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How to Reclaim Your Time and Live A Happier Life

Time Smart

TECHNOLOGY was supposed to give us more leisure time, but instead, it distracts us. We are pulled out of the present and into lists of things we feel we should be doing. Instead of getting time away from work, we take our work with us. It’s a trap to make us feel time poor.

Time Smart by Ashley Whillans helps us to move from time poverty to time affluence. The key is how we think about time and money.

Would you rather have less money and more time or work more for more money and have less time? We tend to overvalue money and undervalue time. Because we tend to spend as little money as possible, we rarely think of trading money for time. We make trade-offs between time and money all of the time. “All of these decisions powerfully shape the happiness we derive from moments, from days, from our entire lives.”

Whillans identifies six traps that make us time poor. That is too many things to do and not enough time to do them. To become time smart, we need to recognize these time traps in our lives: technology (constant interruptions that fragment our time), a money/work focus (I’ll work hard now so I can afford more leisure time for a later that never comes), undervaluing time, busyness as status, aversion to idleness, and saying yes believing we’ll have more time later than we do now.

How do we begin to turn this around? Whillans says to start with determining whether you are more money focused—willing to sacrifice time to have more money—or time focused—willing to sacrifice money to have more time. One is not better than the other but, “people who value money, and are in a position to be happier that way, still benefit from making time-related choices.” Our focus can change over time. The older we get, the more time becomes a major focus.

We should make leisure time, but it should be the right kind. “Free time devoted to active leisure—activities like volunteering, socializing, and exercising—promote happiness far more than spending time engaged in passive leisure activities like watching TV, napping, or online shipping.”

Fund time by outsourcing tasks or parts of tasks that you don’t like. Do less comparison shopping (we spend hours of time to save just a few dollars), or driving two miles out of your way to save ten cents on a gallon of gas. Account for your time.

Even though research shows that “people who value time are happier, healthier, and more productive than those who value money over time, turning all of this into time-affluent habits is not easy to do let alone wrap our minds around it.

Whillans offers eight strategies to become better at prioritizing time:

1. Address Your Why
Ask why you are doing what you are doing. If it is just to kill time or for no reason, then stop doing it. One exercise that she had that stood out to me in this regard was the substitution list. Add activities that are a better use of your time. Like this:

Phone games before meetings / INSTEAD: Chat with colleague

Website surfing before and after lunch / INSTEAD: Walk for 15 minutes before lunch, do nothing after.

Looking through, choosing Spotify playlists in the morning / INSTEAD: Get on the road, let Spotify choose playlist.

2. Allow (or schedule) Slack Time
While you want to substitute in time-affluent activities, you don’t want to pack your schedule with them. Slack time allows for spontaneity. “Prioritizing efficiency makes us more likely to miss opportunities to connect with weak ties: people who are likely to bring us creative ideas and new opportunities.”

3. Know Your Calendar Mindset
Whillans is referring here to two calendar mindsets: Clock-Time People and Event-Time People. Clock-time people don’t move to a new activity because it feels right, they do it because it is time to do it. On the other hand, Event-time people allow events to shape their schedule. There is a time for both. Know your basic approach and follow through on your plans accordingly.

4. Create Intentions
Be intentional about how you spend your time with specific action statements. If you want to read more books, say, “I will use my commute to listen to books on tape.”

5. Implement Rewards and Punishments
If your time goals are going well, reward yourself. If not, you need to implement a cost. Apps like Beeminder “takes $5 from your credit card for every goal you don’t meet.”

6. Engineer Defaults
Turn off your notifications. Check less often. There are also apps—Freedom and Ransomly—to help you do this. Just say no. “Several of my colleagues already do his by engineering an auto-response in email to say, ‘Thank you for your message; as a rule, I check email once a day at 8:30 a.m.’”

7. Recognize and Fight Mere Urgency
When faced with important tasks, we sometimes procrastinate and work on simpler, less important activities as an avoidance mechanism. If it is not urgent and important, schedule it for later or delegate it to someone else.

8. Make Leisure Leisurely
Are you actually enjoying the leisure time you have created? Separate the value of the activity from the cost. “Do not think about how much the vacation cost or whether the house cleaner was worth the financial investment. Instead, think about how nice it is to spend extra time with your friends and family.”

We need to take the long view of our lives. Whillans says, “You need to look ahead five to ten years and think about how big life choices will influence your time choices.” In a study of graduating college students, they found that “students who prioritized time were happier than those who prioritized money.”

Time is not money. Money is time. And we all have only so much of it. It’s time to make time a priority before we run out of it.

How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?
— Dr. Seuss

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:03 AM
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