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What’s the most precious resource on Earth? It’s definitely not gold. Platinum and rhodium are actually more valuable – but it’s not one of those either. Nor is it money.
The answer is time. Want to dig up rare metals or earn some cold hard cash? You need time to do it. Heck, you need time to do anything. It’s the ultimate resource.
Unfortunately, it’s also in very short supply – these days especially. From demanding jobs to endless social media feeds, it seems like everything and everyone wants to take our limited time away from us.
If only there were a way to stop time. Well, there is – in a metaphorical sense at least. And you’re about to learn what it is!
In the following digests you will discover why you have more time than you think; why you’re losing more of it than you need to; and what you can do about it.
What we get out of our time depends on how we spend it, how much energy we have, and how mindful we are.
Imagine you could stop time – not just figuratively, but literally. Snap your fingers, and poof – the clock stops ticking. Congratulations. You now have unlimited time to finish that work project, write that memoir, or do anything else you want.
But what if you ended up just messing around with your phone instead? And what if you were too tired or scatterbrained to focus on anything more worthwhile? Well, in that case, you might as well take all of that newly created time and flush it down the toilet.
On one level, time is something very fixed and finite. There are only so many hours in a day, a week, and a lifetime. Meanwhile, an hour is an hour, no matter how you slice it: 60 minutes, 3,600 seconds – it’s always the same. And there’s only so much you can do with an hour. A good workout? Sure. A vacation? Obviously not.
But on another level, time is a much more fluid phenomenon. What you get out of it depends on three factors.
First, how are you spending it? Are you doing something interesting, useful, meaningful, or pleasurable with your time? If the answer is yes, you’ll end up getting much more out of an hour than if the answer is no. Going for a run? More endurance. Working on a side hustle? More money. Reading a book? More knowledge. But just sitting around, looking at photos of other people’s lives on social media? You won’t have much to show for that.
Alright, now the second factor: How much energy do you have? If you’re feeling revved up and ready to go, you can spend that hour pleasurably and productively. But if you’re exhausted, you’ll barely be able to do anything, let alone enjoy it. Maybe you’ll end up flopped on the sofa, zoning out in front of the television.
Finally, the third factor: How mindful are you being? Are you paying attention to what you’re experiencing? If the answer is no, you’re essentially losing that hour. Even if you’re doing something amazing, like hiking through a beautiful forest, the time will slip by as if you barely experienced it.
So no, we can’t actually stop time. And we can’t change the fact that our time is limited. But we can get more out of it. And we can stop losing so much of it.
To get the most out of life, conserve your time, energy, and attention.
Picture your life as a garden. In this garden, you’re trying to grow some “plants.” Each plant is something you want to cultivate in your life – your career, health, relationships, hobbies, and anything else that’s important to you.
But here’s the problem. Your “life garden” has limited space – room for only about five to ten plants. And you only have so much “water” for your plants. The water is your time, energy, and attention. So, how do you help your garden to flourish? Well, the secret to success boils down to two words: resource management.
Inside your life garden, your “water” is an absolutely essential resource for your “plants.” However, it’s also very limited, so you have to distribute it carefully. If you don’t pour any time, energy, or attention into your career, it’ll never grow. But if you devote too much of your water to this one particular plant, it’ll prosper at the expense of your other plants. Your career will blossom, but your relationships will languish.
You also have to be wary of letting new plants into your garden, since they might crowd out the ones you already have. For instance, let’s say an old high school buddy tries to rekindle a friendship with you – but you don’t have much in common anymore. If you start spending time with him just out of politeness, that’s time you’re not spending with the people you really want to connect with.
The same goes for that boring book you’ve been reading for months, that online class you’ve lost interest in, or anything else that isn’t worth the time, energy, and attention you’re paying to it. In your life garden, there are other “plants” more deserving of your water – and they’re not getting that water if you’re wasting it on “weeds.” These are the plants you don’t want to grow – the ones that divert valuable space and water away from the plants you do want to grow.
Chances are, you’ve already got some weeds in your garden. Harsh as it might sound, you’ve got to pull them out – and then you’ve got to stay on guard against new ones sneaking in and taking root.
You need to think carefully about how you’re investing your time.
Have you ever worked in the business world or played the stock market? If so, you’ve probably heard the term return on investment before, or ROI for short. It’s basically a measure of how much profit you make when you invest money in a stock option or business venture. The goal, of course, is to get more money out of the investment than you put into it. The bigger the return, the better the ROI.
