A Simple Exercise to Getting Control Over Your Time

Leadership Personal Development

Have you ever uttered the words, “I wish I had more time?”

Many people, even accomplished leaders, struggle to spend their time wisely. This is partly because we live in the day-to-day and don’t often take a holistic view of our lives. Time is a precious, finite commodity that even Bill Gates says “is something I can’t buy more of.”

We waste a lot of time. Sometimes it’s on trivial things like social media or Netflix, but it’s more often on activities that just keep us busy but not productive. Too often, we spend time on things that don’t move us toward the impact we truly want.

Don’t worry – there’s a solution. I call it the lifeline exercise, and it can help change your perspective on time, hopefully for good.

The Lifeline Exercise

For years, I’ve been volunteering with LeaderImpact, an organization that supports and challenges leaders to think about their lives holistically to make an impact. During the first session of every LeaderImpact group, we ask leaders to plot their current age on a line from birth to death (or ideal death). Try this now.

  • Where are you in your potential life? Middle Age, First Quarter, 3rd of the way through, or near the end?
  • What do you notice? How fast time flies? A realization you don’t have much time left?
  • How are you going to use the time you have left?

It’s a refining exercise that helps you realize two things: (1) life is short, and you don’t know when it will be over; and (2) time flies by if you don’t master it.

Life after death is a whole other topic, but thinking about the finite amount of time each of us has left in life tends to light a fire under us.

How Should You Spend Your Time?

Once you’ve plotted out the time you have left, your next questions should be:

  • How should I spend that limited time?
  • What can I do as a leader to leave behind the biggest impact?

Some people will tell you that a leader’s impact is about grand achievements: building that commercial empire or changing how an industry operates. And those are big and beautiful ideas that certainly have an impact. But on a more micro-scale, at its very essence, impact operates within a perfectly simple subset: relationships.

When I work on strategy with clients at my marketing agency, I always start with helping them understand their organization’s purpose. My favourite question to help them think about this is: “If your company disappeared tomorrow, what would be missing? Who would care the most?”

The answer to that question usually comes back to relationships. Consumers. Employees. The Community. Etc.

The same question can be applied to your life. If something happened to you tomorrow, who would care the most? Spouse, Partner, Kids, Family, Friends, Colleagues, Neighbors, etc.

It’s always about people and relationships.

Spend Your Time Nurturing Relationships

Your impact on the world starts with the relationships closest to you. The people who will take the time to attend your funeral will be those who have or had a relationship with you. The closer the relationship, the closer they will be to your casket when you die. Sobering, I know. But true.

Typically, it’s immediate family, then extended family, and then close friends, and it trickles out to the back row, where loose acquaintances or colleagues from the past might be. Sadly, we are sometimes better and more intentional at impacting the “back rows” than the “front rows.”

We worry about how our acquaintances think of us when we should be spending our time nurturing our closest relationships. They’re the people who will be most affected by the impact you leave, and it’s with them where you have the greatest power to influence every single day.

Spend Your Time Thoughtfully

Hopefully, the lifeline exercise makes you see your calendar differently, put down the remote, pause, and consider how you spend your time. We’re all busy. We’re all focused on something. We let time fly by and then justify our actions and behaviours.

But you can change that.

When you think of your lifeline and the impact you want to have in the world, don’t think about making a difference for the masses. Think about your closest relationships first: your family, friends, and even employees. These are people who look up to you and work beside you every day. Spend your time putting those relationships first, and your impact will leave a legacy.