The Luxury of Time

Imagine you have six months to travel—free time to go anywhere you want, do anything that pleases you.

Where would you go and with whom? What experiences would you seek out? What parts would you enjoy the most?

I have several friends who recently fulfilled this fantasy. One—I’ll call her “Arlene”—spent six months with her husband and four children in Bali, Indonesia. Another, “Marc,” sailed a catamaran with his wife and two children, first in the Caribbean, then across the Atlantic to Europe.

Different people, different choices: Yet when I asked each what they treasured most about the experience, their responses were identical. They didn’t focus on the beautiful landscapes, the adventures, the people, the food, or the activities. Those things contributed to their experience, but what they treasured most was a precious gift that snuck up and surprised them: the luxury of time.

“We’ve been married more than 15 years,” Arlene told me, “and yet this was the first time we ate three meals a day together, every day, for weeks on end. It was a delight.”

Marc, speaking of his children, said, “At first they were bored, confined to a small boat. But soon they began to evolve. My daughter baked fresh breads. We all stretched into the abundance of time.”

Here’s what’s amazing: The most precious experience we would get from living out that six-month escape fantasy is available to us right here, right now, without the travel.

We can reclaim the luxury of time.

I know what you’re thinking: We already have more to do than we have time for. With hundreds, sometimes thousands of friends on Facebook, and a continuous flow of emails, texts, and tweets, we’re overwhelmed with data and underwhelmed with our lives.

Yet with all of our activity, we are actually less productive. Try this three-minute quiz, derived from my own time-management failures, to see how productive—or unproductive—you are.

We need to rethink how we manage our time. The problem with most time-management advice is that it’s not really about managing time, it’s about organizing work. The premise is that if we just organize ourselves better, we can get it all done.

But that’s a fallacy. We can’t get it all done. There is simply too much to do.

The secret is in our choices. We need to decide—upfront and strategically—what to do and what to ignore. On a sabbatical, most of those decisions are made for us, which is why we can relax into time. Simply by deciding to sail across the Atlantic, Marc made choices to spend more time with his family, with books, and with nature and less time with others, with television, and with his computer.

But, in real life, we need to choose more proactively. Here are a three ways to achieve your most important priorities while enjoying the time-luxury feeling of a sabbatical:

Choose your Top 5. Choose five major areas on which you want to focus. My areas include things like Speak and write about my ideas; Do great work for my current clients; and Nurture myself and my family. Your areas of focus will be different, just make sure to diversify. If you’re looking for a job, that should be one area of focus, but not all five. Make sure you are doing other things that you value, such as learning a new language or training for a triathlon. And make sure that the work you do in each of these areas places you in your sweet spot: at the intersection of your strengths, weaknesses, passions, and differences, so that you can’t help but succeed and feel fulfilled.

Spend 95 percent of your time in your Top 5. I created a Six Box To-Do List (you can download a template from my website). Each of your Top 5 areas of focus gets a box. Label the sixth box, “the other 5 percent.” Then write each of your to-dos in the appropriate box. At first, when I kept this list, the only box I could fill was “the other 5 percent.” But soon, I filled the other boxes and started spending my time in the areas I most wanted to focus on.

Say “No, thanks.” The only way we can relax into our most important priorities—and do them well—is by doing less of other things. That means politely declining almost everything that doesn’t fit in your Top 5. That might mean detaching from Facebook, or switching from a smartphone to a dumb one. It might mean getting off a committee. I developed a “No, thanks list” consisting of 27 simple examples when, in my opinion, “no, thanks” was the best response to eliminate distraction and help me maintain my focus. If you took a sabbatical, you would be forced to say “no, thanks” to many things, but since you’re not away, you have to be deliberate, disciplined, and proactive with your “no, thanks.”

Following these three tips might not get you to Bali, but it will reduce how much you’re doing, while keeping the things you are doing in your sweet spot and in the areas you most care about. And that might just make it feel like you’re in Bali.

