When we were in Morocco, our guide got used to us being 10-15 minutes late to everything. Eventually, he got tired of reassuring us and we got tired of apologizing– so he told us this: “In the West you have watch. In Africa we have time.”
I can still hear his accent and see his charming smile as he calmed his weary guests. Whether he ought to have spoken for the entire continent of Africa was irrelevant– I, on the other hand, am certainly familiar with the culture of rushing, even while on vacation. What is it that we love about efficiency?
Despite the obvious benefits of punctuality and expediency, I am convinced that speed isn’t exactly what we’re after here in the West. What we want is meaning. Time well spent. Some of us might enjoy the thought of completing a hundred useless tasks in an hour, but I imagine most of us would prefer completing one single important task instead. At the end of the day, I want to know that I did at least one thing that mattered.
This is likely why intentionality has become the buzzword of 2016. Of the myriad things we do each day, we want something to count– not just in a quantifiable way, but in a soul-filling, joy-inducing way. Being intentional means recognizing the value of our time and its possibilities, and making the best of it.
The importance of building habits
Most of us can attest to the fact that discipline doesn’t come naturally. If given permission, many of us might watch television and eat chocolate all day, everyday. But we desire more– so we must build ourselves towards that. As I think about my most productive and meaningful days, I realize that there are particular practices that make that happen. Here they are.
5 Ways to be More Intentional with Your Time
1) Categorize your tasks and designate a time slot.
In other words, make a plan– not just a checklist. Most of us love lists, and crossing items off of lists, but our lists need an added component: time slots. Whether you plan a whole day or simply plan the next two hours, giving yourself a time to start and stop discourages procrastination. Furthermore, creating categories can aid with focus. Complete each task category one at a time rather than switching back and forth between vastly different tasks. Even the act of organizing can galvanize focus and motivation.
2) Eat that frog as soon as you can.
Mark Twain famously said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.” Don’t let the task you dread most be the one you save for last. Get it over with– and move on. Otherwise, the dread can hang over the rest of your tasks and distract you until it’s done.
3) Schedule your free time and how you’re going to spend it.
Have you ever expected to have a free day, and then ended up not doing much but feeling tired anyway? Me, too. The challenge with free time, of course, is how to use your time off well. If you’re lucky enough to take breaks throughout your day, plan in advance what you’re going to do. You can go outside for some fresh air, take a 15-minute power nap, sip on some (caffeinated) tea, read that news article you save for later, or call a friend to catch up. Whatever is restful or beneficial, plan on doing that.
4) Feed your soul the inspiration it needs.
Self-control is difficult to cultivate. But the more we feed ourselves the right thing, the more we desire it. It might be easy to turn on the TV while we’re doing our chores, or scroll through social media while at the gym. But these things can bog us down with less-than-constructive thoughts, useless information and the desire to plant ourselves on the couch for the rest of the day. While there is a place for TV and social media, we need to designate that place. Instead of watching TV while I cook, I now listen to educational podcasts, or simply enjoy the quietness.
5) Communicate wisely and effectively.
The average person spends 13 hours a week sorting, reading, and writing emails (source). For some of us it’s our job, while some of us check our emails like it’s our job– not to mention all other communication channels. Ways to minimize this include creating canned responses (if appropriate), unsubscribing from irrelevant lists, and designating a time to read and write emails each day. But more importantly, most of us can benefit from uttering fewer words. This can mean cutting down on gossip, defensive comments, and text messages that beat around the bush.
Related: 5 Secrets of Powerful Speech
The bottom line is that most of us can use our time better, and desire to do so, but are not sure where to start. Advanced technology makes our lives easier in giving us communication channels and access to information at an unprecedented speed. Surprisingly, this speed slows us down because it’s so easy to say we’ll check “just one more thing.” If we’re to live with intention this year and for years to come, we will have to give ourselves the tools to do so.