I don’t have time to write this article. Seriously. I’m not being cheeky.
My early mornings and late nights have been sneaking in and taking over the hours that should be devoted to sleep. My kick ass time management system is bursting at the seams and begging for reinforcement. The next to-do pulls on my mind like my kid pulls on my skirt and the minutes swirl by faster than the spokes on my bike wheels whirl down Tenth Avenue carrying me to the next thing on the list. Friends, family, colleagues and clients are all waiting for something: a return phone call, email, a date to book, a doc to write, feedback to give on their new article or venture or boyfriend or hairstyle.
God is stamping her foot wondering where I’ve been. My deadlines are feeling more oppressive than the low ceilings in my office and the carrots need thinning in the garden which I guess I’ll do in that 15 minutes between clients before the yoga class which will lead me into that dinner I’m going to before getting home, emptying my inbox, reading a book for 30 minutes with a cup of tea to ensure my sanity before snuggling in for a short, deep sleep and getting up at 5am to do it all over again. And while I wrote that last sentence my son was hollering “Mooooooooooommmmmmmm, come wipe my buuuuuuuuuum.”
Ok, where were we? Time. Right. Not enough of it. Let’s all hold hands in a big circle here and share in the pity party that we’re too busy and there’s not enough time to get done what needs to get done. I didn’t just give you that laundry list because I think there’s anything unique about it, or important or revolutionary. In fact the ‘I’m so busy’ narrative is rather boring. Who isn’t? How often to you meet someone who’s floating around with a ton of time and not looking to the next moment of what needs doing? Maybe if they’re naked and high on mushrooms on wreck beach, but I don’t think I need to argue that most of us feel like there’s not enough time to do all that we want or need to do and feel some stress and angst about it.
So this article is about how, for only four payments of $49.95, I will send you my new and revolutionary time management system that you can implement in just 3 minutes per day! Just kidding. How absurd. I’m not so interested in how to manage time and tasks. That’s a lie. I am interested in it, but I’ve got nothing to teach you there, and quick google search will lead you to more resources for time management than there are asses peaking out of skirts at your local high school.
What’s more interesting to me is our relationship to time. What’s with the feeling of time speeding by? What’s with that feeling when time slows right down? What’s with the busy compulsion? Why are we doing that?
Just about every client I’ve ever worked with, heck just about everyone I know, does the same thing. You have a list of what needs to be done in a day. You go through the day knocking those things off your list. At the end of the day, you have failed to complete all the items (failure!) So whatever didn’t get done gets bumped to the next day. And on and on and on.
What’s happening here? At what point do we stop and say, “Why do I always choose more to do than can get done?” Do we really think we’ll get it all done? Are we just hoping? Do we like having more to get done than can get done as a way to pressure ourselves because we know if we have less to do we’ll just put it off? Do we have some inner narrative running about not being enough? Or being behind in life? And so this behaviour has us both running away from while also reinforcing that belief? Are we aching for release and so we cram in everything we can possibly think of to accomplish so that we eventually feel the satisfaction of completion? What does having the next item queued up, do to our physical and mental pace and wellbeing? Are we even asking ourselves any questions about how we relate to time and move within it or is this experience completely externalized, made up only of tasks to be done and time available?
Fact: How we move through time and space impacts our experience of it.
“There’s not enough time,” is an experience, not an actuality. It’s an experience that’s alterable.
If we’re speeding around, it will feel like time’s speeding by. If we move at a slower pace, it will feel like time’s slowing down. But where we get hooked is thinking that if we slow down we will be less productive and thus get behind on all of these massively important things we’re doing. Which is bullshit. Which I’m going to argue some points about...now.
Years ago, I sped a lot when I drove. Always rushing from this place to that, running about 10 minutes behind. The car was where I was going to catch up. I wondered to myself when I would stop speeding. Would it be when I got in an accident? Would it be when I became a parent? When does it click for a reckless driver that speeding isn’t okay? I figured since I was having the thought, I might as well give it a try and stop speeding. So I did. A weird thing happened. It didn’t take me any longer to get anywhere. For serious. Factor in all the other cars, the traffic lights, stop signs, all that business. It FEELS like you’re getting somewhere faster because you’re rushing between cars, speeding ahead of others. But ultimately, you’re rushing from red light to red light.
This is a great metaphor for how we relate to time. When we’re piling it on, rushing and driving and striving and pushing and task switching, it FEELS like something is happening, like we’re getting somewhere, like things are going fast. The downside being, that as our speed increases, so does the experience of time passing and we end up feeling like there’s less time. So we cut corners or pack more in and push and drive and strive. Additionally, the racing mind contributes to our experience of time. Even if our bodies aren’t moving frantically, even if we’re not in action at all, but our minds are racing (particularly if they’re racing through narratives about having too much to do and not enough time,) it will feel like there’s not enough time.
