is, if it’s not a full-body “Hell Yes,” then it’s a “Hell No.” Like a muscle, your intuition gets stronger the more you listen to it.
As much as you can, drop into your body to make the decision. If you find yourself in your mind, weighing the pros and cons, using words like “I should,” you are likely making the decision out of your conditioning, versus what you truly desire in the situation. Ask yourself: What would I love to do if there was nothing in my way? Say no to invitations that do not honor your needs.
In our busyness, we are doing a lot of things, but often avoiding taking action in areas that have the most positive impact on our happiness and well-being. Answering the above question “What Can You Say No To?” will free up space for you to consciously choose to do the things that are the most consistent with your ideals and dreams.
2. Create Simple Rules for Forming Good Habits and Set Consequences.
Identify 1 to 3 things you’ve been putting off addressing. They are things that if you can master will change your life. But they are precisely the things you’ve been avoiding, even though they are good for you. When we don’t do them, they multiply in size, taking up lots of mental energy. Some examples might be: sorting mail that piles up on the kitchen counter, cutting sugar intake, showing up on time for your meetings, looking at your finances, etc.
Create a rule for each. To keep things simple, there are 3 kinds of rules:
How you deal with something. E.g. I open my mail immediately when I receive it.
When you deal with something. E.g. I open my mail from 6-6:30 pm every day.
By when you deal with something. E.g. I will sort all the mail that has accumulated by Sunday night.
Be curious and open to experimenting with the right rules. Then make a plan and stick to it. Think, plan and act in alignment with your highest ideal, the reason why you want to create this change to begin with.
For this strategy to be the most effective, set a consequence for not following the rule. Tell your friends or family about it and invite them to hold you accountable. For instance, you might decide to give $20 to your favorite charity or give up something you really love (e.g. watching Netflix for a week) every time you fail to follow through. Besides providing a real incentive for sticking to the rule, setting a consequence gives you a way to restore your personal integrity and forgive yourself for the occasional slip-ups.
3. Focus on the “One Big Thing” of the Day.
Every morning, identify the ONE task that will move the needle or create high value for your work – it might be sending out a proposal to a new client, making a video to promote your new offering, getting on a call with a mentor, or the thing that needs to happen first in order to trigger other events. Focus your energy on getting this one thing done. Often, we value quantity over quality. We distract ourselves with the 20 other things on our to-do list that would be nice to get done but not really critical. When you get the “One Big Thing” done, you immediately feel good, which gives you an energy boost to enjoy the rest of your day.
4. Synch with Your Natural Energy Cycle
Corporate America has us believe that we all naturally have the same level of productivity at all hours, throughout the month and year. While that might be true for some super-humans, others may only have a few hours each day when they are energetic and clear-headed. Just ask women experiencing hormonal shifts throughout the month or those affected by seasonal depression. Our energy cycles are dependent on both our circadian rhythms as well as lifestyle choices. Having the awareness of when your energy level tends to dip and peak throughout the day, month and year, and scheduling your tasks accordingly (i.e. the tasks that require the most creativity being allocated to a time when you have the most energy), can help create better flow, or at least reduce the feeling of being in an uphill battle during your afternoon trough.
Also, give yourself permission to take intentional breaks when you need them. No, I’m not talking about routinely slacking off because you are uninspired by your job (this would be better addressed in a separate blog post 😊). But if you feel that you would be rejuvenated by closing your eyes for a 15-minute nap, dancing to salsa, or listening to your favorite music, go for it! Just make sure you set an alarm. YOU are the most important asset in your work, so you need to take care of yourself first. When it comes to productivity, more hours do not equal more results.
5. Plan Your Week Out with a Digital Workspace
On Sunday evening or the first thing on Monday morning, organize your thoughts in one big “brain dump.” This means having a sense of all the tasks that you want to complete over the course of the week, both personal and work, and start assigning them out to the days of the week. I use the free app Notion for this exercise because I can easily create little task cards that I can move around to assign to different days of the week. It gives a good visual of everything you have going on during the week in one place and allows you to add details, attachments, and links to each task. Other popular digital organization apps include Trello and Monday.com. I find this tool to be much more flexible than using Google Calendar. Often, I don’t need to allocate a specific time slot to a task, when I know I’m just going to get it done at some point during the day. But feel free to plug those tasks into your calendar if that works for you. Notion has many templates for daily organization but I’m happy to share my personal template if you message me.
6. Batch Your Work
Some people work very well within a set structure. Batching allows you to segment your day into tasks and the time it takes to complete them. A popular method is the Pomodoro Technique, where you break up your work time into 25-minute work chunks, with 5-minute short breaks in between. A longer break (15 minutes) is taken after a set of four pomodoros. There are variations to this method – some find it better to concentrate for 90-minute intervals. There is a lot of research that shows how batching improves concentration and reduces interruptions.
Personally, I like a little bit more variety and flexibility in my schedule so I don’t often use this technique. However, there are times when I need to get something out really quickly and I find that setting one goal for each short work interval allows me to just dive in without overthinking or trying to be perfect. Also, this method requires setting an alarm for accountability, which limits distractions (e.g. typically, no checking emails, texts, or social media).