We don’t know exactly when, but if there’s one universal truth, it’s that we will all at some stage run out of time. I believe that most of us need to stop and master happiness through time, so we can be fulfilled, productive and truly happy in the time we have left.
First, do you have a view of how many days you have left in your life?
Imagine you were a 30 year-old today, who’s going to be working for another 25 years and living to the age of 80.
You would have approximately 6,000 days left to make a real impact at work and just over 18,000 days left to live.
So big question for everyone: as you are set up today, do you believe are you mastering your happiness through time ?
For many of the CEOs and leaders I coach, they find it difficult to set their lives to be both successful and happy through time. Dr. Stephan Rechtschaffen writes of the general U.S. population:
“I would say that 95% of the stress in our lives relates to our feeling of time poverty.”
This results in many leaders constantly chasing: they find it hard to be fully present in what they’re doing right now, struggle to create enough time, and carry regrets about the sacrifices they’re making for their work, and the impact it’s having on their family. They often only wake up to this at the end of their career, or if they are removed from role.
Sometimes we forget that time doesn’t race away, but slowly lapses, second-by-second. It makes me wonder what life would be like if we had a permanent ticking clock display on our arms, like in the film ‘In Time’. In one of my favorite movies of recent years, Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried inhabit a world where humanity has been genetically engineered to be born with a digital clock, bearing 25 years’ worth of time, on their forearm. At the age of 25, a person stops aging, but their clock begins counting down; when it reaches zero, that person “times out” and dies. The only way to prevent this is buy or earn time, which has replaced money as the world’s global currency. Would it help us with our time poverty if we believed we had maybe only weeks to live, with life disappearing by the second? It may for some.
In an age of growing material abundance, are we in the West thinking about time all wrong? Dr. Larry Dossey argues, “Many illnesses – perhaps most – may be caused either wholly or in part by our misperception of time… I am convinced that we can destroy ourselves through the creation of illness by perceiving time in a linear, one-way flow.”
Are there any ways in which we can reverse – or at least halt – this relentless march towards our ultimate “time out”? Here are five steps to work through to help us master time and then appraise our happiness through time:
(1) Get In Time
The conventional approach to time management only helps us deal with what the ancient Greeks referred to as Chronos – the linear measure of change – or what we’d call clock time.
Most of what we read about time management is about setting priorities, tasks and goals. Conventional time management approaches usually boil down to a framework that helps us establish: what is best to do right now?
Psychotherapist Steve Randall Randall argues while, “Of course we will have some uncertainty and confusion unless we have determined our goals, prioritized the tasks necessary to reach our goals, and set up a schedule,” only thinking about time management in this way is insufficient.
That’s because the conventional approach fails to address Kairos – “spherical time, beingness time, the eternal moment, when we are in the rhythm of divine life force and higher consciousness”.
Managing Kairos goes to “inner time management”, where we should ask ourselves, “Am I timelessly involved in what I’m doing?” He believes that if we’re not totally involved, or if we feel time passing in a way that has even a slight bit of pressure or anxiety, there’s room for improvement in both our productivity and in our well-being.
As Eckhart Tolle, author of ‘The Power Of Now’ puts it, “As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love – even the most simple action.”
In addition to being fully present in time for some of us we are able to feel we can stop or change the flow of time.
We all occasionally “lose track of time” when we are “in the zone”. As we enter a state of peak performance, time seems to speed up or slow right down. American football player John Brodie brings this to life:
“Time seems to slow way down… It seems as if I had all the time in the world.. and yet I know the defensive line is coming at me just as fast as ever.”
This is also a common experience in Tai Chi, where awareness of the passage of time completely stops.
If we are able to freeze “clock time” in this manner, then this buys us “time credits” that we can use to improve our productivity, health and happiness.
(2) Create And Protect Time
a. Buffer Time
One novel approach, recently advocated by Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, is “to periodically schedule nothing” by setting a “buffer” in your work day of between 90-120 minutes. He believes that proper strategic thinking requires “uninterrupted focus” and that, “it takes time. And that time will only be available if you carve it out for yourself.” But, “above all else, the most important reason to schedule buffers is to just catch your breath. There is no faster way to feel as though your day is not your own, and that you are no longer in control, than scheduling meetings back to back from the minute you arrive at the office until the moment you leave. I’ve felt the effects of this and seen it with colleagues. Not only is it not fun to feel this way, it’s not sustainable.”
b. Remove Sources Of Stress And Pressure
If 95% of stress is caused by time poverty, how can we avoid it and the potential illness it brings?
The key is to know our enemy. Here are some of the main sources of time pressure:
- Struggling at work
- Our partner or family relationships
- Taking on too much in our lives
- Feeling inadequate or not good enough
- Lack of achievement and career progress
- Disorganization and confusion about what to do
- Worrying about financial limitations and health
- Worrying about what others think rather than getting on with what we really want to be doing in life
- Working on things that we don’t find meaningful or fulfilling
- Procrastinating (see the next section)
It’s important to realize what are the core roots of stress that are causing the feeling of time poverty, and then find a new way of dealing with them or eliminating them altogether.
(3) Don’t Waste Time
a. Don’t Procrastinate
Should I or shouldn’t I? “Procrastination is the thief of time,” so goes the old proverb. Indecisiveness and failing to get started on or stuck in to a task that we know have to get done soon can seep into our consciousness. It can spoil our enjoyment of what are usually pleasurable moments, such as watching a favorite program on the TV, as we realize that they are essentially “delaying tactics.”
