18 — How Do You Spend Your Time?

This blog started out to be about finding your passion and living it—creating a living from that which most sparks your energy, your enthusiasm, and your love of doing it. But the name that came to me when the blog idea first arose is “Healthy Body Mind Soul” (www.healthybodymindsoul.net). And what has emerged here is a variety of blog subjects and topics that are much broader than just finding your passion.

So, that’s OK! What I write about is what comes to me—mostly during my morning meditation—and the words seem to just flow on that topic… until they stop!

What came up this morning is the concept of how we all spend our time. I happened to stumble upon a LinkedIn post from three or four months ago on arising early. The author was describing what she thought were the benefits of doing so, and was exhorting everyone to get up early. As you might suspect, this generated a very lively set of responses, which boiled down to four types of responses:

  • Agreeing with the post, or
  • Disagreeing, with references to work-life balance, family, etc., or
  • Disagreeing, with references to circadian rhythms and finding what is most natural for each one of us, or
  • Pointing out that it’s not when we spend the time, but what we do with it.

While all three of the counter arguments resonated with me, the last one—how we spend our time—really jumped out. In particular, it brought to mind how my life has gone in cycles—both longer and shorter—with regard to how I have spent time. There have been phases of my life where I would religiously watch a particular TV show each night or each week. Sometimes it was a dramatic offering, other times it was a news or opinion show, sometimes it was comedy (like Saturday Night Live). Now, that seems to be way in the past… I haven’t owned a TV set for at least three years. There was one time in my life when I didn’t own a TV set for seven or eight years, but that ended when each of my kids came to live with me.

There were times when I was a very avid reader, with certain periods devoted to certain types of reading. When Robert Ludlum first started to publish, I bought each new book as soon as it was published. During the Bush II years, I read a great deal of social and political material. When I entered into the dissertation stage of my degree, it seems that virtually all of my free time was spent in research and coming up to speed on all the relevant literature, and in writing—first my dissertation proposal and then the dissertation itself.

Most of my dissertation work was done at night because I taught and worked with consulting clients during the daytime. When I was trading stocks and stock index futures, I was up by 5:00am and traded until about 8:30am, when I would then refocus on my UCLA executive education clients.

Of course, there are many more ways I spent my time—with my kids when they were with me, hiking, kayaking, travel (both business and personal), exercise, personal growth, and then all the activities that go with being a homeowner. Among these was some amount (a lot?) of “wasted” time—aimlessly surfing the Internet (today’s version of channel surfing, I suppose), following whatever thread happened to snag my interest at the time, only to be left behind when the next thing popped up. And this is not a complete list… merely what comes to mind right now.

So, what is this rambling really all about? It’s about how I am spending my time right now. And, it’s about how I want to spend my time. How do I make that decision? Is it a conscious decision, or do I just allow things to happen in their own pattern? Is it important to structure my time—all my time or just some of it? How do I prioritize how I spend my time? What are all the things I should take into consideration?

Time, or our perception of it, can become a trap. It seems that time is moving faster and faster, or that there is less and less time to do what we feel we need to do, or that there is more and more to do in the time available to us.

Before even deciding how to use our time, it seems to me it’s important to change our perception of time: allow time to flow in its own right, but not to feel that it controls us or that we are slaves to it. How to do that? One teacher, whose insights and advice I’m come to greatly admire, is Matt Kahn and his partner Julie Dittmar. In one recent talk, Matt had a very simple solution: When things became too hectic and the pressure too great, just slow down! It’s amazing how this seemingly simple advice works so well. When one slows down, things seem to get done faster, with greater ease, and with fewer mistakes!

Slowing down is a simple solution to apply if you become aware that you are racing against the clock. But you can also “pre-plan” your “slowing down” by meditating regularly. One such approach is Transcendental Meditation®, and there are many others. One of the most popular, medically supported approaches is the Relaxation Response, first described by Dr. Herbert Benson in his book, The Relaxation Response, first published 25 years ago.

So, now that we’ve “slowed down the clock,” so to speak, how do we decide to use the time we have available to us? If you work—for yourself or for someone else—many of your priorities are set by your clients or your boss. Outside the work period you’ve set aside for yourself—and it’s especially important to set aside a block of time, not work to fill all time available to you—you have more control over how you spend your time. So, how do you allocate that time?

