I invite you to take this path with me, sharing my experience to open your eyes to the insidious nature of our problem over time. It is a problem that evolved as we went from living accompanied by the cycles of nature to being carried away by the unsustainable rhythm imposed by the age of technology.
Stress and despair are only symptoms, what should frighten us is the prospect of living a life in which time is spent on things that seem important, and that only by looking back do they show themselves empty for what they are. Only by looking back can we understand that we have overlooked what was really important.
Live timelessly “timeless”
Our lives are full. Work, travel, family, debts that push us to earn as much money as possible. Living without breath is now the norm for a large section of the population, a threat to our well-being and happiness.
This book was born while I was in Phoenix, stuck for 10 hours on a trip to which I should have said no. I was talking to my friend Yvette and thinking about having always been on the piece, all my life. Graduated at 21, I created my personal business at 24, I wrote my first book at 26.
One that burns the goals, this is my identity. “And what did you get? – Yvette asked me – stress, isn’t it? Maybe your plane delay is a message. God called your attention to the fact that you’re always in a hurry. ” At that moment my husband Jess called me on the phone and said: “I am sitting here and I am meditating. Do you know when we talk about having a margin to breathe? I think I have no margins for the next 10 years. We must do something”.
A few weeks and a few experiments later, we established our common goal: to have more time for ourselves and our children, decrease stress, devote more time to the pleasant things in life.
The journey began simply by talking about how we felt and how we wanted to feel instead.
As a coach, I know the technique of powerful questions , so I asked myself: “What would it be like to work on alternate days? What would happen if I didn’t work every day? Would I damage my goals and my job? ”.
I decided to try for 30 days, since without a real experiment I could have no idea of the answer I could give to these questions. The result was so good that I decided to go ahead and plan my activity according to this criterion for a year.
How was it possible to achieve this goal? Simple: I was more productive, using less time. I was forced to choose what to do, so I became more selective and worked to correctly define priorities.
Try to make your own daily, weekly and monthly table: put in black and white how many hours you spend:
- at work;
- moving to go to work;
- taxiing children and other family members;
- cleaning the house;
- in the gym;
- watching TV;
- meeting friends;
- in the company of your partner.
Try to be precise and objective, don’t judge yourself. Simply prepare your numbers and look at them. You can draw conclusions from yourself.
The new normal is not normal
There are decisions that we continually make in our everyday life that do not allow us to have a second chance. On the morning when her father was to be operated on to the heart, Marie passed by the office for an important meeting scheduled for 8, and arrived at 9:30 perfectly on time, as the intervention had been scheduled.
But his father had suddenly gotten worse at night and they had taken him to the operating room early, so he died before she could say goodbye.
Whenever we intentionally choose the least important thing, we put what really matters at risk. And every time we choose what really has meaning, we take our time and we can live without regrets.
Being meaningful means being relevant, important, useful. Doing meaningful things means giving value to our time. We must recognize the preciousness of the time that has been given to us. So how come we use so much of this gift for things or people who don’t deserve it?
We need to set our priorities by deciding what’s important now, and we’ll find that the things that really matter are the important ones today like tomorrow or next year.
Herein lies the difference between urgent and meaningful.
Living under pressure, a threat to the little ones
For today’s kids, living summers like the ones I was able to experience is just a dream. I spent them with my grandparents in their home, listening to stories, playing outdoors, helping them to run small errands and learning wisdom from them.
The single parent families, the technology, the work of both spouses, but also their desire to create opportunities for their children to learn during the holidays have created an industry in America – that of the summer camps – of 18 billion dollars.
Generation X will be the first in American history to be poorer than its parents, and the picture appears even darker for Millennials. Entering college became more difficult: in Stanford in 1997 the success rate for candidates was 15.5% and Harvard 12.3%. In 2017 it was 5.2% in Stanford and 4.7% in Harvard. This leads the kids to be engaged in a thousand collateral activities to the school, in an attempt to win the entrance ticket to those universities.
Only 10% of American kids spend time outdoors daily. Almost everyone spends their free time indoors and during the summer most of it is spent in solitude, also because of what is called screen time , “screen time”, ie spent in front of television, computer monitors, phones.
Urgencies and false emergencies
How many times do you receive a notification or a notice for a breaking news , stop what you are doing and discover that it is not really a last minute, but something you knew perfectly well?
In the eighties the breaking news was for real, it was a public service, a sort of sudden, important, warning to everyone, for example because a tornado was coming to town.
In the 1990s things started to change and networks in their competition to get attention turned breaking news into a means of keeping us from changing channels.
There are many other false urgencies in your life, you just have to pay attention to it:
- look at the cell phone during dinner
- to multitask instead of paying attention to the things you’re doing
- give up a good night’s sleep because you think you don’t have time
- make decisions based on what is happening today, without thinking about the possible consequences of the decision on tomorrow
What we have to do is stop and ask ourselves: what is the really meaningful thing I can do right now?
According to Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan, there are two new types of poverty that are emerging: the first is poverty of time, that is, the continuing need to “borrow” time from our future, to manage ever more pressing deadlines . Just as if we were taking money from the bank, we “borrow” time to our own life, which unfortunately becomes impossible to recover.
The other new misery is bandwidth poverty, which defines a lack of attention due to the constant use of our cognitive resources. In other words, when we have too much to do, our mental energy thins to the point that it can affect the decisions we make.
We get into poverty of time by continuing to say yes to things we don’t have time to do, and into gang poverty when we do a lot of them at the same time.
Let’s try to think of the debt of time as if it were a debt of money, it will help us in the task of improving our situation and restraining ourselves in “borrowing” too much from our personal life.
Does technology give or steal time?
