You Are How You Spend Your Time

Seems like these days everybody is super busy.


Here in L.A., you’ll find coffee shops filled with people frantically tapping away on laptops and taking meetings, the streets are jammed with cars (all going somewhere "very important"), and people hurrying up to wait in line for hours for the latest pop up shop, to get their hands on the most “in” items to one-up the Joneses. This frenetic lifestyle of trying to keep up can be wholly overwhelming and occupy more of your time than you are realizing. Down time seems non-existent, and trying to fit in time with friends can require scheduling months in advance.


You may not realize how fast life is passing you by, how much you’ve got on the back-burner that should really be priority--like self care, and time to be with yourself. Real time WITH yourself, not just mindless rabbit hole time-sucks. And those rabbit holes are aplenty.


I don’t have time for ______.


How would you fill in that blank? The more we think that we don’t “have time” for things, the more we internalize and accept the notion that we don’t have as much control over our time as we’d like. It can feel like it slips through your fingers in the blink of an eye. The, “I’ll do that later,” or “that’s on the schedule for tomorrow” of things, items that never seem to get done can overwhelm us, causing further distraction. The distraction creates procrastination, and the cycle repeats itself.


But it doesn’t have to be that way.


Encouraging a subtle shift in how you think about your time can help. For instance, imagine spending your time how you spend our money. It seems easier and more natural to track our spending, make a budget, savings, etc. Probably because money is something relatively tangible, while time is completely abstract. You work hard for your paycheck, you see a weekly deposit of the funds you have earned into the bank, you see the money leave when you make a purchase or pay a bill. Time on the other hand was doled out in a finite supply on day one, and it’s not something we can work overtime to replenish.


For most of us, we only have so much money or disposable income available at any given time, which imposes a very real limit on what we spend it on.

Our time is limited too — and more valuable. It’s just easier to imagine that there will always be a tomorrow…To keep the ‘I’ll do it laters’ multiplying.


So, just as with our personal and professional financial spending, we all have choices about what we spend our time on, too. Are you clear about what the choices you make mean, and why you make them? Do you have a nagging feeling that you could be better spending your valuable time?


Quite simply, are you afraid you may be squandering your precious time?


“Wasting time.” It’s such a familiar phrase that it perhaps has lost its sting. But really think it through. Is an hour, a day, a week, a month, or a year something acceptable to treat cavalierly? That lost time all adds up. This is not to say we should constantly be busy (whether really busy or just trying to appear so). We all need rest and a variety of life experiences to enjoy, and new material to replenish our creative wells.


But doing a personal inventory into how you’re really spending your time can be enlightening.

Once you have taken an inventory try a practice to help you see where it is going and where you would like to redirect it. Try budgeting your time as you would your monthly finances, try to put it on paper or in a spreadsheet so you can see where it is going.

  • Where do you need to put your most time (what is most costly?)

  • How much time equity do you have to put into frivolous activities (that waste your time)?

  • Your disposable time, how much are you willing to throw away?

  • When you look at it, what do you see? Where do you want to redistribute that priceless time?

  • Move the items into the categories that will best serve you, being sure to schedule time for self care. 

  • Create reminders for yourself on your calendar, in your phone.  


To give a personal example, a few years ago I quit Facebook. At the time, I recognized that over the course of a week I was spending far too much time on it, mired in distractions and clutter, nonsense and unreality.


Every morning and every evening, I felt compelled to check my feed, and it became ingrained in my daily routine. If I had a break at work, it was tempting to spend a few minutes on it. After a busy day, it felt comforting to zone out by checking it again. There was always something new to look at. It felt nice to conveniently keep in touch with friends and family, but then I realized that the majority of what I was looking at on Facebook did not actually matter to me. At all. And one day I asked myself: Do I really want to keep spending my time like this? No, I didn’t. So I quit wasting the valuable time and closed the app for good.


Social media is an obvious and ubiquitous example, but other time-sucks are more subtle. I can go back and forth in my head about whether or not I’m going to take the time (another interesting phrase, when you think about it — “take the time”) to exercise on any given day. Or I say I am going online to get some creative inspiration, but then catch myself mindlessly scrolling through websites or Instagram. I tell myself that I am doing something good for myself and that I’m being productive, but I’m often just wasting (more) time. (There is lots of tremendously inspiring material on the internet and Instagram, of course, which makes it easier to rationalize.)


Again, we all need downtime, no matter how “Type A” you may be. And telling yourself “I can’t relax” or “I don’t like relaxing” can keep you from taking proper care of yourself. Instead, frame the issue differently. It’s not about whether you deserve to take downtime or whether you can. We all need it sometimes, and we all can build in time in our busy lives to take care of ourselves.


Instead, think about how much downtime is right for you to be happier, more productive, and more creative. And always, always heed the quality of how you spend that time. Could you be creating? Reading a book? Writing or Journaling? Catching up with a good friend the old fashioned way?


Because there few things in life more painful than regret, and unlike money, you can never gain back time that you’ve lost.


“I don’t have time for therapy” may be something that you have said to yourself. Therapy is a great way of making sure that you are spending time each week reflecting on how you are spending your time. It is an investment of your time that takes away from other things, but therapy helps you develop more intention and choice in how you are spending your time, guiding you to focus and stop wasting time you could be using more beneficially. Click here to schedule your FREE consultation.  


Vanessa Spooner, Psy.D.