Taking Care with Time

Time, once measured by shadow, now by milliseconds, divides winner from loser, timely from tardy and now from any other point on the clock. Yet we are all granted the same playing field, available equally, to each of us on a daily basis. So why is it that this time of year, every year, we run short?

Once upon a time humans woke with the rising sun and rested with a grand display of color on the western horizon. We spent our days mostly outside in concert with the shade of the day, hunting and gathering, farming and ranching and going only as far as feet, either ours or our four legged friends, could carry us. I refer to this as organic time; our bodies in harmony with creation. Organic time is the window wherein we notice our thirst or hunger, our energy or fatigue, our ease or pain. It is our personal, physical home singing in concert with a greater choir.

As time passes, life lands us with greater complexity, both convenient and aggravating. We’ve taken up the illusion that we are unbound by time, or space, for that matter. If you’ve ever watched television where one can move from Moscow to Spain to Bali and back home within the hour, the illusion of time promotes the notion we can do more in an hour than is humanly or technologically possible. While most are familiar with the reports that watching violence via video has a desensitizing effect on violence in real life, much less newsworthy is how the same occurs with our relationship to time. Even though we all know it’s just “Hollywood,” there is an unacknowledged expectation that we, too, are able to be as swift.

We expect to be “faster than a speeding bullet.” Remember, that quote was originally taken from a COMIC book. It is funny – after all, we know it takes an hour to get to Austin and back, much less around the world. Our image of time as a commodity, “time as money,” has come close to nudging out the organic time of stopping to take stock of what is truly necessary for our best lives to be lived well. Check those expectations. We don’t really have less time in the Fall, we simply have more opportunities.

School is in swing. The newly acquired rhythms of the week are punctuated by pick-up and drop-off for the kids, sports practice and music lessons, homework and community gatherings. The lazy days of summer are a vague memory and retail marketers rush us headlong into Christmas before Halloween has had its turn to adequately frighten us. All this, and we still have the necessary tasks of work, bills, laundry, car maintenance and more lawn mowing required by the wonderful rain of late.

So, how do we manage to fit all those tasks into our 24-hour window and still get adequate rest, healthful meals, movement and recreation, much less keep the commitments we have to others and self?

Develop Good Habits

One way is to develop habits that support you. When we repeat actions over and over again we develop patterns. String those patterns together and rhythms result. Rhythms allow our more primitive brain to take over tasks with which it is familiar. Ever been driving your regular route home or to work, spaced out with all those great ideas flowing through your mind and come back to attention knowing you’ve been gone and wondering who was driving during your absence? This is habit at work. Great, if you intend to go to that familiar place; a time sink if you mentally wander and miss the exit to that less practiced destination.

Good habits allow our minds a recess from the mundane. Re-work is minimized. But, bad habits create lots of extra work, so be careful what actions you choose to practice. For instance, the simple habit of brushing teeth before bed eliminates the need to decide each and every night whether or not we WILL brush our teeth. If we decide we will, when? What are the consequences if we opt not to brush tonight, and are we willing to pay them? The decision process alone is time consuming and a practice all its own. Vacillating on a task drains time and distracts from more gratifying endeavors. Simply deciding what is best for your health and well-being eliminates a great deal of repeat decision-making and allows for more efficient use of time.


We have more choices than we have time. Learning to say no is a great time-management tool. Young children learn to say no before they say yes.  Without “no,” yes means nothing more than a weighty obligation that slows us down and infects the vitality of the yeses. Choose wisely, but choose.  When at a fine dining establishment we peruse the menu and make our selections based on personal preference. What makes our mouth water with desire helps sort out what we order. No way does our decision indicate that the other menu items are unattractive. In fact, the choice may not be an easy one. But since there is only so much we can eat at a time, it’s necessary to pick.

The same is true of invitations. Saying yes too much leads to a swirling cesspool of distractions. Saying “no” casts no aspersions on an alluring request. Rather, our dedication to remembering what it is that you want, along the constraints of time and space, reflect our integrity. Saying yes when you really would rather not leads straight to resentment. The recovery and repair needed in the wake of disgruntled assent is highly time-consuming for everyone involved—a black-hole for human energy.

Honor Your Choices

Commit time to what you choose to do. Calendars are critical for this. From wall calendar to day planner to iCal, the instruments change as the intricacies of daily life swell. Those blocks of time dedicated to certain activities help remind us of our human limitations and offer us a visual aid to what time we have “free” for frivolity.

Here’s a challenge. Sit down and designate what tasks reflect your choices this week—all of them. From morning ablutions through evening devotions take stock of how you spend your time and how much time it really takes to care for yourself well while meeting your commitments. Maintaining a well-tuned physical condition assists performance and optimizes what gets done in the time we have. Just as you budget your money, budget your time for the coming month. Choose the biggies, the small stuff will sift in. Don’t spend more than you have and spend it on what you truly want and need. Enjoy the time you spend.

The Biggest Difference

Attention expands time; distraction contracts it. With extensive research on the brain over the past twenty years, scientists generally agree that we can only focus on one thing at a time. The more concentrated our attention, the smoother the flow of information through the brain is processed. Because those neuro-nets are quite quick, we think we’re attending to more, but really, we’re not. Multi-tasking may seem more efficient, but interruptions take their toll on our time by requiring that we refocus, reorient and begin again rather than moving through to completion. How many times have I gone from stove to pantry only to open the door and stand with no idea what  I went there to find? I know I need something in the pantry, but all those entertaining thoughts that “preoccupied my mind” during my five-foot trek took me off-task and now I either gaze for a clue, mentally pondering my process or give up and go back to the stove only to recall the needed item and repeat the pantry path. What a waste of time.

Give your concentration to that upon which you choose to allot your precious time. In so doing, time slows down, expanding what we can process and appreciate. Interruptions of phone and family divert attention and are, in the end, inevitable. Life happens. Distractions abound. So, add  “cushion-time” to your PDA that you may take heart and finish what you started. To complete a task or goal offers great tidings of accomplishment, self-discipline and renewed motivation. In the meantime, enjoy the recess afforded by the disruption and thoroughly savor the interactions with those you love. The sooner you return to your agenda, the easier it is to reinstall your attention. See how far you can extend your time of focus. Stay with it a bit longer than is easily comfortable. Having a “commercial break” every thirteen minutes is costly.

It’s Fall. Time is tight, only to become more so in the downhill slide to year’s end. Perhaps it is because the end is in sight that we feel more rushed and overwhelmed by all there is to do. There is no inspiration like the deadline and 2010 is quickly coming to a close. Use organic time to keep your body working well. Decide how you want to spend your commodity time. Remain flexible. Add cushion-time. Keep your eye on what you want. Commit to your choices and tend them with wholeheartedness. In so doing, the passing of time stops and all we are left with is the moment.

Posted in Uncategorized on 10/14/2010 12:13 pm

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