I am absolutely mesmerised by time.
Not time in a weird sci-fi, time-travel obsessed way (although I confess that my favourite movie, “About Time“, happens to be about time travel). But more so, I am mesmerised by the value of time.
I think that Rick Warren, in his book “The Purpose Driven Life” says it perfectly;
“Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time.”
Time should be highly valued and carefully spent. I am very rarely late (in fact, I am usually early) – especially if I know that I am keeping someone waiting. The minute that I know that I might not be on time (even if running just 10 minutes behind), I make sure that I let the affected person know as soon as possible. I have a few friends who are chronically late – and I make no secret of how little it impresses me. I personally believe that being late for no good reason (partially when you don’t let someone know) is like saying that you believe that your time is worth more than their time – that that part of their life is worth less than yours. You may not mean it that way, but ultimately, think of what you are taking from someone by being keeping them waiting – and what they are taking from you by being late.
I’m sure you’ve heard that life is short, every day is a gift, you should make every moment count – and a million other cliches that float around everywhere as constant reminders that we get one shot at right now.
Although I wholeheartedly believe this, unfortunately having a preoccupation with a scarcity of time has easily led me to slipping into the trap of feeling an unrealistic sense of time urgency – leading to perpetually feeling time pressure and living in a state of “I have to do everything right now”. Busyness itself can become the goal. However, the perpetual motion of constantly being busy can be mistaken for using time in a meaningful way. Rushing through life comes at a great cost. Whilst the quantity might be there – in work, relationships, and other outcomes – the price is often the quality. Aside from the fact that juggling so many balls can inevitably lead to mistakes being made, unsurprisingly, research has shown that time urgency is linked to a range of negative outcomes, such as poor interpersonal relationships and higher levels of stress.
Speed and anxiety go together – something that I know first hand. As a new graduate, enthusiastic and eager to prove myself, I would rush through tasks to try to get as much done as possible. Naturally, I made mistakes – far more so by being quick than I would have if I had taken even an extra day, or even a few hours, to carefully go over the work. Constantly having to own up to obvious errors was not only embarrassing and stressful for me, but frustrating to my boss. I remember that around the same time a friend of mine, who was going through something similar at his work, was told something by his supervisor that resonated with me. As a graduate, economically speaking, our time was worth less than our bosses. It could cost the company 3 times the amount for our bosses to spend 1 hour correcting our little mistakes than for us to spend 2 extra hours on it.
I have learned the hard way that there is a big difference between speed and being efficient. To my downfall, in the past, I have prided myself on getting things done quickly – less so than getting things done right.
The last few days have been a slower period of recharging and reflection. With one more exam and one presentation next week to go, I intentionally made the decision to use this opportunity to take a breath – and actually focus on the quality of the time. Not the quantity of things that I produce. I have not been busy. I have read, drawn, watched Netflix (I highly recommend watching “The Little Prince”, “Fundamentals of Caring”, and “The Crown”), gone for long walks, cooked, and spent hours at the beach. But my time has been incredibly meaningful.
Admittedly I am still learning to stop and slow down. The father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, highlights that being slow is one of the elements of achievement, allowing for the careful process and checking and being creative. Being slow does not mean being late nor accomplishing less. Rather, the awareness of your time and what you produce means getting exponentially more quality – and by extension, being far more productive. Being slow allows you to be organised so that you don’t miss things which cause that familiar spiral of feeling like you are running out of time.
Although it is not always easy, and I still have a lot of practice to do before I master the art, I now cultivate slowness. And I challenge you to do the same. Be fast only when you need to be. Be patient and trust the process. You don’t need everything now. Particularly coming into this traditionally busy holiday season, meaningfully take the time to stop and focus on what truly matters. Reflect on the value of what you are giving and receiving in that moment. Try to find joy in everything you do. And remember that showing real love and care for the people that you are with and whatever you are doing – no matter how much time it takes – is the most valuable way to spend your time of all.