Well, you first need to determine how much sleep you need to feel rested and awaken full of energy and ready to begin a new day. Or do you? Whether you rest well at night and awaken energized depends on what you have to look forward to each day. Do you awaken looking forward to another day of doing something you love, or do you awaken looking forward to another day of drudgery? The conditions of your sleeping hours are tightly correlated with both what you do during your waking hours and how you perceive what you do. For example, consider the story of the three stone cutters (this is the Peter Drucker version):

In Drucker’s version, when asked what they were doing, the first stone cutter replied: “I am making a living”.

The second kept on hammering while he said: “I am doing the best job of stone cutting in the entire country.”

The third stone cutter, when asked the same question said: “I am building a cathedral.”

There are other variations, but the moral of the story is that the stone cutter who had the broadest vision of his purpose was by far the happiest.

So, now, how do you work with everything you feel you must do? Here are the four things I’ve observed about myself and others that I feel are huge obstacles to our success:

  • We don’t seem to be able to prioritize.
  • We get easily distracted.
  • We have trouble focusing—especially on what’s most important.
  • We have a well-reasoned rationale for all the above and likely don’t believe that any of it is true!

Here are some things to consider for each of these situations:


When lots of things seem to be important, it’s almost as though everything has the same level of importance. But there are some things we do—or should be doing—that are critical to our success (at whatever we’ve chosen to spend our time on), and others that have nothing much to with that success. Steven Covey has a great matrix that can help with all this:

Important v UrgentWhen everything goes into the High/High box, prioritization is confused. There are two criteria here that have to be well understood before being able to identify which box anything goes into: these are the criteria for Importance and the criteria for Urgency. What constitutes Importance? What are your big goals? This is what is on the critical path for completion of your goal by <date>… (choose this and then plan towards it). The other is what constitutes Urgency? There are a few obvious things here, such as the building is on fire. But barring something like that, Urgency is measured against a deadline. If other action items are dependent on that item, then the urgency against a deadline goes up in direct proportion.

Once you’ve decided the importance and the urgency of all those things you feel you must do, you can begin to put them into one of the four boxes and make appropriate choices about what to spend your time on.


Make a list of all the distractions in your life: your aging parents, your children, your blog, your social networking, your web surfing, etc. I suspect there are many others.. For example, are you in meetings a lot? Where do these belong in the matrix above? Do you belong in every one of them? Do you need to meet as often as you do? What other people or events in your life distract you?


Do you focus on what seems to be a priority at the time (see Prioritization, above) or what’s interesting to you in the moment? What you are really good at and that really interests you—for example, visual art or really relevant examples from TED or wherever—is not what may be needed at the time to meet your most important goals. My guess is that you can really focus very deeply on these kinds of things, but that you have difficulty in focusing on what is going to get you to your goals if it isn’t one of these things.

Rationale and Disbelief

If you don’t have external criteria, as suggested above, to work from, it’s really easy to justify spending your time on the things you’re spending time on at the time you’re doing it. Not knowing which box in the Covey matrix something belongs in allows it to assume much more immediacy than it may warrant. There are things—such as helping your aged parents move, for example—that you may have to attend to on a schedule that’s not of your choosing. But even here there are ways to work with these. For example, it may have been possible to get one of your siblings to help out or, if you had enough advance notice, to schedule them so they would fit your schedule. You have many more deadlines and critical priorities than I imagine your aged parents do, so they may have been able to adjust their schedule to be more appropriate for you. If you do have to take time away from something that is really critical to your life goals, work out ahead of time how you will compensate for that disruption.

The mind has significant justifications for everything it does, and we all are operating out of our minds most of the time. And if you find yourself really resisting that statement, that should be enough to demonstrate that it’s true! The more intelligent you are, the more sophisticated the justifications of the mind, so you build these really good justifications that you tell yourself and then believe them. The mind can’t do anything else other than believe what it makes up. That’s a tautology, and the only way out of it is to get out of the mind (awaken!).

So, how do you spend your time? How do you want to spend your time? Is your life what you want it to be? What your life is reflects what you want for yourself in this lifetime, what you think about, and what you spend your time on. Choose with purpose! Live with purpose! (And see Blog 11 — Commitment + Passion + Humility = ???)

As always, your opinions are important and much appreciated!