A little while ago, I started critically evaluating my relationship with time, and I think I’m now at the point where I’ve come to some conclusions. I noticed the people around me saying “I don’t have the time” or that there’s “just too much going on”, and I noticed myself saying those things too. It’s almost as if we have this idea that the world decides what we do with our time, as if our time is constantly being stolen from us by the people and things around us, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
I want to challenge that notion by proposing that instead of seeing ourselves as time-poor, as constantly “not having the time”, we should see time as something we have a large – albeit finite – supply of, which we must allocate to the things we value. With this mindset, when we allocate time to something in our lives, we’re acknowledging that it deserves our attention, so that’s what we give it.
As a minimalist, this mindset helps me to not feel so overwhelmed by the demands I often feel creeping up on me, both on a professional and a personal level. When I think of giving my time as allocating value, I’m really forcing myself to think about how much any given activity means to me and then acting accordingly. Often, we’ll need to practise the art of just saying no to free up the time we crave so that we can engage in this process. What I’ve found is that reclaiming my time has brought back a sense of empowerment and control not only to my day-to-day schedule, but to my life direction, too.
I’ll give an example to illustrate my point.
By the end of 2016 I was breaking down practically every night because I hated my job. I had been there for two almost two years and the situation was getting progressively worse; I was at the point where I could barely get out of bed because I dreaded it so much. One evening, Mr SLE said to me, well, why don’t you just quit? Now this is going to sound strange, but before then, quitting had never actually occurred to me as an option. I falsely believed that my time belonged to the company I was working for instead of to me, and because of this I was essentially telling myself that my time had no value.
The telltale signs of this were there, if only I would actually notice them. Due to severe understaffing at the company, new responsibilities were constantly being added to my role, but without any extra compensation or discussion as to how I would actually fit these responsibilities into my day. I would therefore often skip my lunch break and even work unpaid overtime just to wrap things up, thinking that getting things done was more important than getting home to do the things I wanted to do. Because of this, I would arrive at home late, with no energy left for any self-care activities like reading and exercising. Sadly, this went on for a long time because I didn’t value myself enough to think I could ever get any other job, and I certainly didn’t value my time enough to recognise I was wasting it on that miserable job. Eventually, however, I reached breaking point and booked in a meeting with my manager, put in my resignation and walked out of her office feeling on top of the world, knowing that I would soon be leaving that place forever.
Now if I bring myself back to the present moment, I realise I’ve come a long way since that day I resigned in December 2016. I’m learning to say no, and I’m learning to recognise the value of my time as a precious resource. Thanks to the wonderful influence of minimalism in my life, I’m also challenging the false notion that if we decide to do less with our time, we will be less. The opposite is actually true; if we decide to do less, in many ways we’ll be more. More present, and more engaged in what we’re doing, since we’ll no longer mechanically be going through the motions of trying to get everything done. If we begin to believe in only allocating time to the things we value, we can confidently erase those we do not value from our schedules, content in the knowledge that we are taking control of one of our most valuable assets.
As a new year offers itself up before us, I encourage each of us to ask ourselves, are we making time for the things we really value, or are we allowing time to slip through our fingers, too afraid to put our foot down and reclaim it for ourselves?