Of course, technology helps us save time, but it also creates big problems: when the expectation at work is that you are always available, and others around you blindly stick to this expectation, choosing not to be available can bring to really unpleasant consequences.
The media lead us to compete with unrealistic expectations, and we increasingly suffer from a disturbance known as “upward social confrontation”. This term is used in psychology to define the tendency to confront those we perceive as better than us. If we make comparisons always and only upwards, the perception of what seems normal to us becomes unrealistic to achieve.
The fear of missing opportunities ( Fear of missing opportunities , often abbreviated to FOMO) is a real discomfort that occurs more and more often and can push us to add to our lives activities and expectations for which we do not have time. It is a prime example of false urgency. The truth is, it’s okay to miss something: anything that’s not full of meaning.
We have extraordinary expectations: we live in an era in which we really don’t have to wait, ever, for nothing. We expect immediate access to what and who we want, no matter when or where we are: Wi-Fi in cafes, planes and shops; customer service around the clock; telephone applications that allow you to transfer money, deposit checks and talk face to face with someone on the other side of the world are just a few examples.
Hard work is the new free time. For centuries, leisure has been a status symbol . In Europe it still is, but today in the United States being busy is the true symbol of success: I am required, I am necessary, I am important.
Instead, who are the happiest in the world? Northern Europeans. And among them, the Danes. Scholars have found that Danes have lower expectations of how their lives should be. To be clear, it is not that these people have low expectations, only expectations lower than those of neighboring countries.
When asked at the beginning of the year on what their hopes are for the following year, the bar is clearly lower if compared with those of the others. With slightly lower expectations, happiness is easier to achieve and maintain.
Let’s make peace with lost time
Time is a finite resource, the past is gone. It is not like with money, we cannot expect the generosity of someone who can give us some of his.
We do not pay enough attention to the value of time, while we devote ourselves to how to spend the money set aside, and this is a dangerous contradiction.
The truth is that we are hyper-focused on the present and we don’t build a future based on the choices we make today. We do not carefully consider the value of time. And so, when important decisions are at stake, we don’t consider the consequences of the wrong choice.
We hurry to make decisions about relationships, we quickly accumulate the debt of time with life that we would like (children, leisure, significant activities) a debt that will take years to pay off. In the meantime, we are dedicating our time to activities that we feel urgent right now, but that will not have a lasting impact.
We make decisions based on deadlines imposed by society or by ourselves on the milestones of life: it is time to get married, time to have children, time to buy a house or a new car, even when we are not sure that it is really the moment just to go towards these goals.
Remember that what is significant is timeless. Import now and count in the future. The choice of the significant is an intentional act. It is not accidental. It means having a vision of where you are going and how you want to spend your time. Dr. Laura King, researcher and psychologist at the University of Missouri, has created a simple technique that guarantees important benefits: it is a question of filling out a document to describe how we will be in the future. The document is the starting point of a path that guides us to become the people we want to be.
To do this, one must imagine oneself ten years from the moment one writes. Where would you like to be? What would you like to have done? The trick is to write this text using the verbs conjugated to the present, not to the future, for example: “I am happily married and I run my company working from home”.
Where the wrong decisions are born
Have you ever had the feeling of being too overwhelmed to think consistently?
People can engage in a limited number of tasks before their performance begins to suffer. Just think about how much it costs, in terms of efficiency, to constantly change focus from one activity to another. Yet very often we are faced with a list of things to do that is beyond our means.
Decision-making fatigue is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when we are tired. The discipline needed to be punctual in deadlines, or the ability to quit smoking, or to refrain from eating sweets, is worn out.
Barry Schwartz is the author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less (the paradox of choice: because more is less). According to him, the overabundance of choices is a limit to our efficiency among the most dangerous: having a choice is a good thing, having too many is overwhelming.
It is easy to verify the impact of an overabundance of options on one’s time and happiness: choosing is exhausting and produces anxiety. For this reason, a good tactic is to minimize the possibilities, the things you pay attention to, before making the act of making decisions.
Three enemies: procrastination, perfectionism and optimism
Sometimes it is enough to look at things carefully and honestly to find that it is not true that we do not have time for certain things: the truth is that we are using it to do other things.
Many of us have a tendency to move forward the things we know we have to do today, keeping busy with other activities, to find ourselves under pressure at the end of the day. To overcome this trend, you have to plan your commitments and scrupulously stick to what you have decided to do.
Another enemy is perfectionism: we cannot consider a finite thing until it reaches an unlikely state of perfection, and we end up investing in it an absurd amount of time. Give yourself permission to be imperfect! The trick is to decide what can be considered good enough before starting the task, and stop when you reach this goal.
The problem of optimism is perhaps the most bizarre: it makes us underestimate the cost of an activity. Tidsoptimism is a word of Swedish origin, whose literal translation is “temporal optimism”. It describes the person who thinks they have more time than they really have and as a result, is usually late. Does anyone really think it is possible to “jump in for an hour” at Ikea on Saturday morning?
Optimists are very good at setting goals, but less good at achieving them, so it is useful to rely on the judgment of a friend or colleague when it comes to estimating a commitment.
Use some time to build your compass
Understanding what you really want, what it really meant, is one of the most important time investments you can make.
Defining one’s vision of life, of happiness, of the future corresponds to building a compass to rely on, certain of the result. Identify “key markers”, elements that can confirm that you are on the right track and that you are really living as you want.
They can be simple things, like always having an hour in the evening to read a good book, or bigger things, like having achieved certain goals, like a promotion, within a certain moment. What are your key indicators? Write them down and put them in a place where you can always see them, the bathroom mirror, the desk, the car dashboard.
They will help you remember who you are, and where you want to go.