Tip 4: Narrow Your Time Horizons

Time horizons

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Note that this blog post is part of a series. You can access all tips at Strategies for Better Life Balance and Slow Living.

Do you find it difficult to wade through all the constant noise in life, vying for your attention, and pinpoint what is most important? In day-to-day living, sometimes everything can seem to be a priority. “Where should I focus” may be a continuous refrain repeating in your mind. If this fits you, try narrowing your “Time Horizons,” which is an insightful exercise for determining what is most important in your life at this moment. As we have discussed in previous tips, being clear on our top priorities and values helps to guide us in making effective decisions about how we spend our time (and thus leads to better life balance and slower living).

Time Horizons

The Time Horizons exercise is adapted from Brigid Schulte’s excellent book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. This concept stems from the research of Laura Carstensen, a professor of psychology and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. Based on her studies of older people, she “began to see that when a person’s ‘time horizon’ is short, if he or she has only five or ten years left to live, say, it becomes increasingly clear just exactly what is important. Ambivalence is replaced with a sharper sense of certainty.” On the other hand, she states that “very open-ended, vast future time horizons turn out to be really hard on people emotionally.”

Life Is Short

We tend to think, whether consciously or sub-consciously, that we have all the time left in the world, stretching out before us like an endless, meandering highway. It is thus easy to lose sight of our top priorities in our day-to-day existence. Intellectually, we know life can be very short, and we acknowledge that, in the end, we do not want to regret wasting our days on activities and tasks that have little meaning to us. But then we get wrapped up in daily living and lose the big picture view.

What Would You Do?

So what would you do if you only had 5 or 10 years left to live? If you think your answers might differ based on the exact number, first ask yourself about a 5-year span and then separately about 10 years.

What would you do differently? What would you focus on? What suddenly becomes super important?  Would you spend more time with loved ones? Pursue a dream, change careers, start a non-profit, get involved in a cause, or launch a business? Return to school, delve into a hobby, or travel to certain places?

As an example, author Emily Bennington wrote a blog post on this concept and explains what she would do with only five years remaining in her life: What If You Only Had Five Years Left to Live?

Action Step:

So now it is your turn to shorten your time horizons. It may sound a bit gloomy, but perhaps it is a more upbeat version of writing your own eulogy (which you can do instead if you prefer). Once you have your list, think about how this compares to other priority exercises that you may have completed (perhaps from Tip 2 on life roles or Tip 3 on values). Are you fitting these aspects into your life? If not, how can you make time? What needs to be cut out or reduced to make room?

Readers: What happens when you narrow your time horizons?

Be sure to join Women, Work, and Life’s Facebook page where we will further discuss strategies for better life balance and slow living, in addition to flexible work, returning to work, and career change. If you are not on Facebook, you can follow me on Twitter @EmilySeamone. Also, sign-up for my newsletter to keep on top of the blog series as well as other posts and information. I look forward to seeing you in all these places!

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