Stealing Time

, Wellesley, MA

Time is our most valuable asset. We have seemingly infinite choice in how we spend our time, and the decisions we make determine whether we create value, destroy value, or simply transfer wealth in a zero sum game.

Until recently, I’ve had a terrible habit of stealing time from myself, my friends, my family, and my coworkers. Nominally, I would be doing one thing, but my thoughts would drift elsewhere. In the most subtle cases, the people around me might not have even noticed. Somewhere in the middle, they might have thought that I appeared distracted. In the worst cases, I would pull out my phone or computer and actively do something else. I resolved to break this habit when I realized that I’m stealing from myself just as much as I’m stealing from others.

How am I quitting my time theft habit? I’m taking direction from Buddhist mindfulness and from the Pomodoro Technique.

  1. First, I’m making more active decisions about what I’m going to do, and how much time I’m going to spend doing it. I’m doing this many times a day, giving myself an extremely tight feedback loop.
  2. Second, whenever practical, I’m telling someone else what I’m about to do. This forces me to commit to myself by presenting it as a commitment to someone else.
  3. Third, I’m using a timer. I set it for 25 minutes, and stay as focused as possible on my intended task for that time.
  4. Finally, when I’ve spent all the time in my budget, I’m standing up and walking away for at least a few minutes to make another active decision about what to do next.

In more social situations, I’m not nearly so pedantic, but I’m still resolving not to think too much about things outside the immediate conversation. And if my mind wanders to something truly interesting, I’m trying to say it out loud to make it part of the conversation.

Spending my time more thoughtfully pays great dividends:

  • I get to build and reinforce better relationships with the people around me.
  • I’m more productive when I’m working.
  • I’m more relaxed in both work and social contexts.

How do you find yourself stealing time?

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