I wish I could, I just don’t have the time.

If only I could find time, I would…

I feel like all I do is rush.

How many times have you said these things, or something similar? How often do you hear those around you complaining that they don’t have time to do the things they want to do most? We seem to all be struggling with a feeling that time is scarce.

But, often our actions reflect a different attitude altogether. We spend endless hours watching television. In fact, some sources indicate that the average American watches over five hours of television a day! We obsessively scroll through social media feeds, while rarely engaging with the people around us. We check our email over and over again without ever getting any actual work accomplished. In short, we waste the very resource we want more of – time.

I’m not one of those productivity folks who will tell you that every minute needs to be spent doing something important – far from it. In fact, I think that some of the activities we feel are the most wasteful of our time – sleeping, sitting outside, daydreaming – are the very ones we’re missing most.

We all seem to accept that filling our bodies with junk food just isn’t good for us. We know we need fresh, healthy food to operate at our best. Yet, we think far less about filling our days with “junk” activities. We generally don’t even understand the things that really drive value in our lives, and we give little attention to filling our time with those activities.

What’s High Value to You?

The first, and perhaps most difficult step, of filling your days with high value activity is to identify what those activities are for you. Unlike food, where the guidelines are similar for most of us, this is a highly individualized endeavor. The same activity that fills your tank may be the very thing that depletes me.

That being said, there are a few principles that can be of help:

  • All things in moderation. Just like having one brownie won’t wreck your physical health, spending a few minutes watching a favorite television show or looking at cute puppy videos on social media can be just the thing you need to give your brain a break. The trick is to set limits on yourself. A little bit is fine, but without limits, you can find yourself indulging in junk activity for hours on end.
  • Have a little from all the major groups. While I’m generally negative on the concept of work/life balance, I do believe in trying to lead a well-rounded life. That means spending some time in each of your major life categories – family, spirituality, work, health, leisure, etc. Going for long periods without any attention to a major life category is a bad idea.
  • Pay attention to how you feel. Again, most of us have figured this out, at least to some degree, when it comes to food. We know that when we overindulge, we end up feeling tired, sluggish, and irritable. The same goes for activities. High value activities should leave you feeling relaxed, yet energized. You should feel like you’ve accomplished something, or that you’ve successfully rejuvenated so that you’re ready to accomplish something. When you’re feeling off, begin to pay attention to how you’re spending your time and make adjustments to realign.

It’s All About Choices

It’s up to each of us how we choose to spend our time. But, those choices aren’t without consequences. Filling your hours and days with activities that don’t excite, engage, relax, or challenge you sends you in the direction of burn out. You end up worn down by the grind, and feeling like there’s no room for the things that matter most.

Choosing to fill your life with activities that move you closer to your goals – of achievement, of purpose, of well-being – creates an energizing loop in our lives. It refreshes us, pushes us, creates curiosity, and plants the seeds for creativity.

What will you choose?