“Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it. Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy.” ~James Clear
While I was listening James Clear’s book Atomic Habits last week, I heard him mention the quote above about time magnifying whatever you feed it. We all know this is true, but this quote really resonated with me with the realization that those habit we continuously do over time, no matter how small, will have an impact.
Think of things like saving a percentage of every paycheck for retirement, smoking a pack of cigarettes every day, or exercising 30 minutes a day. While theses habits may seem small and inconsequential in the moment, the compounding effect they have over time can be significant. And based on what the habit is, those effects can be positive or negative.
I’ve been thinking about the habits I have lately, and those I’d like to start, and where they can take me. Some of the habits I have are intentional, and I’m excited about the impact they’ve had on my life. If I’m being honest, I have other habits that are unintentional, meaning I didn’t set out to put them in place, but rather I’ve just allowed them to develop. Most of these habits are borne out of mental laziness and don’t really yield the type of results I’d like to get.
Being aware of our habits (the good as well as the not so good) is a great way to make sure what we do over a large arch of time is actually leading us somewhere we want to go. Whether we’re aware or not, as James Clear stated, time will multiply whatever we feed it. Let’s make sure we’re making time our ally.
Tuesday afternoon I went to visit a good friend that I hadn’t seen in a few years. We spent several hours talking about what we are currently doing, what we had been doing recently, and reminiscing about shared history. My friend’s son also joined us, and the 3 of us had a very enjoyable (and sunny) spring evening shooting the breeze on the front porch. It was a great time!
That experience again reminded me how valuable time is and how similar it is to money. Both can be wasted on things of little to no value or they can be invested in something that yields a great return. The big difference between time and money is that we can always get more money. Time squandered cannot be made up or recaptured at a later date.
This thought is sobering, and causes me to be intentional about making sure I’m investing significant portions of my time in things that yield a good return in my life and the lives of others. So what does investing our time look like? It can take the form of:
- Consuming good books, spiritual text (the Bible for me), blog posts, podcasts, or any other content that improves your thinking, expands and enhances worldview, or develops your character.
- Connecting with people who build you up, encourage you, and cause you to strive to live a better life.
- Learning a new skill.
- Being active on a daily basis in order to ensure a healthy body that will function properly for many years to come.
- Connecting with people who could use your encouragement, support, skills, and experiences.
- Supporting causes and people you believe in.
The options for investing our time are numerous!
Just like with money, we are not required to invest our time in things that will yield a lasting return. Our time is ours to do with as we please.
I think it’s important to make sure that we are indeed making significant investments of our time over the course of our lives. How sad it would be to look back at the end and see a life defined by the mishandling of our time.
Have you ever hopped in the car with somewhere important to go and just found yourself driving around and never making it to the destination? It may be somewhere we’ve been multiple times, or it may be somewhere we’ve never been before. Regardless, when we get in the car and start the engine, we usually know where it is we would like to go, so our probability of getting to our destination is quite high.
What about a meeting, appointment, or important phone conversation? How many times do we begin one without really knowing or specifying what a successful outcome looks like, leaving others in attendance to think to themselves, “Where is this going”? I think the best way to avoid this scenario is to ask the people in attendance for their expectations.
Business consultant Ray Edwards addressed this in a recent podcast (time remaining 6:03), and I thought his insight was significant. At the beginning of any call he has with a client he asks, “So that we get the most out of this call, what’s the most important thing that needs to happen on this call?”
What a great question to ask! This question is applicable not only for phone calls, but also for meetings and appointments. The question allows everyone in attendance to know the desired outcome the appointment was created to achieve, as well as creating a framework to keep the appointment on task. I’ve already asked this question once this week, prior to a scheduled meeting, and found the insight I received enabled me to better participate.
If you find that your meetings, appointments or important phone conversations lack direction or a specific outcome, try doing one of the following before the meeting:
- Describe to the attendees the desired outcome of the appointment. This is most applicable if you scheduled the appointment. It lets everyone know why they are there.
- Ask attendees if there is any specific outcome they need from the appointment.
Asking this simple question, or stating a desired outcome at the beginning of an appointment, will bring focus and efficiency that may otherwise not be present. Not only will your appointments be more successful, those in attendance will appreciate being asked what is important to them.
I had a great Thanksgiving this year. In the morning we had brunch with a small gathering at our house and in the afternoon we had dinner with family at my sister in-law’s house. Both events were enjoyable and it was fun to see everyone and spend some time together. It was a nice Thanksgiving.
At my sister in-law’s, there was a family member who was absent, due to illness and declining health. Toward the end of the evening my sister in-law commented that it was nice not having the family member present because that way she didn’t feel on edge wondering if they were going get upset and start yelling, as they so often have in the past, thus turning what should be a fun family event into an awkward, tension filled evening. This was clearly a case of addition by subtraction; the absence of this family member made for a more enjoyable evening for everyone else.
