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  • Writer's pictureLeon de Leeuw

How to prioritize ourselves - No time is not an excuse

Time is one of our most valuable commodities. And although it seems to stretch on endlessly, our time on the globe is limited. Apart from work and other responsibilities such as family and running the household, there is time for ourselves as well. Here’s where time is often stretched thin. Time to do the things we love seems so scarce. It’s a truly special subject I’m writing about – we can measure time but there’s no other way to hold or grasp it. It just fleets by. Man invented clocks and watches to get a hold of time and to make society more structured. To be able to schedule appointments and go through our days more efficiently. Still, it feels like we’re running short.

We know the feeling of relief after returning home from work all too well. We might even think of the things we could get done in the amount of hours we have before returning to work. We go through our daily habits such as cooking and watching some TV. Suddenly, it’s eleven and we wonder how time slipped by and we were completely unconscious of it. Now, we don’t have time left to read a couple of pages of the book waiting on the shelf. No more time to take a walk around the block or fit in some exercise. Above all, time seemed to pass a lot

quicker than at work. Inexplicable..

Now there’s always a sea of excuses to not do what we actually want to. Tiredness, hunger, having to do the laundry or simply not feeling up for it. Whether it’s exercise, you wanting to make a call to a good friend or diving into a subject you’ve wanted to learn more about, we easily shove it aside. The seemingly continuum of time is one of the causes for this – tomorrow, after all, is a new day with 24 hours. Rome wasn’t built in one day and so reading books, exercise or even starting a side business can all wait. What’s the harm here is that we put ourselves aside as well. It’s not always a matter of time but more so of priority. The single mom with children or business traveler far away from his family and doing exhausting meetings all day long, might say I talk easily. And I do. As a single guy with a day job and no further responsibilities apart from paying bills, I’m relatively free to fill up my time as I wish.

After work, I am literally able to do anything I wish. I can exercise, write stories or learn cooking skills. I could take up dancing, learn another language or catch up with a long lost friends. The matter is, that often I don’t. I also get caught up in a rather unproductive activity and time suddenly jumps forward. The pitfall is that regardless of whether we have little or a lot of free time, we often spend it unwisely waiting for better days to do the things we know we should. More interestingly, we postpone the things we actually want to do. Lately, I’ve realized that I should be more present in the moment and actually notice time pass by. Free up more slots of time to do activities such as sports or writing. I am going to outline a couple of measures in this article that helped me become more conscious of the passing of time and how to actually make better use of it. This is not a productivity self-help article on how to cram more tasks in a day, it does highlight how we can actually realize where more time can be freed up. After all, even if we do something for only half an hour a day, at the end of the week it’s 3,5 hours. These can be used to learn new skills or further develop the ones you already have. Half an hour a day to call someone each day will keep your network of friends and family members up. Relationships often water down with the excuse being a lack of time. If I may say so, it’s complete nonsense. As one of my university teachers once told me, “Lack of time is no excuse. Having other priorities is. If you offer anyone you lost touch with to come get a bucket of money at your home, you’d be surprised to see how many actually do have some time.”

One thing to realize is that even though time is fleeting, it’s a commodity that is available continuously. The busy round-the-clock working single mom has just as much time in a day as someone lying in bed wondering what to do with life. This makes time an interesting concept, it’s delivered to us at a constant basis. Even though we might have wasted a lot of time behind the TV, time keeps coming and coming for you to use up. It knows no judgment, you use it as you wish. Also fascinating is that we can consciously decide, at each moment, to take the wheel and make a 180 degree turn. We can decide to stop spending time on a friendship that has made us feel bad for a long time and seems to run on negativity only. We can also decide to cut out TV shows that do nothing more than fill up empty time slots. We can decide to check social media less frequently. More radically, we can suddenly decide not to use media in the evenings anymore. To not watch TV, surf the Internet mindlessly or keep checking our phones until the moment we switch of the lights. Obviously, you are now reading this article on the Internet. And I’m the last one to say spending time on the Internet is a waste. It can be a very stimulating and productive medium. We just need to learn to find and enjoy these fruits instead of surfing around without a goal.

