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By Gary Gunter, Staff Writer for James McPartland

Time is a nonrenewable resource. You already have all of it you're ever going to get. So, it's not how much time you have – it's how you use it. 

In this way, time is the great equalizer – everyone gets the same amount – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But most people don’t see it that way.

Most of us treat time as a big pie divided into slices – each slice to be used for what we feel is important in the day. There’s never enough of it, and we’re always greedy for more. Extra minutes or hours “saved” feel like clever wins… yet we inevitably must spend those “extra” moments anyway. The pie is still the same size, no matter how many tiny slices you make out of it.

Entrepreneur working on his laptop while sitting in a chair in the middle of a big painting of a clock on the floor

Hundreds of books have been written about how to manage time, how to save it, how to extract more of it with efficient productivity “hacks”. But so few talk about its true value. Time can only be managed by looking at its content, not just its quantity.

The truth is, time cannot be hoarded and deposited into a bank account like money. It can only be spent. So it is not the unit of time that is valuable in and of itself. An hour is an hour, whether that hour is spent in traffic, or whether it is spent devising a strategic plan for the next fiscal year of the business.

Rather, it is how you are focused in the present. The value of your moments is not measured merely by their quantity, but rather by the quality of your presence. It is keeping integrity with your schedule by showing up when you say you will. And it is being intentional about your time, so you spend it in service to the gifts you can bring to the world.

Two people reaching toward an hourglass
Façade of a corporate building that has “TIME IS PRECIOUS” written in neon lights on the wall
CEO fixing his tie and wearing a watch that shows the time


One way that high performers (such as CEOs and athletes) bring the quality of their presence to the moment is through the practice of deep work.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, defines deep work as the prolonged, in-depth concentration of effort on one challenging task to produce a valuable result that’s “not easily duplicated.” It is the opposite of multi-tasking and distraction. If you have ever practiced an instrument, ran mental drills, created a long-term strategic plan, or trained for a sport, then some of these practices will already be ingrained within you.

Certainly, not everything requires deep work. But all tasks, even checking email or taking your morning commute, can be enhanced by truly being present and focused at the task at hand. Bringing the in-depth quality of your presence and attention to this moment in time will enhance everything you do.

However, in order to be as present as possible, it requires confronting a formidable obstacle: distraction in all of its forms.

Distraction: The Opposite of Presence

Getting in a mindset to be present and get past distraction is no easy task. As reported by Forbes, Stanford University’s Dr. Fred Luskin produced research indicating that the human brain goes through roughly 60,000 thoughts a day – with 90% of those thoughts being repetitive. This means that out of the gate, you are already competing with your own brain to focus on one thing at a time.

Other studies confirm that distraction at work is indeed epidemic, causing millions of dollars of lost productivity per year. Inc. Magazine recently compiled statistics from online learning company Udemy, and in their survey found that “70% feel distracted when they're on the job, with 16% asserting that they're almost always distracted. The problem is biggest for Millennials and Gen Zers, with 74 percent reporting feeling distracted.”

The same study reports that the lion's share of the interference comes from the office environment itself. 80% blame co-workers and office noise as the top distractions. Around 60% consider meetings as an “interruption”. As Inc. points out, this is before you figure in the diversions of social media, email, and personal devices.

Any hope of changing our personal status quo from these troubling statistics requires a conscious change in ourselves.

So how can we begin to change?

Being Present Requires a Change in Behavior

It is not a glamorous answer, but it is the truth: being present requires a consistent change in behavior and habit.

For most, this means changing the working environment. Newport recommends creating a quiet space as free from distraction as possible, ritualizing how long you work and at what frequency, and keeping yourself accountable for results.

Big picture-wise, it’s important just to remember to stay in the present. Like most people who practice meditation know, you will fall out of focus from time to time – inevitable distractions will happen. But it’s important to notice it, let the distraction go, and get back to the practice of being present.

As some gurus say, “be where you are”. Or simply, “this is it”.

The quality of our presence is the first stepping stone to extract the most value out of time. But this is only the beginning – integrity with our time is also key. We must learn to respect the gift of others’ time by being accountable and literally present when there is an agreement to be there.

An hourglass sitting on rocky ground showing the passage of time
Neon sign that says “YOU ARE HERE” to symbolize the concept of “being present”
An alarm clock sitting on top of a café table with no one around


Time is one of the most valuable gifts we can give, as we can never get it back once we’ve given it away. The same is true about the time we receive from others. Yet so often we treat this gift from others casually, as if it doesn’t matter at all. This is where integrity becomes so important.

Being accountable for our time helps preserve its value for all involved. How many high-level meetings have you had that are derailed because people are constantly arriving later or leaving earlier than previously agreed upon?

