3 Ways to Restore Your Time To Proper Balance
Remember 2019? It feels like an eternity ago, if you go by the news stories. It’s like they want us to believe life is much more manageable in 2020, because we’ve been forced to stay in our homes and neighborhoods.
I’ll agree this year is less physically exhausting. Back then, we were running everywhere at such a pace, it was bound to spin out of control. But for most people, a physical rest was about as good as it gets … we’re even more stressed, worried and exhausted now than we were.
Once the novelty wore off, the shutdown became a bigger problem. Parents of young children come to mind … nowadays, there’s no separation between being a business owner, a teacher’s assistant and a parent. Some people say the shifts occur within seconds of each other.
This has a lingering effect on the average person. If we aren’t grounded in our own foundations (and most people aren’t), we’ll end most days looking for some kind of relief.
We can make the case that COVID-19 helped us find new ways to waste even more of our most precious resource: time.
I don’t believe we were great time managers beforehand. But getting a chunk of it back hasn’t changed that. We needed something more than a break from commutes and spending hours at the office every day. We needed to know what to do with our time.
The truth is tougher to swallow: we had no idea what to do with the extra time. So instead, we dug deeper into the same wastelands we used in 2019 – Netflix, pornography, gambling, hour upon hour of social media – pick your poison.
Of all the time we “got back,” our 10X workload gobbled up one half. The rest went straight to distracting ourselves from our misery. In 2020, we’re even more pressed for time than we were in 2019. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Why “Freedom Isn’t Free”
I want to borrow an expression we normally see on post-9/11 bumper stickers: “Freedom Isn’t Free.” But in this case, it’s not because our military protects it.
I’m talking about a counterintuitive reality: “Discipline brings freedom.” A reality where proper adherence to your various roles in life, and the deep work of prioritizing them, turns you into a glaring exception to the train wrecks of human lives 2020 leaves in its wake.
Maybe you once had teenage dreams, like mine. I remember hoping to leave home, make my own money and my own rules. I thought I’d float freely through the world, accountable to no one except myself. We all know how those fantasies turn out.
Gradually, we start wearing “hats.” The bills won’t pay themselves, nobody rides for free, and you have as much chance winning the lottery with a ticket as you do without one. So I got a job, then a spouse, then children, then a church role, and then a business.
Before I even understood it, I had a list of “roles” I had to play – employee, husband, father, pastor, business owner, coach, mentor. It was easy to confuse one with the other, and I had only a vague, childlike answer as to which one came first.
I strove to meet all the normal social expectations for these roles. But underneath all this, the real Ryan Miller remained hidden. I did such a bang-up job of playing my on-stage roles, that my “off-stage” persona went deep underground. I had no idea who he was.
That’s why, after the back-to-back disasters of a co-worker’s suicide and surviving the Route 91 concert in 2017, I sat across from a friend and said, “I am FINISHED sacrificing who I truly am for money.” And he could tell, I meant it.
As I went back in time and unpacked my experiences, it got clearer. I couldn’t be present, as I wanted to, in certain situations. But what surprised me was that I wasn’t “checked out” or angry inside for reasons you might think.
In movies, workaholic fathers usually come across as cold and uncaring about their families. But they rarely examine why. It leaves you with the impression that he’s just a jerk who loves money more than people. If you don’t have context, that feels true. So we think, “What a jerk.”
There are guys out there who are like that, I’m sure … but I wasn’t one of them! I love my family and the people in the church where I serve. I love people I work with. I love people, full stop.
What was really behind my unhappiness hid in painful experiences I kept behind closed doors. Until I dealt with those, and allowed myself to move on from them, I’d never show up like I wanted. And the people closest to me would pay the steepest prices.
How Prioritizing Roles Changed the Game
As I recovered from the pain of my younger days, I began to notice something. Checking out on social media, losing myself in work, being angry and bitter because I didn’t get my way – these were all ways I’d developed to cope.
But now that I knew I was responding to old pain that had nothing to do with the present, I discovered I had the power to say, “No.”
If you get the comparison, it’s like catching a cold in 2020 and you go straight to the emergency room, because that’s what you did when you broke your leg back in 1995. The problem is, you don’t need to go to the emergency room!
So here’s what I learned to do, ahead of life’s “pain signals”:
- List Out the Roles You Play In Life
I used to look at my roles in a “linear” fashion, which is typical for how society thinks. But what good does it do, if you’re in the middle of helping your child with their homework, for you to say, “I’m first and foremost a child of God”?
The smarter way to do this is to make a neutral list first, without order of priority just yet. Mine goes:
- Follower of Jesus
Once you’ve got those roles listed, you need to keep a record of where your time gets spent. Especially if you’re spending a lot of it doing something that isn’t on the list. For a lot of people these days, wasting time on entertainment robs them of hours of “disposable time income.”
Unlike money, time gets passed out equally, to the prince and the pauper. Jeff Bezos gets “paid” the same amount of time as you and I do. But you can imagine how much more Bezos accomplishes with his time, compared to the average person.
I’d wager one reason the super-rich are so good with managing time is this: they’ve named and circled the roles they play, and they won’t waste a second playing any others.
- Prioritize Your Roles
I listed my roles above in sequential order, because they build on each other. If I start putting business or church ahead of my family or God, I’m in trouble.
On the other hand, it would be weird to go into a business meeting and tell a client, “Please excuse me, my wife is much more important than you, so I’m going to call her to chat.” When I’m in that meeting, I need to be fully present to my role as a businessman.
So you have to rank your roles without getting chained to them. Don’t feel like you’ve stopped making God or your family a priority, because it’s time to be a good friend, or close a deal.
The only rule with prioritizing your roles is that “free time,” the time you can spend on entertainment, can’t infringe on your defined roles. You can’t ignore your kids because your phone is easier. You shouldn’t watch Netflix because your wife wants to talk.
- Align Your Actions with Your Priorities
In my morning quiet time, God is my focus. I don’t check my phone, or watch TV. I don’t check headlines, and I get up early enough that I’m alone, in silence. My wife and daughters are still asleep. The only “content” I read are Scriptures, and the only person I interact with is God.
When it’s date night, everyone else has to wait – daughters, customers, church, friends. I leave the phone in my car, and my wife gets my undivided attention.
When I’m preaching and helping to lead a church, business goes on the back burner. My family gets a temporary “break” from me. Do you see how this works? One hat goes on, the other goes off. Now you see me … now you don’t.
Using these three strategies, your life will develop a natural “rhythm.” You’ll be able to figure out where your time’s being spent, and how you can change things to spend it wisely.
You’ll get much clearer on what’s really important to you, and whether or not you need to make better decisions.
Most importantly, you’ll see things that matter clearly – and act on them.
You won’t be powerless to respond.
The lights will be on, and somebody will be home.