A similar logic applies to how we invest our time. Now, here are the million-dollar questions: What’s your ROI on how you invest your time? And what’s your time investment strategy? Do you even have one?
If the answer is no, then it’s time to do something about it.
Let’s say you’ve got half an hour to spend. No matter what you choose to do with that time, you’re going to experience some sort of outcome as a result. Go for a walk, and you’ll improve your fitness a little. Do a high-intensity workout, and you’ll improve it even more. Smoke some cigarettes, and you’ll do the opposite.
The choice is yours – and that’s the point. You’ve got to decide how you use your time. And that decision is essentially an investment decision. You’re putting a certain amount of time into one activity or another, and you’re getting back something else in return – whether that’s a better physique or a smoker’s cough.
Of course, the choices aren’t usually that stark. So how do you make your investment decisions under normal circumstances? Well, you should weigh your options based on the outcomes they produce. Do they improve your health, happiness, finances, or overall quality of life? And if so, how much?
If you measure your options by these criteria, you’ll see that some of them provide better ROIs than others. But it all depends on what you’re looking for. If you just want to whip yourself into shape, that high-intensity workout is an excellent investment opportunity. It squeezes a lot of exercise into a short period of time. In comparison, walking isn’t as much of a high-yield fitness option. But it could be a great way to reconnect with nature or have a conversation with a friend.
In any case, you wouldn’t plow your money into the stock market without weighing your options and thinking about your investment strategy, would you? So, shouldn’t you do the same thing with your time – your most valuable resource?
We have a lot more freedom over how we spend our time than we think.
Wait a minute, you might be thinking. Do we really have that much choice in how we spend our time?
After all, most of us have many obligations to fulfill and packed schedules to complete. Going to work, meeting deadlines, picking up groceries, returning phone calls – the list goes on and on. Even in our so-called “free time,” we don’t seem to have much freedom.
Now, to some extent, that’s true. But it’s also missing an important part of the equation.
Yes, some obligations are imposed on us by reality. Taxes need to be filed. Dogs need to be walked. But if you went down the list of all the commitments of time you’re currently making to other people, events, and activities, you’d see that a lot of them are just that: commitments you’re making.
If a coworker stops you in the hallway for some idle chitchat, you don’t have to engage in a long conversation with him. If a friend invites you on a skiing trip, you don’t have to go on it. If you join a book group, you don’t have to stay in it. You choose to do these things – and that’s great, if you’re getting something out of them. But oftentimes that’s not the case. Instead, you might just be going along with them out of a misplaced sense of politeness or obligation.
We’ve got to stop doing this. All of these unnecessary, unrewarding commitments might not take up that much time themselves. But they all add up to a lot of lost hours per week.
That’s not to say you should start being rude to people. There are polite ways to cut a conversation short, decline a trip, or leave a book group. The point is simply that you should avail yourself of these options if your time would be better spent elsewhere.
You can also scale back or make various adjustments to your commitments. Consider phone calls. For many of us, these take up a lot of our time, both inside and outside of work. But maybe you could complete that client call in 15 minutes instead of the usual 30. And perhaps you could reschedule that weekly conversation with your mother to a time that works better for you – one where you’ll feel energized by the call, instead of rushed.
In any case, you’ve got way more options than you might think.
Even when we need to do something, we still have a lot of freedom in how we do it.
Alright, you might say. Maybe I can take back some of my time. But that’s just nibbling around the edges of my day. Most of it’s full of obligations I can’t get out of, and I can’t really change them.
For many of us, going to work is an obvious case in point. Short of working from home, starting a business, or winning the lottery, that’s just something you’ve got to do, right?
Well, yes and no.
Let’s say that due to personal circumstances, you have to keep your current job and place of residence. And let’s say there’s a long distance between points A and B, so you have to commute. No choice about it.
But how do you do that commute? On foot, by public transport, or in your car? Often, the choice is yours, and some options are better for your body – not to mention the environment – than others.
And even if you have no choice but to go by car, that still leaves things open. Do you drive by yourself? Or do you join a carpool?
And even if that’s not an option, you still have many other choices to make. What do you do while you’re driving solo? Do you listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook? Talk on the phone? Or just stare at the bumpers in front of you and grumble about the traffic?
