Off the Clock Summer in September challenge, day 4: Make time to reflect

Time passes whether or not we think about where it is going. The result is that it is incredibly easy to spend time mindlessly. It’s like floating down a river in a boat. In the midst of the current, it’s often hard to direct things. Head to calm water for a bit, though, and you can survey what’s coming up and think more strategically about how you wish to navigate.

Pausing to reflect changes our perception of time. For Off the Clock, I had 900 busy people track their time for a day, and report on their various time use habits. Then I asked them questions about how they felt about their time. I found that the people with the highest time perception scores — who felt like time was most abundant — were highly likely to engage in what I call “reflective activities.” This includes journaling, meditating, praying — anything where you pause and think about life. People with low time perception scores were highly likely to report never engaging in these activities.

It’s not about lacking time. People with low time perception scores reported spending time watching TV and on social media. It only takes 5 minutes to write in a journal. It’s just that when we don’t think about time, it keeps rushing past. It can disappear as if it wasn’t there. When you do reflect, you feel like time is more relaxed.

This brings us to the Summer in September challenge, which is all about keeping that relaxed, off-the-clock summer vibe going into the fall. Today’s challenge is to build in time to reflect.

Sounds simple, right? The issue is that reflecting can be nebulous. It can be done at any point…so it is often never done. The trick is to pair this habit with something else so it becomes more ingrained. Some ideas:

Reflect/meditate/pray in the shower. You have to get clean, and you can’t do much else. Since people tend to let their minds wander in the shower anyway, why not direct that wandering to what worked, what didn’t, what you’re grateful for, and what you’re hoping for?

Journal/reflect with that first cup of coffee. Some people can seize a few minutes in the morning before they wake other people up. Spend five minutes over coffee writing in a journal, and the day can start more calmly. If the morning rush is a real rush (and with babies/toddlers it often is) try using that first cup of coffee as you sit down at your desk at work. The email can wait 5 minutes.

Reflect while walking. Lots of people take “breaks” at work by going on social media. The problem is that these breaks aren’t particularly restorative. If you often hit a slump in mid-afternoon, try getting outside for 10-15 minutes and using this time to think (bonus: extra steps!)

Think in traffic. You can’t exactly close your eyes and meditate. But if you’re stuck in a traffic jam, try spending 5 minutes directing your thoughts to what worked, what didn’t, things you’re grateful for, and what you’d like to do in the future. If you get any great thoughts, you can record a voice memo.

Use the time before bed. As we talked about in the last Summer in September post, most people have some leisure time before bed. Not everyone, but most people. You could read for 35 minutes and write in a journal for 5, and feel far more relaxed heading into bed than if you spent that time on Instagram looking at photos of other people’s living room decor.

As you look over today, when could you build in time to reflect? I’ve been trying to write in my journal at night. And of course my time logs (and this blog!) help me reflect as well.

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