Making the most of your approximately 41,385,744 minutes on earth
“Time is what we want the most, but use the worst.” — William Penn
That’s the average human life expectancy in the United States today.
Of course, you may live longer; or, you may check out much sooner. Who knows?
Suppose you live to be 78.74 years old. That seems like a lot of time and of course, it’s more than twice as much as homo sapiens got for hundreds of thousands of years.
But is it really that much time?
You’ll spend roughly one third of it sleeping.
One study suggests you’ll spend an hour each day eating.
Then, there’s school and working; that means an average of forty hours a week in a chair doing something for someone else, whether earning a grade or earning a living.
How about driving, to get … well, just about anywhere? That’s another 45 minutes per day.
Call those the most basic of necessities, then; sleeping, eating and earning a living. But just like that, you’re down to 10,777,538 minutes; 30,608,206 of them are already spoken for.
Ten million plus minutes still seems like a lot; but are you actually spending them on what really matters to you?
Become mindful of the mindless margin
In Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, author Brian Wansink coined the term mindless margin to describe how many of us unconsciously overeat, leading to progressive weight gain over time. Our sense of hunger is influenced by many psychological variables; over the course of a day, we can easily eat 200-300 calories more than we intend to, without ever realizing it. (When you overeat by a little, you won’t feel “stuffed” or sluggish at all; in contrast, if you ordinarily eat three slices for your family pizza night but decide to have eight, then you will feel that.)
This “mindless margin” is also a primary reason why so many of us feel like we get so little done. We unwittingly throw away huge chunks of our day, whether that’s browsing the internet, responding to “important” emails or getting swept up in workplace gossip. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself “taking a quick look” at Facebook, only to get sucked in and realize — twenty minutes later — that I had completely gone off the rails. (This is why I turned off all notifications on my phone.)
How do you become mindful? Meditation helps; you might also try breaking your day into fifteen or thirty minute chunks, then pausing at each juncture to record how you actually spent the previous minutes. You may be shocked to put it in writing; like so many things, simply developing awareness is half the battle.
If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
So the clock is running. What’s more, you and I actually have very limited “free” time; we still have choices about where we work and how we do that work, but the bottom line is that yes, most of us have to go to school or work. (Or we’ve committed to raising our children, etc.)
Acknowledging this, I try to do two things. (I’d like to emphasize the word try, but certainly not always succeed. In fact, some days, I fail far more often.)
First, I try to be present. The present moment is the only one we ever really possess; the past is water under the bridge, and tomorrow may never come. Make plans, yes; learn from your mistakes. Anticipate the fun things and reflect on the good times you’ve had. But too many of us live too much of our lives in the past or future, resisting or clinging, and not truly in the moment we actually inhabit.
Second, I try to live intentionally; to remain aware of what I’ve decided is most important to me and consciously spend my time in service of those commitments.
What does it mean to live intentionally? Some people craft a personal mission statement; others simply write down goals. In Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want, Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy recommend starting with three questions: (1) How do I want to be remembered? (2) What matters most? and (3) How can I get from here to where I want to be?
For me, I want to be a good father, a good husband and a good friend. I want to do meaningful work which helps other people achieve their dreams in life. And of course, I want to have some fun along the way.
In light of these goals, it’s easy to see that shutting off the computer to push my five- and six-year old on the swing is a meaningful use of my time; conversely, arguing about Donald Trump on Facebook is usually not a wise use of it. Viewing my choices through the filter of what matters most helps me to protect my time and invest it wisely.
I’m not suggesting you try to optimize your every waking minute: that would be exhausting. Whatever you do, it doesn’t need to be complex; start with just five minutes each Sunday morning to reflect upon your goals, and you will already be doing more than ninety-five percent of everyone else.
Be intentional, my friends. If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.