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The Importance of Controlling Your Time

We often hear statements like “time is money,” or “time is your most precious resource.” How, though, does this translate into action?

I’d suggest the following: many of us will say that time is important, yet so often we live otherwise. Of all the gaps between belief and behavior, this has to be one of the greatest.

Over the past year I’ve been writing a book about money. One of the starting points for the book is the principle that money isn’t real. (And that’s just the starting point: the more interesting questions begin with, “Once we accept that money is a social construct, what do we do about it?”)

Anyway, money isn’t real, but time certainly is. Or at least, if you lose money, you can get more of it. Money is a renewable resource. When you lose time, however, it’s gone forever.

Ignoring inflation for the sake of this argument, money in the future is worth the same as it is now. But time in the future has a far different value. Simply put, the older we get, the less time we have left, and the more we should value it.

Time is uniquely valuable: this point should be obvious. Yet for all of the talk about how important time is, most strategies to protect it either miss the main point or don’t go far enough.

Having control over your time is paramount. In a world in which so much is out of your control, owning your time is the single best choice you can make.

For me personally, I would give up almost anything else in favor of control of my time. If I was forced to choose between time and money, for example, I’d readily agree to less money. I would give up any physical possession or material good. I’d even give up status or power for time, if such a choice had to be made. Your ego can adjust to having less status, but time adjusts to no one.

When you own your time, it’s like having equity in a business or home—but even better, because time is worth more than money!

Next Steps

If you accept the principle that controlling your time is supremely important, what can you do?

1. Big picture first: above all, seek purpose and meaning in your life. Are you doing something that matters? (You are the one who decides “what matters,” by the way.) How much of your time is spent in that way—are you comfortable with the ratio?

If you’ve never closely examined this question before, you might be surprised to find that the amount of time you spend on self-identified “important things” is shockingly small. It’s happened to me many times, and I’m supposed to be good at this!

2. If something major in your life isn’t working, make a change. This includes: jobs, relationships, housing, education, hobbies, religion—you name it. And before you make a list of things that are off-limits for changing, why not first consider the question with nothing off-limits?

More often than not, I’ve found, the costs of not changing will exceed those of making the change. There are exceptions, of course. But why not start with prioritizing progress? Another way to say that is “prioritizing yourself.”

3. For all the small pockets of time that come up during the day, be ready with small things to do. “Looking at your phone” easily becomes the default for so many of us these days. What else could you do?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe the point of life is to hyper-optimize every moment. That way lies madness, and a lot of typical productivity advice can be counterproductive.

Still, it’s true that the average day includes lots of unscheduled time that can (sometimes) be put to better use. I never go anywhere without something to do: my journal, manuscript pages to edit, my Kindle for reading, and usually my laptop. If I’m meeting a friend who’s late, no problem! I can occupy myself without feeling stressed about the time.

4. Set boundaries and learn to say no to requests that don’t align with your values or goals. Setting boundaries is not being rude or selfish, it’s a way to protect your time and energy for the things that matter most to you.

When tempted to compromise, you must remember: I cannot get this time back later. Is it really worth sacrificing to someone else’s whims? Keep that in mind, and be clear and direct with your communication.

5. Prioritize self-care and take time to relax and recharge. If it’s hard to make this a regular habit, schedule it! Do you have anything on your calendar that relates to self-care? Maybe you should.

One more thing: if you’re always worried about how to spend your time—well, that’s another issue. I made an entire course about time anxiety last year because I think it’s the great undiagnosed and unrecognized problem of our lives.

But this is different. Regaining control over your time—owning it, in fact—is a highly-rewarding goal that’s worth striving for.


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