A Theory On Time Displacement

Pour The Most Important Things In First

We have more technology than we’ve ever had, yet our lives are as busy as they’ve ever been. Wasn't technology supposed to take work off our plates and give us oodles of leisure time?

The highly motivated achievers I work with aspire to do more and more. However, doing more and more isn't necessarily better, more profitable or more fulfilling. Trying to fit in more and more (and more) can lead to high levels of self-induced stress and overwhelm. 

We need to feel like we are in control of our lives and when we don't, it can diminish our self-efficacy, our self-esteem and our self-worth.  

There are two principal activities I do in my spare time. For years, I’ve enjoyed riding my bike and this year I started writing for public consumption. And, I am absolutely committed to having an hour of “me time” every morning before going to work. But, adding writing to my life meant my bike had to share me with my keyboard. The activities are in direct competition with each other for my time.

Then, there is a third activity seeking to steal my “me time”.  It’s social media and making sure I keep up to date with my Facebook and Twitter feeds.  I realized recently I was spending an ever increasing amount of time caught in the Facebook galaxy and the Twitterverse. Not only was writing taking away from biking time, an addiction to “social meds” was taking me away from both. I deleted the apps from my phone and banned myself from any social media for at least a week.   

The immediate result: I felt more peaceful. A new found space was created and I could breathe easier. The responsibility of constantly keeping up with what other people were doing had pre-occupied me and had stolen important bandwidth that I needed to focus on my own life.

I think about my day like a glass of water.  When I wake up, it’s empty. But, based on what’s already planned, it’s predictable that it will be mostly filled up by the time I get to decide what I want to add.

I approach my day mathematically. Sleeping 7 hours and 20 minutes a night leaves 1,000 minutes a day to use on something besides sleeping. I happen to sleep a little more but to keep things simple I think of my waking hours as a 1,000 minutes a day or one hundred 10 minute increments. Taking ownership of time in 10 minute blocks (aka 1% at a time) helps me monitor, plan and manage myself in relation to time.


If you think about the things you do in a typical business day, much of your time is already spoken for.  In my experience: 50% is for working, 8% for commuting, 13% for eating and 13% for other daily chores and requirements. 

That leaves about 16% (160 minutes or 2 hours and 40 minutes) to fit in time with family and friends, and on hobbies and interests.  Not a lot of time! No wonder we feel short on time. 


When water is added to a glass that’s already full, it displaces water such that water spills out of the glass.  So, let’s say you want to add something new to your life.  For example: regular exercise. It follows you’ll have to pour something out of your life in order to be able to pour exercise in because if you don’t... you will be in perpetual overflow. One activity displaces another and another. That is my theory on time displacement. You have to say no to something (or many things) in order to say yes to the most important things. 

You have to pour out in order to pour something in.

Stephen Covey said, "The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important."

As you pour things into your day, be mindful and consider what you are displacing. As time management expert David Allen says, "You can do anything, but not everything."

Life is short.  Your cup is finite. Pour the most important things in first.