Spend Your Time Intentionally

Using our time according to our deeper intentions takes self-awareness and structure

I’ve seen a lot of people with goals about changing how they spend their time. They want to spend more time with their family, have a better work/life balance, read more, or spend more time outside.

These are wonderful goals. They all involve something that theoretically is pretty simple: changing how you spend your time.

But it’s rarely that simple, is it? Something causes us to spend our time in ways that we want to change but struggle to change.

Let’s look at what pulls us away from goals like this and how to shift to being more intentional about how we spend our time.

What Pulls Us Off Our Intentions

Let’s say you have a goal, such as spending 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 pull us away from those intentions:

  • Unexpected things come up. These things can include an urgent work situation, a new request for our time, a crisis, or really anything that needs to be dealt with that we didn’t anticipate.
  • Things take longer than we thought they would. This is very 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. We forget to allocate time for things such as eating, resting, showering, brushing our teeth, folding laundry, cooking, cleaning up, and so on. So our ideal schedule rarely has everything we actually 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 blocked off for intentional use, don’t leave it too tightly planned. Give space to rest, take care of yourself, catch up on messages, and so on.

But there’s one bigger reason we get distracted from our intentions: fear versus comfort.

For example:

  • We might want to spend time with family, but when we’re getting a bunch of requests from clients (or co-workers), 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, browsing the internet, or watching videos 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 toward work or distractions because we think that will allay the fear or comfort the stress. That’s the biggest reason that 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, you may want to read more, get outdoors more, and spend more time with family.

Once you’ve got those intentions, you can get clearer: 30 mins of reading every day, an hourlong walk or hike in nature four times per week, evenings with family after 6 p.m. 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 or 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 and devotion.

This is a practice, and it doesn’t come naturally to most of us. But if you would like to live a more intentional life, this is the practice. What would you like to do?

Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net
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