A LIMITED SUPPLY OF DAYS
Imagine you planned a trip to New York City. Next month you'll fly into JFK airport and spend 4 days in the Big Apple. Your itinerary is wide open.
What would you do with roughly 96 hours in New York?
There's an ancient proverb that says, "Teach us to number our days that we may grow in wisdom." Recognizing the finite nature of time actually increases our wisdom. When given four days in NYC, each day is of great value, and planned with the utmost precision. Because the last thing you want to do is waste the days you're given.
HOW MUCH TIME DO WE GET?
Have you ever considered the exact number of days you'll live? Let's say you make it all the way to your 85th birthday.
That's 31,025 days.
Now, imagine today is your 28th birthday. That means you have already lived 10,220, leaving you with a total of 20,805 days left.
While it may sound like a large number, our days are still limited, giving precious value to each one.
Time moves forward for every person, without exception. Regardless of how smart, successful, powerful, good-looking, or wealthy you are, you get the same 24 hours each day as everyone else. Time shows neither favoritism nor discrimination. And once a moment is gone, it is gone forever.
So how do you want to spend your 20,000 days?
FIVE REGRETS OF THE DYING
Most people are at least somewhat familiar with an essay written by palliative nurse, Bronnie Ware, called The Five Regrets of the Dying. Over the course of her career as a hospice nurse, she documented what her dying patients considered their biggest regrets. Eventually she saw that most regrets fell into one of five categories:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
While regret is not always healthy, we can learn from the regret of those who have gone before us and, as the proverb above suggests, grow in wisdom.
4 WAYS WE FAIL TO MAXIMIZE OUR TIME
Our culture has us wired to walk straight into certain pitfalls when it comes to how we spend our time. Here are a few:
1. WE WORK TOO MUCH
As a physician or dentist, it can be a challenge to prioritize anything in your life not directly tied to your work. Family time, friendships, hobbies, and self-care often take a backseat to work commitments. Certainly society needs dedicated physicians and dentists. It's critical to the well-being of the community in which you live that you do your work with excellence and dedication.
But workaholism and burnout plague the medical profession. Neither is healthy, nor do they lead to a fulfilled life. So how do you avoid what so many have discovered: that a life consumed by work is not a life well-lived? What is the appropriate balance between work and life that allows you to maximize both?
2. WE LIVE FOR THE FUTURE RATHER THAN THE PRESENT
Workaholism is often justified by the thought that "someday down the road in the future when everything is better I'll finally take some time for myself and my family." One major problem with that sort of thinking is that it is never actually the future. Time moves moment-to-moment, and we only condition ourselves to live in the moment we're given. You will not somehow magically morph into a person who values family time over work just because you're older. In fact, the more you practice workaholic habits now, the harder it will be to break them when you're ready to do so.
3. WE CHECK OUT RATHER THAN ENGAGE
According to this study from the US Bureau of Labor, Americans age 15 and over spend an average of 2.7 hours per day watching television, but only 39 minutes socializing or communicating in-person with friends. The stereotypical suburban life involves pulling directly into ones garage, closing the automatic door, and going inside without ever speaking to a neighbor. We have conditioned ourselves to value isolation over community, and it has a major impact on how we view time.
4. WE LET TIME CONTROL US
Many surveys are out there that show how much of our lives we spend doing what might be considered menial tasks. For instance, this poll from the UK showed that we spend the following amount of time on these activities:
26 years sleeping
8 years and 10 months watching television
8.5 years shopping
3 years posting on social media
18 months commuting
15 months exercising
15 months doing chores
12 months in meetings
8 months laughing
117 days having sex
3,000 hours shaving
5 weeks arguing
30 hours crying
Some of these seem extreme or unnecessary, such as 3 years posting on social media! Some are normative to life in the 21st century such as meetings and chores. Others are an unavoidable part of being human, like sleeping.
But imagine what might be possible with the time you get back from watching less television or streamlining meetings. If we had that time back, how many problems might we begin to solve in our communities and throughout the world? If we dedicated our time to meaningful tasks rather than binge-watching shows on Netflix, how might we pour into our children more, improve our marriages, restore broken relationships, and live regret-proof lives filled with joy and satisfaction?
TIME IS MONEY
There are a few principles to keep in mind regarding time and money because time affects us financially.
For instance, if you wait even an extra year to start saving for retirement, the annual contributions necessary to reach your retirement goals begin to increase every year you delay putting money away.
Take a look at this chart:
Note the center column, "Annual Amount Saved." The annual contributions to your retirement account increase the longer you wait to save if you want to reach your retirement goal. After just a few missed years, that number starts to increase at a steep rate.
Annual level contribution of $4,372 if you started saving for retirement at age 30 versus $2,000 annual contributions if you start saving at 22.
Next, the IRS gives us a limited window of time to make contributions to different plans each year. A missed year cannot be returned or made up. Since we are only allotted so many years to save before we retire, and if we are limited in what amounts we can put in each year, we take advantage of putting in the maximum allowable contributions that each year provides.
Some people are able to make retirement contributions right after undergrad or graduate school, at age 24 or 25. But physicians and dentists are at a disadvantage because you typically begin investing only after your education is complete, which means you start in your late-20's or early-30's. And missing even one year of contributions can have a large impact.
The last point about time as it relates to investments is this: It pays to start as early as possible because aggressive investments with potential for high returns make sense when you're young, but become too risky as you get older. Thus the window for aggressive investment strategies shrinks the longer we wait to invest.
GET THE MOST OUT OF TIME
Perhaps time is best compared to the wind. We cannot control where it comes from or where it goes, but we are can harness its power and propel ourselves forward into the life we want most. Time cannot be stopped, or even slowed. But when we choose to live each year, month, week, day, and hour on purpose, we live full lives filled with joy and gratitude.