You might have an office job that requires you to stare at a screen for 8 hours. Still, if you come home tired, you possibly turn on the TV to see what’s happening. The negative news and little entertaining talk shows seem to swallow up your time. And once you sat down, there’s little chance you’ll get up again tonight. Therefore, reducing screen time is one manner to free up some time. You might underestimate the amount of time you spend looking at a screen. From just checking the phone to reading the news on your tablet, it all counts. We are drawn into screens and forget our surroundings. Most of all, we lose track of time. The little free time we have. For me, it works to consciously come home and do the tasks I have to. I then decide not to watch any screen. Then, at seven in the evening, I suddenly have nothing else to do. Normally, I would be surfing around or watching relapses of my favourite series. Now, I can act on a productive pursuit. I decide to go exercise and meanwhile listen to a podcast. I could catch up on the laundry or do some cleaning, also while listening a podcast. You can learn many things while listening to interesting ones and I have many favourites. When not using screens, I am far more aware of the time I have and it seems I free up so much more.

When the next morning comes, I try to wake up early and have at least some morning routine. It always involves coffee and meditation. I take half an hour of time for myself each morning. I then meditate, which looks harder than it seems. I try not to quiet the mind, but just having the thoughts pass by without engaging in them. Anything that comes up is fine, I don’t try to push thoughts away or start conversing with them. As a computer rattling on, the brain then comes up with many thoughts and releases them just as quickly. It’s a lovely way to get thoughts sorted and it really energizes me. While sipping coffee, I might also rethink the day before and plan the day that’s about to start. This puts me in an acting mood where instead of reacting to circumstances, I take actions in a better way than yesterday. I know my goal for the day and start my work with that in mind. I am not starting the day reacting to whatever is thrown at me but am fully aware of my reactions and where tasks fit in my day. What makes me most productive, especially at work, is that I directly do tasks that take less than 3 minutes. Anything that takes more will be grouped with other demanding tasks that I can all do once I’m in an entirely concentrated state of mind. Such as after another coffee.

During evenings, it’s good to reflect on the day or even keep a diary. I truly prioritize it. There’s few people that will remember what was going on in their lives last Tuesday. Mistakes they made, points for improvement or just thoughts and ideas are long forgotten. I always carry a notebook and pen to write down anything that comes up. This means I won’t forget and apart form that, it helps organize thoughts which can be hard to do in an already busy day. Reflecting on the day can be done at any point, in the car, on the bus or while cooking. It’s again good to be completely mindful and not be distracted otherwise. Once you’ve thought over your day or even written down some points, you can now look at the clock and decide what is the best use of your time. You might have already thought of that during the morning planning. Why not run some errands, or start doing things that need to be done and take less than 10 minutes? You can fit many 10 minutes in an evening and all of us have tasks we keep postponing. It might just be creating some order in the home, doing some dusting or watering the plants.

What else we can do to have more time in our lives is first thinking of when we spend it unconsciously. I, for one, am fond of taking half-hour long showers. I now try to reduce the time I spend on them. What was positive, however, is that I used my showers to reflect on what happened during the day. Now, as I need to shower anyway, I fit in a workout and shower at the gym. I tend to shower far shorter than at home. I work out for about 45 minutes. I do workouts that are short but focused on stretching the muscles and training them lightly. I tend to go almost every day and although I’m no fitness expert, for me it works to do light and short workouts more frequently than a couple of heavy sessions a week. I combine my trip to the gym with an errand at the store or with a cold beer in a cafe looking back on the day, post-workout.

What helped me tremendously is not sitting down at home. After a long day at work, the last thing I should do is sit down and switch off. Once you get home and stay standing, the mind will come up with all sorts of things you can do in this time. As it’s unusual for the brain to not sit down and zone out, now you’re standing it will stay activated. You will suddenly notice the trash that needs to be taken out or any other errand you otherwise wouldn’t even think of. It’s hard for us to stand still and do nothing so now you’re standing, you will notice you actually get a lot more done. Again, no matter how much time you have, try to prioritize yourself, family, health and your mental condition. You might need to make more time for yourself; for meditation, sports, reading a book or just time alone. I should say ‘prioritize’ yourself - family and friends will on the long run be far more thankful when they see you being happy and taken care of. We must save ourselves as nobody else can. Not having the time should no longer be an excuse.

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