As small as they might seem, these choices can significantly transform the hours you spend driving per week. By listening to some peaceful music, you can turn your commute time into relaxation time. By putting on an audiobook, you can turn it into learning time. And by making a phone call, well, that depends on who you’re talking to. A client? That’s work time. A friend? Social time.
In any case, whether you decide to listen to a classic novel or catch up with your dad, your choices don’t stop there. For instance, what are you doing with your body? Are you slouching, or practicing good posture?
You could even spend the time doing Kegel exercises, where you tighten and relax the pubococcygeus muscles in your pelvis. This will help you build a stronger core and improve your sex life – all while you jam out to your favorite tunes, learn about history, or do whatever else you choose to do with your time!
Limit spending your time on technological distractions.
Now, maybe you’re one of those lucky people who doesn’t have a morning commute. But even if you get to work from home in your pyjamas, you still experience numerous situations per day where you’re waiting for something else to happen. If it’s not waiting for the customer service agent to pick up the phone, then it’s waiting for the elevator to open, the waiter to bring the check or the microwave to finish.
Many of these experiences last just a few seconds or minutes, but they all add up, and they present us with a question: How do we fill up all of that empty time?
If we’re being honest, the answer for many of us is ‘not so well.’ And the reason for this comes down to two words: technology usage.
Imagine you’re waiting in line at the coffee shop. What do you do to pass the time? If you’re like many of us these days, chances are you’re looking at your phone. Maybe you’re flicking through the news or one of your social media feeds. Or perhaps you’re checking in on one of those chat apps where you and your friends engage in mostly idle conversation.
In any case, staring at a phone has become the default, go-to activity for many of us, whenever we have any empty time to kill. Is it any surprise, then, that so much of our free time feels like dead time? We’re spending a large chunk of it as if we’re zombies, enthralled to various electronic screens. If it’s not our phones, then it’s our computers or televisions.
But no one is forcing us to waste our time this way. We can take back this time we’re losing and put it to better uses.
The first step here is to kick the habit. Next time you’re waiting somewhere and feeling the itch to pull out your phone, stop and take some deep breaths into your lower abdomen. Ask yourself, is there some urgent piece of information you simply must gain access to right now? Or have you just become uncomfortable spending time with your own thoughts or observing the world around you?
Maybe you could try some people watching instead, or do some stretches. Or, just stand there and think – anything that helps get you more in tune with your body, your mind, or your surroundings.
Mindfulness can help you get more enjoyment out of the present moment.
Take some deep breaths into your lower abdomen. Check-in with yourself.
If that final part of the last digest sounded familiar to you, there’s a reason for that. It was basically a mini-mindfulness exercise.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other ways in which mindfulness can help us focus on the present moment and try to make the most of it. In this digest, we’ll look at one of them. It’s a powerful technique you might not have tried before, even if you already practice mindfulness.
As we’re going through our days, many of us are often so lost in our preoccupations that we barely pay attention to the world around us. Now, if you’re familiar with mindfulness, you know that part of the point of it is to snap your mind out of this distracted state of being and bring yourself back into the present moment. But how do you do that?
Well, try this out next time you find yourself in a place you’ve never been before. It could be a tropical paradise you’ve gone to on vacation. Or it could just be a neighbourhood in your city that you’ve stumbled into for the first time. For this exercise, it doesn’t really matter. The thing you’re going to do is simply: stop, look around, and think to yourself, this could be the last time I’m ever here.
Notice how your perspective suddenly shifts. You’re no longer just walking through that neighbourhood. You’re taking in the sights, smells, and textures of the people, streets, and buildings around you. You’re observing everything more closely. You’re noticing the magic of it all. In short, you’re fully experiencing this present moment of your life, instead of just barrelling through it.
Now, ready for the kicker? You’re not just doing a thought experiment. This could literally be the last time you’re ever here – wherever that happens to be.
To put it bluntly: terrible things can strike us in the blink of an eye, sometimes without warning. All we know for certain is that some day we’re going to die. That day could be today, tomorrow, or two decades from now. We just don’t know.
And that’s the point. We should try to savour our moments as if they were the last ones we’ve got – because they very well could be.
Mindfulness can slow down your experience of time, which can enable you to extend it and even stop it.
Alright, after all that talk about mortality, let’s start this digest on a lighter note.
