Are the Things That Matter Getting Your Attention?

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” ~ Mary Oliver

Are the things that matter most getting your time and attention, or are you too busy for them? Are you finding time to enjoy the things that light you up and make you happy, or are they being squeezed out of your over-full to-do list? Does life feel like a hectic rush or a balanced flow?

When asked what surprised him most about humanity, the Dalai Lama gave his views on how people live these days. He spoke about how we sacrifice our health in order to make money. Then we sacrifice money to get back our health. And then we are so anxious about the future that we do not enjoy the present; the result being that we do not live in the present or the future when it finally comes; we live as if we are never going to die, and then die having never really lived.

Lost in a haze of doing, not really living

These days, it’s all too common to live like this: where the most important things in life get overlooked or sidelined because we got lost in a haze of “doing” and forgot about the domain of “being”.

Sometimes we work so hard that we have no time or energy for our loved ones at the end of the day. We say we’re too tired and just want to zone out in front of the TV. We get too busy to go on a date night or enjoy a picnic with the family. We run out of time to exercise or eat a healthy breakfast because we stayed up all night surfing the internet or scrolling through Instagram. We get so lost looking at our screens instead of looking into the eyes of the people we love. Meanwhile, we feel more tired and disconnected with each passing day.

We live in a busy, demanding world, there’s no doubt…and most of us would probably describe ourselves as busy people. But if you’re not spending your time and energy where it counts, you’re surely short changing your life.

If time was money

You’ve probably heard the phrase “time is money” before, right? But your time, I believe, is much more precious than that. Recently I heard Jay Shetty share this analogy for how precious our time is…

Imagine you wake up every day with $86,400 in your bank account. Sounds good, doesn’t it! Now, imagine that this money has a shelf life⁠—at the end of every night, it disappears again, whether you’ve spent the money or not. Every day, you get another $86,400 to spend before the day is done. The big question is, what would you do with it? You would probably try not to waste it⁠—maybe you would even get better over time at using it more wisely, too.

Every day, 86,400 seconds are deposited into your “life account”. At the end of every day, once the seconds are all used up, you get a new 86,400 seconds for the next day. We would never want to waste our money, so why are we willing to waste our time? Those seconds are so much more powerful than dollars. You can make more dollars, but you can’t make more time.

I love this story because it immediately puts things in perspective. It reminds us of the immense value of our time. We can spend or waste time just as easily as we spend or waste money, but investing our time wisely is far more important than any financial gains we’ll ever make. When we invest our time wisely, we receive returns like joy, connection, wisdom, love, good health, passion and purpose⁠—the things that give us so much more than a fast car, a big house or a designer outfit ever could.

Three ways to keep your mind on what matters

Here are three simple ways you can invest your time, energy and attention more wisely and focus on the things that really matter to you.

1. Learn to Say “No” More Often

Make it a daily practice to focus on things that count. Question whether you’re making the best use of your time and look for ways to let go of the things you don’t actually have to do. By saying “no” more often, you will make space and time for the things that matter, that nourish you, that make your heart sing, and you’ll have the energy to do them with full care and awareness.

Greg McKeown has written an amazing book about the concept of Essentialism—which is a kind of minimalism on the level of doing. Doing less but doing the things that matter. I love the principles he shares and his advice on making conscious choices about what we choose to do with our precious time and energy. It has changed the way I live and work. I highly recommend it.

2. Prioritise the Things That Matter

Get very clear on what matters most to you and make room for the important things in your life. Put them in your schedule. Don’t compromise on them unless the sky is falling in. When you’re faced with a task that will take up your valuable time, ask yourself the question, “Is this truly important?” and “Why am I doing this?”. You’ll find yourself naturally attracted to an activity, task or person if it really is important—and if it’s not, remember you can simply say “no”. By prioritising the things that matter, you should naturally find yourself making time for the things that mean the most to you: your family, friends and passions.

3. Make the Little Moments Matter Too

Some things we just need to do in life—go to work, run errands, buy groceries, do laundry⁠—but we can choose to do them differently. We can bring mindful awareness to the everyday tasks and make those “little” moments matter too. Instead of rushing through or overlooking the seemingly ordinary moments of your day—bring attention, care, and focus to the doing.

Making tea, you could pause to watch the rolling steam instead of texting on the phone. At work you could listen carefully to your co-workers and be kind and patient with clients. Folding the laundry, doing dishes or changing a diaper, slow down and do that one thing at a time—attentively. Take a breath before sending an email or a text…then re-read it one more time to make sure it is the message you really want to send.

Making time for the people and experiences that are most important to us⁠—and truly appreciating that time, moment by moment⁠—is at the core of mindful living.

Mindfulness is living deliberately. It’s living out of conscious choice rather than out of habit or reactivity. It’s meeting the moment with our whole hearts and minds as best we can. By connecting to the power that resides within each moment, we can also connect with the qualities of wisdom, vitality and calm within us. We can then meet the moment and respond to the moment with the best of who we are.

Your attention, time and energy are your most valuable resources. Where would you like to be spending them and investing them?

Keep asking yourself, “what really matters to me?”. And then consider this: are your actions moving you toward or away from what (or who) matters most in your life?

PS. If you would like a daily practice to focus your attention, energy and time on the things that matter most to you, try starting your day with this morning intention-setting meditation. You can download the meditation or find it on the Insight Timer app.

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