Twelve steps to changing your relationship with time
By Paul Reali
Once upon a time, there was a person who felt like life
was out of control.
Let’s call that person you. Let’s call that time now.
This is your story, or it can be, if you decide to make it so.
In order to help get your life under control, you tried
every form of time management there is. You even tried
inventing your own system.
Nothing helped with the onslaught of tasks and
obligations. Nothing helped with the stress. Nothing
helped suppress that feeling that something was
missing, something was wrong.
Then you realized something important.
You cannot manage time.
There is no such animal as time management. No: time is
not something you can manage. You can’t spend it, you
can’t save it, and you can’t waste it. Why not? Because
time is not something outside of you.
You are time.
Time is the stuff of life: it is what your life is made of.
Life is a series of decisions; therefore, time is a series of
What you needed was a way to make better decisions
about time…a different way to think about time.
This is it: a philosophy, with tools, called “Creating
This is exactly what it sounds like: you will be able to
create time where there was no time.
How? Not with magic, but by making better decisions
about what you do, and how you do it.
Here is the theory of Creating Time in a nutshell.
Everyone does not have the same 24 hours every day.
Because you are time, your 24 hours must be different
than everyone else’s. And, because you are in control of
yourself, and therefore of your time, you can create time
for whatever you choose. You can create time where you
thought there was no time. Where others do not have
There are two layers to this: understanding yourself, and
understanding your tasks. Each layer will require that you
answer six questions. Twelve questions, like the 12 hours
on a clock.
Before you can begin to make good decisions about any
task or obligation, you first need to answer a few
questions about yourself. These are macro questions:
large questions, questions which are about you, not about
the things you have to do.
The answers to these questions become the lens through
which you will see everything that you do – they will be
your guide for making better decisions.
These six questions should be familiar to you:
who, what, where, when, why, and how.
The first question is why. Why do you want to Create
Time? What will you do with the time you create?
If you become more efficient at work, getting 40 hours of
work done in 30 hours, your reward is more work. That’s
not much incentive.
If, on the other hand, you want to have time to be a more
active parent, or to write that novel, or learn a new
language, or travel, or train for a marathon, or save your
marriage…now we’re getting somewhere.
So, question one: Why do you want to create time?
The second question is who. Who are you?
This is an important and difficult question, and it is about
that crucial and under-discussed idea of identity. Who are
you? Are you the person you imagine yourself to be?
Here is a way to try and get at the answer. Write down a
description, or story, of the idealized version of yourself –
the you that you want to be. Think in context: your home
self, your work self, your solo self.
It does not matter, for the moment, how near or far you
are from this self. You will use this ideal self later, to help
you make decisions about what and how you do things.
The third question is what.
This takes several forms, and all have to do with what you
should be doing with your life. Begin with these:
What should you be doing with your life? What work
should you be doing? What should you do with your free
time? What brings you joy? What are you doing that
brings you stress and pain and boredom and regret?
What would you like to accomplish? For what would you
want to be remembered?
The fourth question is where. There are two main where
Where should you live? That is, what
country, state, city, neighborhood, house. And, where
should you work? That is, what
industry, company, department, team.
For some people, where is unimportant, unrelated to those
other questions. For others, the where cannot be separated
from Why and Who and What. Some people blame their
where for their limitations. “I could be this, if only I were
there.” But as Stephen Covey said, argue for your
weakness, and it’s yours.
The fifth question is when. When is the right time to…do
or be or try or…whatever it is you are attempting.
In many ways, when is a conundrum. “Now” is not
always the right answer. You may need to finish your
degree first. You may need to wait until you are married.
You may need to wait until your children are in school.
But you can see here how when becomes an excuse not to
Face this: when is most likely now. You do not need to
wait to be the person you think you should be. And if the
what and the where need to change, you can begin the
The final macro question is how. The essence of this is:
How will I find the strength and resources to become the
person I imagine myself to be?
For some the question is spiritual, for some it is practical.
Generally, resolve is not enough, or we would only have
to make New Year’s resolutions once. Making life
changes requires inner strength and external support. How
will you find this inner strength? How will you find
support in the people and the structures of your life?
Here’s a hint: look back at why you want to create time in
the first place.
Now that you have created the lens though which to make
decisions about time, you are read to ask six questions
about every task and obligation that comes you way.
These are micro questions: they involve just the thing
These six questions should sound familiar to you, because
they are the same six questions: who, what, where, when,
why, and how. Of course, these will be considered on a
much more immediate level, and much more often. And
for each decision point, the answers might be different.
But the lenses – the answers to your six macro questions –
remain the same.
On a micro level, we are concerned with making
decisions about a specific task, activity or obligation.
When you make these decisions, use your macro answers
as a guide.
The first question to ask is why. Why does this task need
to be done? Should it be done at all? Does this task fit in
with my plan for myself?
Let’s say that just by asking this question you eliminate
one weekly task, which formerly cost you one hour each
time you did it. You have just created time. And not just a
trifling amount of time. You just created 52 hours of time
When you asked why, you eliminated some tasks and
obligations, creating time at every turn. But what about
the many that remain – those that are valid and valuable?
For each of these, you ask: who. Who should do this task?
If it’s you, that’s fine. But is there someone else who
should do this task? Or someone who should help you?
Are there work-related tasks you have not delegated, even
though you could, because it is easier to do it yourself?
Delegation is an up-front investment of time that pays
back (creates time) many times over. What can you
delegate, and to whom? Are there tasks with which you
can get help, lessening the burden on yourself?
You have a list of things to do, each of which you have
determined, by asking why and who, that need to be
done, and that you yourself should do.
The next question is: What should you be doing right
Again, use your macro answers as a guide. Does this
activity get you closer to your image of yourself? Does
this contribute to your learning? To your forward
progress? Is it in line with your values?
What to do right now has a corollary: what not to do right
now. Do you procrastinate on the important or difficult
things by doing something less important?
It seems like a small thing, but it’s a crucial component of
creating time: Where should do this task?
In your office? In your home office? In a Starbucks? A
park? A parking lot? The answer, of course, depends on
the task, but here are the criteria: will you have the
resources you need at hand? Will you be uninterrupted?
If you have four tasks to do, and you do each one to
completion rather than switching back and forth, you will
likely create incredible amounts of time, due to the lost
energy and momentum that happens when you change
your attention. So: where can you best do this?
Also undervalued as a consideration, the next question for each
task is: When should you do this?
When might be at what time of day, because we all have times
of day when we are better at certain kinds of activity
(physical, cognitive, etc.).
When might be a day of the week. If you schedule something
important for Monday, but Monday is the day when all of the
weekend crises have to be handled, how will you be able to
focus your attention?
When might be a month of the year, or year. When is the right
time to do this? Get it right, and you create time.
Especially if the when turns out to be never.
The place to create the most time is how. How best to do
this task? What tools make the task faster?
Learn to use the features of your software, such as
styles, and create time every time you create a document.
Use a DVR (such as TiVo) to record programs, and watch
an hour of television in 44 minutes – creating 16 minutes
each hour. Have a half-hour commute each way? Work at
home one day a week, and create one hour a week. See?
And, an important related question: How well does it need
to be done? No use being a perfectionist if the task does
not require it. How much time can you create that way?
Despite what anyone will tell you, you can create time.
Begin now. Answer the six macro questions, so that you
can have the right frame for making decisions about your
life, which are, as you understand by now, decisions about
Then, answer the six micro questions about any
task, activity or obligation, and you will find that you
create time on almost every thing that you do.
Begin here: Why do you want to create time? What will
you do with all the time you create?
It’s your story. Tell it.
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