5 Ways to Make Time (Not just Find it)

My friend, Doug likes to say, “you got nothing but time, NBT.” His jealousy-tinged humor has crept into my wife’s and my banter.  You just might find us saying things like, “looks like somebody’s got NBT” or “isn’t it great that we’re able to walk 4 and a half miles to the library? NBT!”

There’s something to be said about time. It opens doors. It de-stresses us. It expands our world. In another post, I argued that time holds  more value than money. The main reason I believe this has to do with the fleeting nature of time. We can stash away money for a rainy day. Not so with time. It’s fleeting, precious, a substance worth cherishing.

Maybe it’s time’s preciousness that drives us to think and act as though we never have enough of it. How often have you uttered or been on the receiving end of “I’m just too busy”, or “who has time for that?” And what about the ever-present refrain, “I wish I had more time to…”

  • “be with my kids”
  • “spend with my friends”
  • “learn another language”
  • “walk to work”
  • “learn how to cook”
  • “take a ceramics class”
  • “go fishing with my daughter”
  • “go camping”
  • “just get away for a while”
  • “reflect on life.

Through personal experience or the experience of others (the last strategy about working less comes from a friend), I’ve stumbled upon these five strategies toward recovering some of our precious time. May these strategies help you achieve the enviable state of having “NBT”, “nothing but time.”

Spend more time doing what you like doing: One promising strategy comes from a book called Happier by psychologist, Tal Ben-Shahar. In the book he references a technique called “life-mapping.” The technique involves estimating the number of hours you spend doing various activities during a typical week: things like working, spending time on the computer, spending time with your family, doing laundry, and so on. At the end of the week, rate each activity according to how much pleasure and meaning you derived from doing it. Then consider whether you would like to do more or less of the activity. Finally, do more of the things you like to do and less of the things you don’t.

Minimize aimless activity:  Getting rest is good for us. It can restore our attention and energy. But some forms of rest or “passive leisure” suck our time and leave us drained. Vegging out in front of the TV, scrolling through social media feeds, checking emails as they roll in, and aimlessly wandering around the web are just few examples of aimless activities. They also eat away at our precious time.  Set aside time to dip into social media, to check email, and answer texts. You’ll soon realize that the world can wait for most things.

Trim away your shadow work: In another post, I introduced “shadow work” as Illich defined it: “toil which is not rewarded by wages, and yet contributes nothing to the household’s independence from the market.”Shopping for things in store or online are two of the most common shadow work activities. Good news: we can replace this consumerism with vernacular activity. We might can vegetables, stitch up clothes, and fix up our own bikes. Not only do we labor less in the shadows this way, we also become more effective, confident people.

Avoid over-committing: A few years ago, I worked full time – still do – sat on a local advisory board and a local bike advocacy board, and was overly involved in setting up Carrboro’s first “Open Streets” event.  To be sure, these activities were – and in some cases continue to be – worthwhile and meaningful. Yet I’ve found greater balance by scaling back a few social commitments. Still involved, just not as aggressively so, I’ve learned that a respectful “no thanks” can go a long way.

Work less: In grad school I surveyed nearly 800 UNC employees about their experiences commuting to work. What struck me was that about 70% worked at least 40 hours a week, and close to 15% of them worked more than 50 hours a week. This is sad. Let’s take inspiration from my comrade, Justin who cut his corporate work hours enough to operate his own hops farm. Yup, the kind used in brewing delicious beer.

Time is alive. Time is life itself. Perhaps it’s time we carve out some time for those activities we love and find meaningful.  We and the world will be better off for it.

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