Has this ever happened to you? You sit down for a meal – pizza, let’s say. You’re eating quickly, without thinking. Maybe you’re doing something on your phone. Suddenly, you look down at your plate and realize the last slice of pizza is already gone.
Where did it all go? Well, you know it went into your belly – but you can barely remember eating the darn thing. It’s as if the experience didn’t even register in your mind.
Okay, you probably already know where we’re going with this. Yep, that’s right – once again, mindfulness is here to save the day.
The key message here is: Mindfulness can slow down your experience of time, which can enable you to extend it and even stop it.
Here’s another mindfulness exercise for you: next time you’re having a meal, stop doing anything else, and focus all of your attention on what you’re experiencing. Savor the tastes, smells, and textures of your food. Give each mouthful its own due. Chew and swallow it completely before you move onto the next morsel. Observe the muscular sensations involved in the process.
There’s a lot to take in! You just have to pay attention.
And if you do this exercise, it’ll not only enrich your experience of eating and make these minutes register in your mind. It’ll also stretch out the time, enabling you to experience more of it, in effect.
That’s not just because you’re eating slowly, but because you’re eating mindfully. When you’re paying attention to what you’re doing, time tends to go by more slowly – in a good way, not like when you’re having a boring experience and the time just seems to drag. This applies not only to eating but to just about anything you’re doing. You can practice mindfulness with the music you’re listening to in the car, the background noises you’re hearing on the street and the physical sensations of a nice warm bath. You name it, you can be mindful about it.
And if you’re really mindful, you can even achieve the seemingly impossible: you can stop the flow of time – in a sense, at least. When you’re fully plugged into the present moment, that moment itself can feel eternal. Sink into it, savor it, and let the seconds stretch out into infinity.
You need to make better time for yourself.
How’d you spend your morning today? If you’re like many people, you might have spent a lot of it in the shower. Many of us spend so much time in there that our bathrooms look like a steam room by the end.
Now, taking these long, hot showers on a daily basis is obviously bad for the environment. If you’ve got chlorine in your water supply, it’s not so good for your body either, since your skin can absorb the chemicals. But there’s an even deeper problem going on here, and it brings up a more general point that’s going to help us tie everything in these digests together.
Yes, that long, hot shower feels good. But even putting aside the environmental and physical consequences, is this a good use of our time? Most of us spend our shower time just zoning out, basking in the warm sensation of the water and the sense of privacy we have.
Well, as car mechanics sometimes say, there’s your problem right there. For many of us, the shower is one of the few places where we have any sense of privacy. And it’s also one of the few times in the day when we do something nice and relaxing for our bodies. In other words, we have a deficit of “me time,” and we use the shower as a way of compensating for it.
The obvious solution? Reclaim some time for yourself. Perhaps there are better ways to relax and energize yourself. You could get a weekly massage, or do stretches every morning. Or, you could take a luxurious bath a couple of times per week, punctuated by quicker, more environmentally-friendly showers.
Only you know what your body needs, so this is yet another exercise in mindfulness. You’ve got to tune in to yourself and figure out what works best for you.
It’s also another exercise in time management. You’ve got to schedule your “me time” into your days and weeks. The same goes for all the other things that energize you and make you feel like you’re making the most of your time. Working out at the gym, going on walks with a friend, spending time with your family, having sex with your partner – none of these will happen unless you carve out the time to make them happen. So what are you waiting for? Your life is in your hands!
Maybe you can’t literally stop time, but you can slow it down and get more out of it by spending it more wisely, becoming more mindful, and energizing yourself.
To do this, you have to carve out time to practice mindfulness and do things that give you energy. That requires time management. And by becoming more mindful and energetic, you’ll also be able to manage your time better – using it more productively, enjoyably, and meaningfully.
The end result is something that can be called time prosperity, where your limited time here on Earth serves you as much as it can.
Practice some gongs.
It takes about 90 days of practice to internalize better habits of time usage. To help you with this, this digest recommends doing something called a “100-day gong.” Each day, you practice one “time-stopping” technique for a designated period of time, called a gong.
We touched on seven of the gongs, so you could string them together into a whole week of practice. For instance,
Monday: identify the plants and weeds in your life garden.
Tuesday: do the meditation exercise with one of your meals.
Wednesday: listen to an audiobook on your commute.
Thursday: politely decline unwanted time commitments.
Friday: take a luxurious bath.
Saturday: carve out some family time.
Sunday: think about the ROI on the way you’re spending your time.