6 Types of Time: Which Are You Missing?

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I spent last weekend on retreat, taking 48 hours out of my life to get away to a secluded countryside retreat center where I could have a chance to rest, relax and reflect. This opportunity made me think about what types of time we have in our lives: all hours are not necessarily equal, and time management advice doesn’t always address this.

These are six key types of time which we need:

  • Creative and productive
  • Physically energetic and active
  • Playful and entertaining
  • Learning and developing
  • Reflective and spiritual
  • Restful and relaxing

Do you have a gut feeling for which sorts of time you tend to focus on – and which you might be neglecting?

Creative and Productive

This type of time is the sort which much advice focuses on. It’s the time in which you produce something: whether that’s a company report, a painting, a new musical score, or a clear inbox. Although this time is sometimes very personally fulfilling, the end result is generally a product to be shared with or consumed by others in some way.

Clearly, this sort of time is important, if we want to have any impact on the world. It’s also the type of time in which we earn money – by creating value for others that they pay us for – either through our paid employment or through self-employment.

However, being creative and productive requires energy. Many of us have a time of day in which we can most easily do this type of work: you probably have a sense of whether you’re a morning person or an evening person. Despite what time management programs and gurus might have you think, you simply cannot spend many hours of your day working at this level. That’s why all the other ways to spend your time are just as important…

Physically Energetic and Active

We know that exercise is vital for good health – both physical and mental. It often helps to re-energize us for the cerebral work of creating and producing: if you’re feeling sluggish during the work day, you may have noticed how restorative a walk or jog is to your energy levels.

Although we’re all aware of the benefits of being active, this is often one of the areas of time that gets pushed aside by the need to “get things done”. It’s also a type of time that needs integrating on a daily, or semi-daily basis: none of us would think it wise to do no exercise at all for three weeks, then spend a week running a daily marathon!

Playful and Entertaining

Although this area overlaps with “creative”, I’ve drawn a distinction because we all need time when we’re doing something fun that is not for other people: it’s purely for us. Entertainment often gets a bad rap from the time management experts – but it’s vital for us to have times of fun, excitement and enjoyment.

Contrary to what some would have you think, television is not evil and you don’t have to cut it out of your life in order to be more “productive”. The key to having restorative playful time is to deliberately choose to watch programs that you really enjoy.

Unlike exercise, you don’t necessarily need to schedule in play-time every day (though I think it’s a good idea). You might, for instance, choose to spend weekend afternoons doing something just for fun, perhaps watching a movie or playing board games with friends.

Learning and Developing

Many of us think that learning stops when we finish high school or college. Making a conscious effort to carry on learning new things and developing your skills, though, pays dividends in many ways: it can be very satisfying and rewarding in itself; it helps you progress in your career; it can open up new opportunities for you.

Learning doesn’t have to involve teaching: you don’t need to pay a lot of money to take qualifications. Books, good websites, and free lectures are all sources of learning – as are friends with particular skills.

In many cases, it won’t necessarily be appropriate or practical to try to fit a few minutes’ of learning into each day (though if you’re studying a foreign language, for instance, this might be the best method). How about marking out a weekend each month for the purposes of learning something new, or, if you’re self-employed, focusing one morning each week on developing new skills?

Reflective and Spiritual

Even if you would never describe yourself as “religious”, you still have a spiritual side – and many of us neglect to nurture this. It’s easy to carry on through the busyness of life without ever taking time to stop and reflect on some of the truly important things.

Reflective time might include thinking about your values (and how well your life fits with them); it could mean examining habits and patterns which are no longer working for you. On a spiritual level, you might join in some form of religious observance, whether public or private.

Meditation, prayer or simply learning to “be still” can be ways to clear the clutter of the day. In some cases, you may want to combine these with a focus on being in your body – perhaps gentle walking or exercise such as yoga.

If you can make a few minutes each day, or several times during the day, to take a mental step back from what you’re doing to focus on why you’re doing it, this can provide much-needed perspective. A longer time of reflection or spiritual observance – perhaps going away for a weekend, attending a quiet day, or going to a religious service if appropriate – can be extremely refreshing and thought-provoking.

Restful and Relaxing

Although this overlaps with the previous category to some extent, there are differences. Reflective and spiritual time often requires deep thought – on a level which we often avoid. This can be hard work, emotionally draining, or can lead to complete changes in our life.

Time to rest and relax, however, is when we simply give our minds a break! On a very basic level, rest time means getting enough sleep – something which many of us don’t do. It also means allowing ourselves time to simply let our minds wander. For some, that means gentle craft activity (knitting’s a popular one), for others, it might be flicking through magazines or surfing the internet without any particular aim in mind – simply taking time out for our thoughts to free-wheel.

A shower, a bubble bath, or even a massage are other ways to truly rest and relax. We need this time (most obviously in the form of sleep) on a daily basis: don’t try to rush through Monday – Friday and save all your “rest” time for the weekend.

What sorts of time are you good at getting into your life? We’re all different, and we all need a different balance of these six types – where do you think you need to redress the balance in your own life?

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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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