Don't pass time, design it!

In the dawn of the New Year, I find myself musing over how we talk about time. We spend time. We save time. We manage time. We have pastimes. Consciously or not, we’ve internalized notions of time that frame the way we think and talk about it, and this in turn has a profound impact on how we move through our days, weeks, months and years. Anyone who is a parent can attest to how quickly time goes by when children are young, and then how precious it becomes, as our share of it seems to diminish.


I’d like to posit that our inherited concepts and language are outdated, and now is as good a moment as any to be incredibly smart and intentional about our relationship to time. It’s not something to be “managed” or “passed” or “saved” but rather to be savored in the moment.

Countless studies and articles have given rise to a collective understanding that change is occurring at an accelerated pace, with technology driving the race. Just as soon as a new platform, meme, time-saving device or app is created, its obsolescence isn’t far behind. We spend countless hours scrolling through screens, devouring images of other peoples’ lives, accomplishments, meals, and political rants. We are passing time and bypassing actual experiences, substituting voyeurism for voyaging, pixels for playing, diatribes for dialogue and creating an un-winnable game of comparison. Forget Who Wore It Better. Now, it’s Who’s Career/Vacation/Partner/Children/Home/Body/Life is Better.

In my coaching practice, I invite clients to think of their relationship with time as something that can be designed, with real intention and intelligence applied to the way things unfold. Every Sunday night, I ask them to look at their calendars for the week ahead and take a moment to make sure it’s nicely balanced, well-paced, full of what is essential, and can be moved through with the ease and energy they seek. Is there time not just for meetings, but also for nurturing, for work but also for fun, for nothing at all except seizing the moment? If sleep, socializing, reading, exercising, reflecting or romance are important, is there space? If not, how can it be created? What can be edited out, enabling the truly important to remain?

At the end of the day (literally!) it’s the quality of presence that we bring to each moment that matters. The old-fashioned notion of a pastime (sport, craft, hobby) isn’t bad per se, but I’d rather us find new language to convey that we are making a conscious choice about how we move through our lives. That’s one of the reasons I’m not a big fan of the phrase “work life balance.” It’s all life! The question is, is time passing us by or are we consciously designing each moment, making the most of this amazing gift?


As the incredible poet Mary Oliver asks at the end of her poem, the Summer Day:

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?