Forbes writer Dan Pontefract laments“We scamper from meeting to meeting. We are late. We leave early. We check email, answer texts, and write reports while we’re supposed to be watching a kid’s soccer game. We pretend we’re paying attention to the conference call but instead we are crafting a PowerPoint presentation for our next meeting at 11:00 am… Leaders are in the middle of a coaching conversation with their team member when they suddenly remember they’re supposed to be somewhere else.”

To put it bluntly: showing up late or leaving early is a violation of integrity that has real costs. Being fifteen minutes late to a meeting robs the people of being able to receive the gift of your time and robs you from being able to receive the gift of their time. It is subconsciously saying their gifts are of no value to you (and consequently implying your gift has no value either). This is disrespectful, and in the long term, damaging to the business.

High level executive checking the time on his wrist watch while waiting for his coworkers who are late for the meeting

Integrity with Time Starts with Being ON Time

Around our office, we’ve heard James McPartland talk a lot about how you treat time as a measure of your integrity. He’s even written recently about how a business packed with star performers at the top of their fields was not performing up to expectations because of countless violations of integrity around time.

McPartland writes, “Upon further investigation of the company’s culture, I learned that it was common for employees to be late to meetings. Those meetings then often ran over the allotted time and still failed to accomplish everything on the agenda, if there was an agenda. Emails and calls from company leaders and even clients were ignored or answered late. It seemed that the cumulative effect of these seemingly small oversights, combined with a few inevitable factors (which were beyond anyone’s control), was leading to a failure to meet project timelines for clients.”

Of course, things come up, and sometimes someone has to be late. But as McPartland quotes one of his favorite studies, integrity is “a state of being in which one honors one’s commitments by either fulfilling them or acknowledging the failure to fulfill them, then offering to make amends.”

In other words – follow your word, and when that fails, make it right.

One thing that makes following your word so much more effortless is when your commitments are in service to your gifts. It is then that you are acting with intention.

Are you being intentional about your time?

Close up of a person’s hand holding up a big alarm clock that shows the time
Three people standing in front of Clock of the Musée d'Orsay
Close up of a person’s hand holding a wrapped gift to give away


Another way of asking that is: is your time being spent in service to the greatest gifts you have to bring to the world? Everyone has their own unique set of gifts inside of them. It is our responsibility to give them away. As McPartland so often says, “if you don’t give away your gift, you don’t get to keep it.”

Even if you are fully present with your time, and in absolute integrity with how you spend it with others, ultimately its highest potential will be wasted if you are not using your greatest gifts a greater percentage of the time.

Successful athletes know how powerful it is when your intentions and gifts line up with how you spend your time. An intention of an NBA player, or any professional athlete for that matter, is to win as much as possible. So how do they do this?

Nearly all the time they spend is in service to that intention. NBA players, on average, spend between 10 and 14 hours a day in service to winning a season, with the bulk of that time spent on exercising, conditioning and drills, as well as strategizing with gameplay films and recovering with therapies.

Similarly, a multi-million dollar business with a clear shared vision is immeasurably powerful. When everyone’s gifts are aligned with that intention and vision, it produces a multiplier effect. Time aligned with everyone’s individual gifts makes things happen far faster than one might think is possible.

Professional athletes know this phenomenon concerning intention very well. They often excel in other professional settings because they have internalized a principle of success that others often struggle with: the discipline of practice.

Intention with Time Takes Practice

Consistent practice of using and giving away your gift can change everything. If an athlete can spend 12 hours in exhausting physical exercise that challenges their comfort zones daily, then suddenly, limiting time catching up on emails doesn’t look so difficult.

But for so many, it is difficult to practice because it requires a change in behavior. Practice is not exciting, nor are the results of practice instantaneous. But over time, its cumulative effect brings massive success.

In The Slight Edge, Turning Simple Disciplines Into Massive Success and Happiness, author Jeff Olson points out that your success is determined by what you do every day. You have the same day to spend as everyone else. Shouldn't you spend it intentionally based on your gifts and vision?

Olson says, “The truth is, what you do matters. What you do today matters. What you do every day matters. Successful people just do the things that seem to make no difference in the act of doing them and they do them over and over and over until the compound effect kicks in.”

That means that if you haven’t been practicing presence, integrity, and intentionality with managing your time, then today is a great day to start. And the day after that.

Your time makes your gift to the world possible. You don’t get to keep that gift unless you give it away. How will you choose to give it?

Close up of a pocket watch in the palm of a hand

By: Gary Gunter

Staff Writer for James McPartland's Team



Top Down or Bottom Up, and Always From the Inside Out: Elevating Performance Starts with Integrity article by Executive Coach, Author & Speaker, James McPartland


From Unopened Gifts to Unstoppable Breathrough article by Executive Coach, Author & Speaker, James McPartland


Exemplify Responsible Leadership By Taking Radical Responsibility article by Executive Coach, Author & Speaker, James McPartland


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