While our bodies are moving at a fast pace, and our minds are moving at a fast pace, the ways in which we are IN time makes it feel like there’s not enough of it. Two main players of this experience are states and energy expended.
Some states are resourceful. Some are not resourceful. We can certainly move and think quickly and be in a resourceful state, like when we’re invigorated or challenged and joyfully, creatively expressed. But when we start to experience the race against time, rather than moving resourcefully within time, we begin to lack the ability to be fully present and also fully productive, actually thwarting the very thing we’re gunning for. At a high energy level, non-resourceful states feel like anxiety, fearfulness, anger or agitation and that pressured, fluttering compulsive, overwhelming need to get somewhere (so I’ve heard). At lower energy levels this feels like defeat, exhaustion, apathy and depression that can lead to that good old friend, collapse.
When managing our states to maintain healthy resourcefulness, we can look to our energetic input and output. Wherever you spend your energy, movement happens. So if all the energy you’re expending is on thinking and stressing about things, the movement is in your mind and in your physiology and that, my friends, is downright exhausting.
If you’re task switching every two minutes, it may seem like you’re being productive and getting a ton accomplished, but how much energy does it take to shift attention, modes or tasks? It takes energy to pull your iPhone out of your pocket and slide that little thing across the screen and it takes energy to think about how you’re going to reply to that email (even though you’re not going to do it right now.) It takes energy to resist doing that thing that’s grating at you that you don’t want to deal with; it takes energy to leave something incomplete to go tend to something else that demands your attention. It takes energy to push quickly through a task rather than use less force. It takes energy to respond to a text while in the company of others and it takes energy to fend against the subtle offense of the person you’re with. It takes energy to be distracted and pressured and arming up against the potential disaster that you may have to deal with and it takes energy to say that you don’t have the energy to deal with something right now.
We live in a world with constant requests and demands for our attention and endless places where we can easily expend energy. How much attention do you pay to how your energy is really spent? How much energy is bleeding out by simply reacting to stimuli or following a stress impulse? When I have a deadline for a piece of work that feels mammoth, I absolutely spend more energy thinking about and talking about the project than I actually do sitting my ass in my chair and getting the work done. This is insane. When we are being and believing that there’s not enough time, we’re more likely to flit around, stress out and leak energy by worrying, fretting, panicking, resisting and dramatizing.
Every thought, action, resistance of action, all of it takes energy. If we start to relate to our energetic selves as a bank account that we are debiting and crediting, we may look closer at the small ways in which our energy is leaking out. In money management, this is called the latte factor. You buy a latte every day and while it may seem like a few bucks here and there, by the end of the month, you’ve spent $400. If you check your email on your phone, in bed, the second you wake up, you’re already spending energy on something that may not be productive at all.
There are moments throughout the day where we can begin to gather energy, nourish ourselves, top up this bank account: a short meditation, silence and a cup of tea, deep breaths, a walk in nature, moving slowly. These may seem like they take time and who has the time for that? But if you add up all that time and energy switching from one thing to the next to the next and do less of that, as well as consider how being overwhelmed, tired, anxious and stressed impacts productivity levels, taking time to not get things done will allow for more space, calm, peace and resources to better deal with all of those demands with more focus, clarity and ease.
Putting your attention on changing such habits takes energy. But I assure you, it’s energy well spent. A practice that one of my colleagues offered me, that I delight in giving to my A-type, revved-up, speed-demon, results-oriented, endearingly-busy clients is to do an everyday activity such as grocery shopping or doing dishes or folding laundry at 1/3 our regular speed. So if someone was watching you, you’d look like you’re moving in slow motion. This practice is a special kind of hell for task-list tickers. Thoughts get louder, anxiety pumps harder, resistance intensifies, and tension bears down. But after doing it every damn day for several months, something magical happens (that’s right...it takes time). Time opens up. Things slow down, presence becomes pregnant with scent and texture and sensation. Attention seizes to flit all over the place and the felt experience is that of peacefully moving through molasses all the while getting MORE DONE. I shit you not.
This lesson I seem to have to learn over and over and over again...You want more time? Slow down. Slow. Down. S l o w . . . . d o w n . . . .
In this wild and crazy lightening fast world, finding the pause, the silence, the moment of non-moment that exists between moments is not only difficult, the importance of it is marginalized. There is such a strong pull towards the exterior, towards impacting our external world or using that external world to impact us. When it feels like there’s just not enough time, the habitual and default place to look for solutions is outside of ourselves. We may try to improve our systems, or say no to things, draw boundaries with others or move faster. All of these are effective and certainly impact our experience. But it seems to me that we share in a conspiracy that our external results or external effects are what’s going to alter our experience, that going to work on our direct inner experience is somehow a waste of time. But taking the time to manage our energy in subtler and subtler ways brings us more fully into presence with what’s really going on. Suddenly what needs doing, what’s next and what’s overwhelming, while still on the list, doesn’t hook us with the same kind of intensity.
Edited By: Chris Dierkes and Scott Payne