Time. An Incredibly Slippery Commodity.

Almost no one has absolute control of most of their time. Right from birth through to our school years and then on to employment where and how we spend our time is totally in the control of others – our parents, carers, teachers and employers. We are told what time to turn up to school and to work, as well as when to be at any other organised activities. From our later school years we are given a little more free time to determine how we want to use it. But as people leave school, find employment, get married and have families the time-pressures of life increase, leaving us little time that we control.

In my case, I spent my primary school years in Stanwell Park, a small coastal town in New South Wales, Australia. My parents owned the only general store in town and the school was at our back fence. It was a great place for a young guy to grow up. My time revolved around school, helping out in the shop, visiting friends who lived near by and waiting to be taken to the beach or to organised sport. When it was time for me to move up to high school my parents sold the shop and we moved to Sydney so I could go to Manly Boys High School. They bought a sandwich shop near the school so life was much the same for me: I went to school; walked to the shop; and waited to be driven by my brother to various sporting engagements. 

The problem is that we have endured decades of our time being controlled by others. As much as we may not like it, we have become used to being told what to do, where to do it and when. So when it comes to being responsible for our own time, many of us struggle and even fail to take control until it is too late and we are left frantically trying to fix a life in crisis. 

One thing is clear, what we give time to grows, and what we don’t give time to dies.

Time has three levels and we need to know how to get the best out of each.

In order to do this it is important that we have both a clear indication of how we currently use our time, and how we would prefer our time schedule to look. Let’s call these levels onetwo and three.

Level one refers to the time we spend interacting with others when someone else has control over when that time takes place, without us having any input. Examples of this may be the time we are required to be at work, or at school, or at an organised sport event.

Then we have level two time, which is where we interact with others and everyone in the group has a say in when we will meet, such as meeting a friend for lunch, or arranging to study together. We are highly likely to attend these activities because of the commitment we have made to someone else. We have the choice of whether spending our time in this way is for a worthwhile purpose or not - but it's likely to happen because someone else is depending on us to turn up.

The final category is level three time where we act alone and only we control when and even if it happens. Individual exercise, personal study, reading, time spent on social media, cleaning the house or eating well are all great examples of level three time.

There are consequences of missed time.

  • The consequences of missing level one time are immediate and negative. If you don't turn up for work or the game it is known straight away and people will not be happy.
  • The consequences of missing level two time are also immediate and cause concern: “Chris, you were going to meet me at 10am. It is 11am, are you ok?”
  • The consequences of missing level three time are well into the future and often beyond repair. For example, not eating healthily, not exercising, not managing money well, not planning your financial future, not working on your marriage or other friendships.

Understanding that how we use our time is critical to creating excellent life culture will enable us to make the necessary changes. It is important for us to work out how we would prefer to invest our 168 hours of time in any given week, taking into account all three levels.

  • What are you committed to BY others? Can any of this time be eliminated?
  • What have you committed to WITH others? Is all this beneficial? If not, can some be put aside?
  • What do you do with what is LEFT for you? What is the most important use of this time, for example Health and Fitness, or Personal Development? Is this currently how it is used?

Once we know this we can compare our actual time use each week with our intentions and continue to make the necessary adjustments. Often it will only require small directional changes to get you back on course. My wife Heather and I still review this after many years and even so we tend to drift away from important activities due to the pressures of life. To change anything simply requires minor additions and subtractions over time in order to develop the culture you desire, and to have outstanding lifestyle wealth.