As I reflected on this comment, I couldn’t help think of my interactions with others and wonder if there have been times where an event would have been enhanced by my absence. To think that the answer to this question would be “Yes”, is an awful feeling, especially if those answering are family and the people closest to me. I never want my absence from a gathering or event to be considered addition by subtraction.
This seems like a pretty easy scenario to avoid. If you want to be seen as someone whose presence adds to an event, then employ the following suggestions the next time you gather with family or friends:
- Be kind to others. Greet people by name when you arrive. Shake hands or give out hugs. Let others in attendance know you’re glad to be part of the event with them.
- Take the focus off of yourself and place it on others. Ask how people are doing and what they’re up to, and show an interest in their reply. If you know of somewhere they’ve been recently, or something currently going on in their life, ask them about it and then listen to and comment on their reply.
- Enjoy the moment and be present with the people you’re with. Put down the smartphone. Wait until you get home to check social media. Instead of being so eager to inform everyone who’s NOT at the event about what’s going on, engage and connect with those present. That’s the ultimate in social media.
As you attend different events this holiday season, do so with the intent of being someone who’s presence enhances the event for others attending. Let it be said of you that events which you attended were much more enjoyable because of your presence. What a great gift to give people this holiday season.
Think about the all the small decisions you make on a daily basis and project those decisions out 1, 5, or 10 years into the future, and ask yourself:
- What kind of physical shape will I be in?
- Will I have improved my thinking, learning and personal development?
- How will my relationships with the ones closest to me look?
- What kind of spiritual condition will I be in?
- How will my financial health look?
All of these areas of our lives matter and they are influenced by our daily decisions. Our choices, whether good or bad, may not have an immediate impact for days, months, or even longer, but eventually the compounding effect of these decisions will become noticeable. For example, if every day we’re making unhealthy decisions, a health related crisis is coming that will demand our attention. If however, we’re taking care of our bodies and making wise choices regarding our health, we can look forward to a healthy body that will serve us well in the years ahead.
Small daily decisions yield significant results over time. Where are your daily decisions leading you?
Our lives should be moving toward something. That “something” should be the life we envision for ourselves that consists of using our talents and skills applied in service to others, doing something we’re excited about.
Although this sounds good, what if you’re currently not living this life? What if there’s discouragement caused by the gap between your envisioned life and the reality of your life today? If that’s the case for you, I have encouraging news.
Here come some obvious truths about achieving our desired life that often get lost:
- We need to apply specific and consistent action that incrementally moves us toward our objectives.
- It takes time.
I heard the process of creating your desired life described recently as seeing a Polaroid picture coming into focus. Remember those? You take a photograph and wait several minutes as the picture comes into focus, revealing the image you just took a picture of.
It’s like that with achieving your desired life. Most likely, the change from your current situation to where you want to be isn’t going to occur over night. However, if you’re persistent, your life, like the Polaroid photo, will begin to come into focus and take shape, until it matches the vision you have been persistently pursing.
If you feel like you’re not where you want to be in life at this point take the following steps to cause progress:
- Have a vision in your mind of what you want your life to look like.
- Take action every day, no matter how small, which moves your life closer toward how you envision it.
- Remember that it takes time, so be persistent and stick with it.
Following these steps will not only cause the picture of your desired life to come into greater focus, it will cause the picture to become a reality as well.
We all have it, and we all have the ability to decide how we will spend it. Although we can’t see it, its value is priceless and becomes more so the older we get. The “it” I’m referring to, is time.
While we do, in fact, get to decide how we spend our time, most of us have several others who are more than eager to help us decide how our time should be spent, and their suggestions are usually focused on advancing their objectives instead of our own.
This doesn’t mean that all requests for our time are bad. Some requests are welcomed and we’re more than eager to spend your time on it. Other requests for our time we might not feel like committing to, but we want to support the cause or person asking, so we agree to give of our time. And other requests neither interest nor benefit us, yet we’re still asked to give our time to it.
The biggest threat to our time is when we don’t have a decision process or priorities in place that help us determine how we’ll invest our time, and instead we simply agree to everyone’s request that comes along, leaving scarce little time for our own pursuits and well-being.
Don’t be afraid to place boundaries around your time. Cause something to happen that ensures your time is protected by employing these or other boundaries around your time:
- Only allocate a specific amount of time, which you determine, to a request for your time.
- Decide in advance what causes you will or won’t support with your time.
- Decide how much of your time you’re willing to commit to others’ objectives.
- Know what’s important to you regarding the direction and goals you’ve set for your life and say “No” to those requests that don’t align.
Your time is a precious commodity. While it’s important, and fun, to spend your time helping and supporting others efforts, be mindful of how you’re spending (investing) your time to ensure that you are also moving closer to what you’ve defined as important in your own life.
Remember that our time is limited and we get to decide how to spend it, so spend it wisely!