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My Struggle to Align Time with Purpose by Reese Harper

I woke up this morning and looked at my calendar, spotted with a handful of appointments that gave me pause.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to do these things today.

Had I committed to initiatives that I no longer valued? I felt guilty for canceling on people who had been waiting to meet with me for quite a while.

It can feel hard to know how I should spend my most valuable resource: time.

My time, like yours, is scarce. Not only are we over-scheduled back-to-back with Zoom, but in a deeper sense, we’re aging: life itself is the ultimate scarce resource. It’s hard to engage in activities that don’t reflect our values and purpose.

I’m not opposed to doing things just because they pay the bills. That’s okay—as long as my entire day isn’t scheduled exclusively with drudgery. Paying the bills is part of life, and most jobs and careers are a mixture of things we enjoy, and annoying tasks that just have to get done.

As I went through the list of commitments on my calendar, I noticed that I wanted to reschedule several of them. I worried about letting people down. I already felt like my busy life left my friendships and family relationships underserved.

Although I spend the majority of my free time with my wife and kids, I still feel like I’m somehow neglecting those relationships. I hope my brothers and sisters and parents understand how much I appreciate them, but I feel like I’m long overdue there as well. I’ve almost given up on extended family who helped me when I was young—uncles, aunts, and cousins—to say nothing of service in my community and non-profit interests.

And what about personal time? I like writing and research. I love discovering how to improve things around me, and I also love to have fun, travel, and experience live entertainment and art. Time for leisure, exercise, and sports are all really important to me as well.

Despite my best intentions, it seems really hard to make all of this stuff happen. It’s such a concerted effort. If we don’t make an effort, then the natural flow of life fills up our calendars. Technology and our job’s demands schedule our lives and shape our days.

I like being with people. I just don’t like being with people too often or exclusively, because I also enjoy being alone and having time to process my thoughts.

If I’m back-to-back in appointments all day, or if I have too many appointments that are energetically draining and not values-aligned, then I become overwhelmed and feel frustrated. For me, it’s the right combination of people time and alone time.

If I’m honest with myself—I think I am being asked to be with people so often, that I don’t get enough alone time.

When I’m alone, I like to write. Writing allows me to process my thoughts and ideas so I can get to a place of better understanding and clarity. And that’s been really important to me. I’ve been embarrassed at times, as a CEO, to ask for a chunk of my day to be left open. I use this time to re-energize, document ideas, contemplate the future, and determine how I’d like things to materialize. As it turns out, this time is critical to my success as a CEO, and I really shouldn’t feel guilty about it at all.

Choosing how we use our time can be really hard. Our choices about how we spend our time can help us feel whole and give us meaning. Proper time usage can help us feel comfortable, and discover the right balance between joy and other less-pleasant, but equally-instructive emotions, like overwhelm, impatience, and boredom.

Here are a few takeaways about time:

Hopefully, I’m wiser today than I was a year ago; and hopefully, I’m wiser today than I was a week ago.

Some of the things on my calendar are products of commitments I made as my old self. The one-week-ago self, or perhaps the one-month ago self, said yes to some things that I no longer feel energized by.

But I did make a commitment to someone on the other side of that calendar invitation. And they made the same commitment to me. It’s likely that their lives have shifted as well. And I don’t know how important their commitment is for them, either. I owe them respect, and shouldn’t unilaterally blow up our two-way commitment just because my priorities have shifted a bit.

Time is a balance of being true to myself, my own values and purpose, and being true to the commitments I’ve made, and the people I serve.

I owe these people follow-through on my commitments, especially if those commitments are really important to their overall balance and wellbeing. I am not the only one impacted by my choices. And I’m confident that folks on the other side of my commitments do not want a resentful, uncommitted partner either.

I can thoughtfully make shifts towards my future self, perhaps even dramatic shifts. My calendar can look very different tomorrow or one week from today. In fact, it could be an entirely different calendar.

Being mindful about the way I choose to spend my time is one of the most powerful choices I make each day.

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