Ours are lives beyond hours

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
What we spend our time on needs to matter, writes life coach Jan Aitken.

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken
I’ve been listening to British journalist Oliver Burkeman read his new book, Four Thousand Weeks. Time Management for Mortals.

Four thousand weeks equates to 76.9 years, the approximate lifespan of a person in Western society. It is the timeframe we have in which to conduct the events of our life, to achieve the things we want to, to knock off our bucket list etc. and arrive at that place of fulfilment. Four thousand weeks should give us plenty of time to do that! But the closer I get to that figure, the more uncomfortable I’m becoming: how am I spending my time?

Burkeman is an accomplished writer and all-round interesting fellow. He’s studied time management and efficiency for years in the hope that he, like many of us, could conquer the great to-do list, clear his email inbox and have time left for the things that matter. He’s written a column for 14 years in The Guardian called "This Column Will Change your Life" and he’s authored several books.

Over the years he’s arrived at a place of understanding that no matter how much we do, no matter which time management practice, tip or trick we employ, there is no way to accomplish anything and everything; the perfect work-life balance so many of us strive for remains ever elusive, the mirage of an oasis in the middle of the desert.

Rather than feel depressed by this realisation he encourages us to embrace the limits that our relatively short life imposes so we can concentrate on what is truly of value to us.

Burkeman states "what I’m actually trying to say is: no, it’s not resignation ... The way to accomplish the most things, and to have the most meaningful, interesting life is to ground it in reality. If you see reality for what it is — bounded, limited, brief — then you can build on that reality, instead of getting distracted by this false sense of limitlessness".

What he says reminds me of a quote: "If you don’t have time for the things that matter, then stop doing the things that don’t". I can’t find who first said it, but it struck a chord within me and raised the questions "what really matters to me?" and "what wouldn’t matter if I never did it again?"

The answer will be different for each and every one of us. What matters will be deeply rooted in our values, our beliefs, our culture and world view. One of the hitches with life is I don’t think we stop often enough to ask ourselves what really matters. We don’t actively question how our values, beliefs, culture and world view serve us, how they impact on those around us and the wider world. Instead, we get swept along believing that the more we do, the more we own, the busier we are we are and the more efficient we are at it, the more successful we are. Another mirage?

Not everyone has the luxury of having time to think about time! Many are head down, backside up working to pay the bills and survive on a daily basis. There is little or no control over a lot of that. The reality is we have to work. We have to pay bills; we have commitments to attend to. Outside of that there will be "spare time", but unfortunately that seems to be a diminishing commodity for many.

However, if you adopt Burkeman’s view of time and ground your life in the reality of what spare time you have then you can start to think about spending that precious commodity in ways that really matter. Rather than trying to fit in as much as is possible and spread your time thinly, what about doing less, more deeply?

Stop skimming the surface of things that don’t matter and start doing what does.

We can’t ignore that for every choice to do one thing, another, or several things will have to be forfeited. The reality is we can’t do everything. Trying to fit it all in is sending us down the proverbial garden path. So, think about the earlier quote: what really matters to you?

How do you want to spend the rest of your 4000 weeks? Do you want to be chasing the mirage or doing the things that matter?

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach. For more go to www.fitforlifecoaches.co.nz.

Twitter:@jan—aitken


 

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