Spend Your Time Intentionally – zen habits zen habits
By Leo Babauta
I’ve seen a lot of people with goals about changing how they spend their time, things like:
- Spend more time with family
- Have a better work/life balance
- Spend more time outdoors
- Spend more time with friends
- Read more
- And so on
These are wonderful goals! They all involve something that theoretically is pretty simple: simply change how you spend your time.
But it’s rarely that simple, is it? Something causes us to spend our time in ways we want to change, but struggle to change.
Today we’ll look at what pulls us off goals like this, and how to shift to being more intentional about how you spend your time.
What Pulls Us Off Our Time Intentions
Let’s say you have a goal like, “Spend more time with family (or friends)” … why do you need a goal like that in the first place? Without any judgment, it’s worth asking, Why aren’t you already doing that?
Or another way to ask it: What will likely pull you away from that goal?
We can have the best of intentions with our time, but there are a few things that commonly cause us to get pulled away from those intentions:
- Unexpected things come up — an urgent work situation, a new request for our time, a crisis, really anything that needs to be dealt with that we didn’t anticipate.
- Things take longer than we thought they would. This is really common. We think we’ll take an hour to write that report, and it takes four. We think we’ll just run to the store for 20 minutes for a quick errand, and it takes 45 minutes.
- We forget to plan for things that don’t usually go on our schedule, like eating, rest, showering, brushing our teeth, folding laundry, cooking and cleaning up, and so on. So our ideal schedule rarely has everything we really need to do, and as a result, the schedule will often be thrown way off.
My suggestion for these is to put some padding into your plan, so you can deal with the unexpected. If you have time intentions blocked off on a calendar or schedule … don’t make it too tightly planned. Give space for rest, taking care of yourself, catching up on messages, and so on.
But there’s one bigger reason we get pulled off our intentions: fear vs. comfort.
- We might want to spend time with family … but when we’re getting a bunch of requests from clients (or coworkers), we might decide to work late instead of getting home on time.
- We might want to read more … but we abandon that when we’re feeling stressed about a project and decide to fill our available time with work.
- Or maybe we end up scrolling on our phones, or browsing or watching on the Internet, instead of doing what we planned … because we’re feeling stressed and want to comfort ourselves with distractions.
When we’re feeling stress, fear or resistance, we might get pulled towards work or distractions because we think that will allay the fear or comfort the stress. That’s the biggest reason we get pulled away from our intentions.
How to Spend Your Time More Intentionally
The first thing is to think about what intentions you have for your time that you’re not already doing. For example:
- Read more
- Get outdoors more
- Spend more time with family
Once you’ve got those intentions, you can get clearer: 30 mins of reading everyday, an hourlong walk or hike in nature 4x a week, evenings with family after 6pm on weekdays and half day fun on both Saturdays and Sundays.
Then block it off on your calendar, and commit to others. Maybe you do your walks with your partner or best friend. Plan your weekends and weeknights with your family. Join a reading challenge or have reading time with the family.
Set a reminder to review your intentions every morning or evening.
Those are the first steps. The real work will come when you get confronted by fear, resistance or stress … and look to get out of these intentions by working or going to distractions.
When this happens:
- Bring awareness to what you’re feeling that’s pulling you from your intentions. Can you feel it in your body?
- Find a way to calm or soothe the fear / stress. Do you need a few minutes of walking? Deeper breath? Some love? Someone to talk to?
- Once you’re calmer, remind yourself of your intentions. Take a minute to remember why you wanted to do this. Is this intention more important than the temporary discomfort of fear or stress?
- Return to your intentions with love/devotion.
This is a practice, and it doesn’t come naturally to most of us. But if you’d like to live a more intentional life, this is the practice. What would you like to do?