What’s the Most Precious Resource You Waste?

Tick, tock, tick, tock. Think fast!

Here’s a riddle: What resource is scarce—yet easily taken for granted, squandered or rationalized? It’s not money—because everyone could use more money no matter how much we have. And I’m not talking about good health or clean water or fossil fuels, although these could be plausible answers.

Give up yet? It’s time. The answer is time.

If only we had the time (and good health), everything else could be possible—coming up with that million-dollar idea, scoring more sales, being a more attentive spouse, learning to play ukulele. But who has the time? Oddly, when it comes to things we don’t want to do—or, quite often, to things that matter most—we tend to rationalize. It’ll get done. Plenty of time for that. There’s always tomorrow.

Most of us are guilty of procrastinating when we don’t want to do something. We convince ourselves that the unpleasant task won’t take as long as it invariably does, so we put it off. But many of us also postpone the things we really want to do—particularly with the people who matter most.

I remember several years ago when I was with another magazine, on the eve of daylight-saving time we asked readers what they’d do if they were given one more hour to spend in any way they wanted. We got a few responses like “sleep” or “go to the spa.” But most of the answers pertained to bucket-list items like skydiving, watching a sunrise over the ocean with a lover, hiking in the Rockies with the kids. Nobody said they’d log another hour at the office.

We all nurture big and little dreams we don’t seem to act upon. Someday I’ll take the family to visit the little town in Bavaria where Grandma was born; someday I’ll execute that business idea I’ve been mulling for years; someday I’ll paint that landscape that’s in my head; someday I’ll take a Sunday afternoon to catch up with my best friends from college.

Why do we put off the things that matter most to us? One reason is that we want circumstances to be ideal—which, of course, is ridiculous. We don’t call an old friend because she may be busy. We don’t start a business because we aren’t certain there’s a market. Or we operate throughout life with a to-do-list mentality, prioritizing those items that seem pressing and carry some kind of consequence if we don’t get them done right away.

The trouble is the to-do list is endless. Meantime, the people who are dearest will wait, and so will those lifetime goals. There’s always next year. Or is there?

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