Master Your Relationship to Time

By Leo Babauta

The truth is, most of us have a pretty adversarial relationship to time.

There’s never enough. We’re always behind. It goes by too fast. We can’t do important things because we don’t have enough time.

None of it is helpful. Most of it is bullshit.

Let’s take the first one: there’s never enough time. This is powerful because there’s some truth to it: time is limited and precious. We will die, and while we don’t know how much time we have left in this life, we do know that it’s limited. It’s helpful to remember that we must make the most of our limited time!

But time is also abundant. Think of the past few years – it might seem like they passed really quickly, but actually we had so many hours we can’t count them. We had a huge abundance of hours. Maybe we didn’t spend them wisely (I know I misspent quite a few hours), but we had plenty of time. We still do, today and this month and this year.

The key is to see this abundance, and feel it in your body. It’s like the abundance of oxygen in the air all around us: it’s limited and precious, but we have plenty of it and can breathe freely and with joy. In some situations, oxygen is so limited that it can be life-threatening … but most of the time, we have more than enough for our needs.

That’s true of time. We have more than enough for our needs. We can do amazing things with the time we have – look at da Vinci and Gandhi and Rosa Parks and Tolstoy and Curie. It’s not about how much time we have, but how we use it, how we experience it.

With that said, I’d like to propose a handful of ways we can shift so that we can master our relationship with time.

  1. See the gift in the time that we have. Every day that we have is a huge gift. We get to have this time! We get to use it to make something, to love, to feel joy and laughter, to listen to music, to see nature, to move, to read, to feel. This is incredible! Instead of looking at how little time we have, we can appreciate the time we have as an incredible, powerful gift. Every hour is a tremendous gift. Every moment. Can we see the gift in the time that we have, and appreciate it fully? How would this shift how you feel about your day?
  2. Use the time intentionally & joyfully. If every hour is a gift, are we going to waste it? Or can we use it intentionally, for something that is important and meaningful to us? (Btw, rest is important. Self-care is meaningful.) Can we use this gift as best we can? And can we experience it with joy, with full appreciation? How might this shift how we use our time?
  3. Be honest about your priorities. A lot of time we use time as an excuse of why we’re not doing something, or as a reason to say no. We all do it: “Sorry, I don’t have the time.” This is a way to honor our boundaries, but it’s not fully honest. We all have the time – we just need to prioritize it, because the time isn’t unlimited. We choose to spend our time based on what is important to us. If we’re not out helping the homeless or saving orphans … it’s not because we don’t have the time. It’s because we’ve chosen to prioritize earning money, taking care of our family, taking care of ourselves, or doing something else meaningful. If we’re honest to ourselves about our priorities, then we don’t need to use time as an excuse. We can just say it’s not my priority right now, and then see the things we’ve chosen as priorities as the way we’d like to spend our time.
  4. Create space in your day. If you have some clear priorities, why not create the time to make them happen? We often feel that we want to prioritize something, but don’t have the time. Then we need to make the time. If we can’t, then we just have to admit that it’s not a priority right now. If it is a priority, let’s see if we can create the space.
  5. Don’t let things get familiar. Most of us have experienced the feeling that time is flying by faster and faster every year. This is likely because of a phenomenon where we don’t notice things when they get really familiar. It’s like driving past your neighborhood on the way home, without seeing any of it. It’s all familiar and you’re on autopilot. That’s how we experience much of our days – things get really familiar and we don’t notice it. What if we stop letting things get too familiar? What if we look at everything as if it were the first time we were seeing it? Time would all of a sudden become less blurry, and we’d be fully in the moment.
  6. Imagine you’re going to die in a year. This might sound gruesome to some, or too dark … but contemplating our death is a way to shift our relationship to life. To shift how we relate to time. So if you imagined, for example, that you were going to die soon … you might spend the time you have left more intentionally. And here’s something that’s fairly certain: if you know you only have a short time to live, that time suddenly slows down and becomes much more vivid. That’s what happens when we contemplate death – time becomes vivid, slower, real.
  7. Savor & be fully present to slow down time. If we think of time as a treat to be savored, we can become fully present with it. Think of the hours of your day as a delicious beverage, waiting to be sipped and fully tasted. How delicious! How wonderful it is to be alive. Time isn’t just sands slipping through our fingers, but pleasure being sipped into our mouths.

Try each of these, and practice them by fully inhabiting each practice. Give yourself fully to the practice, and see what shifts. Your relationship to time might never be the same.

Two Live Events with Leo

Two things to share with you today:

  1. Fearless Purpose Workshop: The Path to Actualizing Meaningful Work – I’m really excited about this workshop with my Zen teacher, Susan O’Connell of San Francisco Zen Center. It’s a 3-hour workshop on Saturday, March 14 led by Susan and me at the San Francisco Zen Center, and I think you’ll love it. There are online and in-person tickets for sale now.
  2. An Evening with Courtney Carver & Leo Babauta in San Diego. In this live event on April 2 here in San Diego, I’ll be doing a talk and Q&A with my friend Courtney Carver, who is launching her new book, Project 333. I really love Courtney, and am looking forward to doing this with her, and meeting any of you who can make it. Buy tickets now before they sell out.

So those are two upcoming events, in San Francisco and San Diego. Don’t wait on those tickets, I can’t reserve any even for my grandma. :)