– Originally published in


  1. kamekish says:

    Hi Bregman, Great tips and nice presentations. I have been following your 18 minutes tips and I find it so great.

    I could understand the meaning and implications more because I myself have been proactively propagating the idea of UNLEARNING and I feel it resembles when you say – “We need to decide—upfront and strategically—what to do and what to ignore.” This what to ignore is a challenge and for this we need to make unlearning list. Unlearning at different stages, different level and different perspectives.

    Making a list of top 5 and working for them for 95% time is a great concept and I felt privileged to read these ideas. Thanks… keep going.

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      I love the concept of unlearning and it’s so true.

  2. Hi peter,
    Excellent article(as always)!I have thought about and implemented the smartphone to dumbphone strategy as also spending definite slots in front of the computer.
    Great advice from a great author!

  3. Pankaj Taralkar says:

    amazing tips Peter!! would certainly try to implement them in my life (however hard i would find it to donate 95% of time for top 5…). i certainly would reduce my facebook and mobile usage. however i also must add that i find it extremely difficult to say no to people, i just end up saying yes, when, most of the time, i want to say no. this is one area i have to improve on and i don’t know how am going to do it. i feel i am hurting people by saying no to the things. hope you will help me out in this!

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Hi Pankaj – I understand your feeling – it is truly hard to say no sometimes. It does feel like we may be hurting people. But, overtime, if we give too much of ourselves away, we end up hurting ourselves – and then others by extension. We drop the ball. We get passive aggressive. We wear ourselves down. And we end up living someone else’s life.

      It’s not that we say no to everyone and everything – but we make more conscious and intentional decisions about when to say yes and when to say no.

      The best way to begin is to try it – gently and politely – every once in a while . . .

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    2. Tatjana Fischer-Driessen says:

      I have found that saying ‘yes’ but doing ‘no’ is much more destructive to relationships that saying ‘no, thanks’ in the first place.

    3. Susan Danon says:

      Saying “no” is a real problem, not wanting to hurt people’s feelings and this discussion is a big help. It is SO true that one can do more and in fact quite a lot of harm by saying “yes’ when there is nothing left to give and the answer should have been “no”.

  4. Thanks for the practical advice. Making time for creative activities tends to give all of my areas of work a boost. I appreciate the “six box to do list.” It’s simple, and it’s reproducible.

  5. At first I was going to say, please not another fantastical story about ACTUALLY having the means to go on these trips. Especially now that we are being pelted with competing interests like “oh I need to make the mortgage this month. Can we afford vacation this summer?”
    Anyway, thanks for writing a very real and very accessible article WITH fantastic tools!

  6. Paul Copcutt says:

    Some good suggestions here – love the idea of a no travel sabbatical – will have to see how can plan that in! Just bought the book this week on recommendation of Dan Pink on Facebook – so there is some value to that dangerous time suck! – Just my toonies worth.

  7. Tatjana Fischer-Driessen says:

    Last week, during school fall break and the kids at the grandparents, I spent two entire days with my husband at the dinner table talking like we use to do before we had kids about what’s important to us, and thus where our focus should be. What a revelation! We decided we would do this from now on every six month, to review our True North and see if we are still on course.
    Spending those two days felt like having been away on a long, long vacation, no, better!

  8. Santhosh Sundararaman says:

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the useful tips. I especially like how you complement your tips with real life examples. It’s amazing how often we unknowingly lose time because of technology and going un-techie often times proves more productive.

    Love your blogs and thanks for writing.

  9. John Supera says:


    Out of curiosity, what were the circumstances that led to your friend’s sabaticals? I am envious and am tempted to see if I could manage to do something similar with my own family, even if it is only for a month. As a business owner, the idea seems impossible but I bet it can be done. I would appreciate understanding how your friends made it work for all family members involved.


    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Hi John – One friend is wealthy and they just took off. The other spent most of their money on the boat and the trip and he found a job (senior level guy) at the end of the trip. What I heard from both of them is that if it’s a priority you’ll need to spend a few years working out the details and then make it work.

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