Time—it’s the one resource we all have in common.
We all get the same 24 hours per day, the same 365 days every year. We all want to use it well, but some people seem to make more of theirs than others, and that’s not an accident. It’s not magical. They’re not just wired that way. There are practical ways we can all move closer to a life that fits you and truly thrives.
Time always feels scarce, no matter the season or circumstances. I want fruit from my hard work, and I want time to sit by a fire in my backyard and have a glass of wine with my friends. Life changes so often that it seems once I find a good schedule, it’s gone again in a flash.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing time because our lives are all so different. However, after some experimentation and practice, I’ve arrived at four questions that helped move me towards thriving in every season of life:
1) What are the rhythms taking place around me? Our lives are full of rhythms we don’t think much about. If we notice them, they are full of potential for better use of our time. We can put greater purpose or more play into spots we might not have seen before. I’ve learned to cooperate with the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly rhythms already taking place around me: school calendars, afternoon energy levels, the fiscal year ends, the anniversary of a lost loved one. These kinds of rhythms are mostly out of our control, but we live with their impact every day. As I’ve learned to see them, I can capitalize on what that unique pocket of time offers me. Ecclesiastes (a great wisdom book in the Bible) says, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.” This kind of wisdom has led me to admit there are definite days/weeks/hours when either work or rest just fits better and is even sweeter. This has led us to change our vacation schedule, our date nights, or what we do when the cat wakes us up at 5:30am to be fed. It’s even made us see Christmas visits to my in-laws differently!
For example, my husband and I get impatient with all the sitting around and small talk that happens on a family holiday visit. We found ourselves not even wanting to go because of how much time was just sitting on someone’s couch. Now we take advantage of these kinds of visits for unique opportunities for recreation. We take daily runs through a beautiful arboretum together because there are plenty of extra adults to watch the kids. We also like college basketball, so we get tickets to a Buckeye game while we’re in Columbus. We’ve learned to look at each rhythm as a chance to capitalize on fun play we can’t get at home. Life rhythmically keeps happening, and if I take notice, I can slide purpose or play into unique moments in a way that feels unforced.
2) What is ‘the why’ behind my calendar? I have learned to be ruthlessly intentional with any commitment of time. If there’s something on my calendar, then I’ve answered the question, “why is it there?” and I’ve linked to it bigger purposes and priorities in my life. Staying healthy is a priority, so I block off time to run. Investing in our marriage is a priority, so I might say “no, thanks” to a teaching opportunity that conflicts with date night. I may say yes to coffee with a stranger and no to coffee with a friend in the same week. Anything that does or does not go on my calendar has an answer behind it that reveals my priorities for purpose or pleasure in my life. I learned this from Jesus, whose life recorded in the Bible shows a guy who was very shrewd about the use of his time. He often blocked out time “on his calendar” to pray (Mark 1:35), or he’d simply leave one place abruptly for another, seeming to be on a mission that no one else understood. Jesus sometimes stayed late to heal people, and then disappointed others when he didn’t show up somewhere, saying things like, “It’s not yet my time” (John 7:8). This was a man who knew the why of everything he did, all the time.
3) How can I make it hard to bail on play? I have a tendency to find excuses not to play (crazy, right?), but recreation restores and inspires us all. I desperately need that. Because of my tendency to cancel at the last minute, there are three things that tend to make me follow through on more fun and recreation for myself: 1- a specific idea, 2- a cost, and 3- a person I want to be with. I need to plan for play in a way that makes it hard to bail!
I saw all three of these things at work when I went out to Colorado a few years ago. I hadn’t been on a “girls trip” in 10 years, but my husband bought a ticket for me to go see my childhood bestie. For six months, it just sat there on the calendar. When the time rolled around for the trip, there was no going back. It was planned. It was happening. Part of me always resists leaving my family and letting work pile up in my wake. But suddenly, I was in Colorado, local brew in hand, hiking the Rockies. All this because six months earlier, I’d bought a ticket and made a plan to meet Amy in Estes Park.
Having another person with me for recreation is not only more fun but introduces natural accountability to follow through. Committing my money helps too. It’s harder to cancel on a class, reservation, or tickets we’ve already bought. If I give myself an easy out (like just an empty block on my calendar with good intentions), then I’ll probably fill it with daily work when the time comes, shooting myself right in the foot for my own long term thriving.
4) Do I treat prep as a “thing?” In order to have a thriving life that is full of play and full of purpose, we need to have the margin to think, prepare, pray, plan, and execute the details. I put time on my calendar to go buy the running shoes, to make an internet search for that trip or pre-bag lunch food. I take 30 minutes to plan out my school assignments for the coming two weeks, noting topics or efficiencies in how I can study. Sometimes I realize I need sunscreen for canoeing or just need to throw in a load of laundry by Tuesday night to have my favorite leggings clean for a day of study. Whatever facilitates higher purpose and higher play is a valuable use of time. Prep is a thing that needs to go on the calendar to make that happen. Squeezing it into 10 minutes after the kids are in bed or in our 15 minutes break at work just doesn’t cut it. Get prep time on the calendar, and both work and fun will benefit.
While there’s no one-size fits-all-calendar plan and no one-size-fits-all priority list, we can be intentional about the places our unique lives offer us the chance for higher purpose or greater play. If that sounds exhausting or like a lot of work, I promise it’s less exhausting and less work than living a life you don’t love. A life that prospers happens bit by bit, taking one small daily opportunity at a time.