Steve Randall recounts that: “After my procrastination, the quality of my experience suffers. Watching the show is not as enjoyable as I’d hoped it would be, because awareness is divided between watching the show and being aware that I have to do my work. Time is passing relentlessly, and it feels like the future is closing in on me. I am watching TV here in the present, feeling anxious and guilty about a job waiting for me in the future. In addition, I have missed an opportunity, and feel less confident and capable as a result.”
He concludes that:
The pressure we feel is directly proportional to how much we’re resisting what we’re trying to get done.”
If you can, use such mental treats as TV as a reward once the task is finished, or as a meaningful break in the work once you have at least made a proper start. When you’re actually supposed to be working, try and avoid distractions and get into the habit of focusing on just one task at a time.
My earlier article, ‘Smartphone Addicted? Need Digital Rehab?’ contains a series of exercises on how diagnose and reduce digital distraction, which researchers at The University of Kentucky have found is a spiraling epidemic affecting up to 38% of the US population.
b. Before You Die Have No Regrets
While researching his book ‘The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die’, the author John Izzo asked 15,000 people to identify, “the one person they knew who had found happiness and meaning” in their lives. He then narrowed down the recommendations and found over 200 people aged 60-106 years-old who others looked up to as having found meaning in their life. From town barbers to Holocaust survivors, from aboriginal chiefs to CEOs, these people had over 18,000 years of life experience. This diverse group offered insights that Izzo boiled down to five secrets: one of the most surprising and important ones was to live with no regrets.
Izzo said that, “Failure it appears is not the regret that haunts most people; it is the choice not to risk failure at all… The happiest people had come to peace with their lives, whereas unhappy people dwelled on regret and missed opportunities.”
So into the hopper of potential choices for action go all the bold things that we may have been mulling over for years, like starting our own company, quitting our day job, pursuing a potential love interest, moving to a different country. And by following the second secret – to live in the moment as we look through time – we condition ourselves to look straight ahead rather than constantly peer into the rear-view mirror wondering what might have been.
(4) Spend Time Realizing Your Potential & The 10,000 Hour Rule
I believe that we are at our happiest and most productive when we spend our time as masters of what we are passionate about and love doing. And if you focus in enough on particular specialized activities, you may even become an expert…
In his book ‘Outliers’, Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.
Writing about the 10,000 hour rule, The Wisdom Group says:
“The elite don’t just work harder than everybody else. At some point the elites fall in love with practice to the point where they want to do little else… The elites are in love with what they do, and at some point it no longer feels like work.”
And the time investment needed?
“If we are currently working in our target profession, 40 hours per week over five years would give us 10,000 hours.”
Lee Iacocca, legendary Chrysler CEO during the 1980s, summed it up nicely when he said:
If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important and then give it all you’ve got.”
(5) Maximize The NPV Of Happiness
Many entrepreneurs and business leaders start to plan their year ahead driven by the needs of the business cycle and then try and fit personal time in around these work and travel demands. Subconsciously this already puts business value ahead of personal life value, meaning your ‘life enterprise’ is unlikely to get sufficient priority.
One phrase we often use in business is “net present value” or NPV. This is a tool for deciding which projects we should go ahead with and prioritize, based on the monetary value we expect them to generate over time.
What if, instead, we started to use NPV to evaluate which projects and activities will bring usmaximum happiness over time (rather than just maximum $$$)?
It’s key to think about what makes you happy and the experiences that give you happiness. What’s the combination of business and personal activities that will net you the maximum happiness over the short-, medium- and long-term?
Happiness is different for everybody, but it’s typically time with loved ones, family, friends, work and community.
EXERCISE: MAXIMIZE YOUR NPV OF HAPPINESS FOR THE YEAR AHEAD
As a practical experiment, see if you can turn the process the other way around:
- First work out a happiness plan for the year ahead for you and your loved ones
- Then try and match the business timetable to it
- Build in time for planned leave, rest and recuperation for the period ahead
- Conflicts of time will be there, but try to plan as far as ahead as possible to find a smart way to blend them together – so business trips have a holidays and life experiences element built into it shared with people you care about
Be clear and define the life of your dreams for the next 12 months:
|1. What would be the main happiness milestones for your company and you personally?
|2. What are the structures and routines that you must maintain to keep yourself fresh, focused and connected?
|3. Describe your ideal relationship with your spouse and make 2-3 critical time commitments to them
|4. What are your main personal growth goals and learning targets this year? (i.e. another language, a new hobby?)
|5. What 2-3 changes can you make to your environment at work or at home that will make you happier?
|6. What are the 2-3 items on your life “bucket list” that you can want to check off?
|7. What activity would help you have a closer relationship with your children? What do they want to do with you?
|8. What are the 1-2 things that you would like to do for your community? To give back?
|9. What are the 1-2 things that you could do for yourself?
Over To You
So yes, life is finite. However, the good news is that, by applying the five steps above, we can master our happiness through time.
What a great article from Steve T. – CEO Xinfu, Host of BBC CEO Guru & Founder, WorldOfCEOs.com
Thanks for the fantastic tips! http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20131008124044-13518874-start-now-5-steps-to-master-time-happiness