Time Awareness3 min read

The way you spend your time is the way you spend your life. If you don’t pay attention to how you spend it—just like with spending money—you’ll run out. 

Paying attention to time can be hard, as almost everyone struggles with some level of monkey-mind, or forgetfulness and distractions, some of us more than others. If we don’t pay attention, time just slips away, and we pay it back sooner or later—often with interest in the form of overwhelm, self-criticism, or regret for delayed goals and aspirations.

You can’t follow your schedule if you forget your schedule, or if you get distracted with something else. So effective time management—mindful time management—requires awareness. 

Time awareness gives you the power to stick to your schedule and honor your priorities. It gives you the power to live life in your terms. 

Here are several aspects of time awareness, with strategies to practice this type of mindfulness. 

Develop the habit to constantly check the time. Your clocks are your best allies: check them multiple times a day. Once you have created the different time slots for each of your activities, then accept the natural limits of time, knowing that often you will not be able to do all that you have planned in the allotted time.

Be aware of what comes next. Remember your schedule, as you’re not likely to keep to a schedule you don’t remember. Your calendar is your best ally: check it multiple times a day. Know how much time you have for your current activity, and stay one step ahead, mindful of when you need to start your next activity. 

Know how long activities take, so you can make good decisions. Consider tracking the time you spend in various activities, so you can notice patterns, make adjustments, and plan realistically—which reduces overwhelm. There are various apps you can use to track your time (see recommendations here). Time tracking may be tedious, but it is invaluable—because what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed. 

Don’t be fooled by the monkey mind. Another important strategy is to watch out for the monkey-mind. We’re talking about things like:

  • I’ll snooze just this once
  • I’ll take a quick break and then resume my work
  • I’ll check Instagram for a few minutes and then I’ll go to bed 
  • I’ll just watch one episode

We all know, when we think about them, that these apparently inconsequential temptations usually involve much more time than we intend. To be fully aware of the consequences of certain decisions, you need to become acutely aware of the time they will take.

Here’s an example of how time awareness can work in practical terms. If you have scheduled a 20-minute break in the middle of your afternoon, time awareness means that when you begin the break you know that you only have 20 minutes; you thus decide on how to spend your break time accordingly. It means that you are aware that after 20 minutes you need to be doing something else. It means that you are checking the time constantly, to make sure you don’t go beyond the limits you have set for yourself. This process can be enhanced by starting a countdown timer at the beginning of your break, with a distinctive ringtone that will work as a strong reminder for you to return to your schedule. 

This is the power of time awareness. 

No, you don’t need to live every minute of your life like this. That would not be balanced or desirable. But, if you are like most people, chances are that you can greatly benefit from being a bit more purposeful about how you spend your time. 

Be aware of time. It’s the stuff your life is made of.

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.


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