Now that I’m in my 40’s I am acutely aware of time. Not that I wasn’t previously, but it would be fair to say that I was more liberal with my time in my 20’s and 30’s! The reality that time is a non-renewable resource is a concept that I’m ever-present of. Each day, each moment, is precious as it represents one less day I have to experience my life, achieve my goals, and be with friends and family.

By reflecting on time I have learnt many lessons. While it is cliché to say that I have learnt to let the small stuff slide, I recognise that there is very little that I experience that should have such a negative impact that it drags me off my life course. Being time-aware has also made me conscious of efficiency and doing things in the most effective way possible. Most importantly, I think I now truly understand how precious quality time is with family and friends and I ensure that these moments, more than anything else, are not compromised or time-bound.

Many executives who I have coached have found time reflection exercises useful. The sheer act of thinking about time, and the attempt to comprehend it, is like opening a door that provides a glimpse at the extraordinary terms of our existence. The act of fully engaging with time, with the right reflection exercises, ingrains the learning that time is the road on which life’s journey is travelled.

Through personal and professional experience, I have found that there are five ‘aha!’ moments that come from a deep awareness of the mystery of time:

  1. It gets people to figure out what they really want: Thinking about time in a deep fashion clarifies what people want in life. This is not only in regards to goals, but also what they want in relationships and emotional states. Reflecting on time focusses the mind. It allows one to eliminate the unnecessary and unwanted, and focus on the necessary and desired.
  2. It gets people focussed on efficiency as a really useful skill: Once awakened fully to the impact of time, people invariably become aware of time management as a vital life skill. I have often heard it said that to get things done it is best to give it to a busy person. This is because they understand how to get things done efficiently. High performance can in part be defined as accomplishing a goal to the highest level in the shortest possible time.
  3.  It gets people to realise there is also a time to smell the roses: Time awareness is often thought as a simple matter of time efficiency. Inversely, it gives us true appreciation for the small things in life that give great reward with limited time investment. The great golfer Ben Hogan often commented on the need for golfers to enrich their golf game, and life, by metaphorically smelling the flowers throughout the round. Awareness of time creates the time to enjoy the moment.
  4. It gets people to know that there is a time for everything if time is used wisely: Rather than becoming stressed at the lack of time, an appreciation of time has the opposite effect for most. People recognise that they don’t have to achieve all their goals in a day and start setting realistic timeframes for goal completion. As they know that time is a finite resource, they proactively design a life mindful of those parameters. They, in effect, create the time required to achieve the life they want.
  5.  It gets people to really engage with the death-bed meditation: Death bed meditation is a long practised technique to help people reflect on their life in the present. In summary, the exercise involves people imagining themselves on their death bed and reflecting back on life. At the heart of this exercise is an awareness that the present is all we have to make our impact. Choices made now are what we will reflect on in the future. Awakening oneself to the meaning of time ensures that life is lived mindful that it is finite and every second counts.

I do what I do – whether it is academic work, work with OPRA including executive coaching, or writing – because the combination is how I want to spend my work time. I balance this with time spent with family and friends, as well individual pursuits like judo. The result is that my time is enjoyed from a varied mix of relationships, accomplishments and work. Time is what makes this possible and only by being conscious of time can I maximise all the life domains that are important to me.

To people interested in optimising their life, I often describe being mindful of time as a TINA (There is No Alternative). There are many ways to live your life and far be it for me to say that my way is the only way. However, for those who are really trying to get the most out of life, the foundation you may be looking for may very well be an increased awareness of time.

Image source: flickr/Liam Wilde