If you are anything like the other millions of Americans, the term "time poverty" may be new to you, but you are very familiar with the relentless feeling that you don't have enough time to get everything done you want to accomplish. Even though I still have the same number of hours in the day as I did when I was a kid, I seem to be saying more and more, "There just aren't enough hours in the day, I don't have enough time."
How do we step off the metaphorical treadmill of feeling we're spending all our time and energy without the reward of feeling like we've moved forward? How many of you go to bed more often than not ruminating about all the things left undone and waking the next morning feeling overwhelmed and under equipped to calmly manage the day's demands since time (and maybe sleep) are scarce? Even in a time of modern conveniences that are meant to save time we still struggle with having enough.
Busyness has become the norm, and perhaps a badge of prestige. Popular myth states being busy means we must be important, in demand, popular, etc. Showing up fashionably late is acceptable, and a necessary evil when we wear the badge of busyness. When we live in a culture that believes "time is money," who can afford to slow down? When we hustle for our self-worth, or measure the quality of our lives by the size of our salary we are bound to buy into the idea that having more money than time is normal and desirable. How many people do you know that did not take their full allotment of paid vacation leave last year?
Constant busyness can also serve as a distraction from not-so-great feelings we may be avoiding. Being constantly busy looks more acceptable and perhaps noble than other techniques we use to numb challenging feelings like drugs and alcohol, overeating, binge watching television. It may feel easier to stay busy with our children, or work when our marriage is failing or we're struggling with other issues. At the end of the day, even after we're exhausted from the busyness the problems we are avoiding are still there.
Now with the use of internet, social networking, and accessibility we are inundated with a multitude of choices of what to buy, where to go, how to spend our time, and who to befriend. All these choices make it challenging to commit to a decision and often leave us second guessing ourselves, and contributing to FOMO or a fear of missing out. How does FOMO affect our usage of time? How many of you skip the end of a book, or the end of an article because you might come across something more engaging? How many of you wait to the last minute to make a social commitment in case something more appealing comes up? In the meantime you may be really missing out due to your lack of mindfulness and presence.
I am already familiar with several ideas to win my time back; staying organized, prioritizing, delegating, practicing mindfulness, and setting boundaries. I am also grateful for modern conveniences; I own a dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer, and a vehicle. I am physically well enough to complete most of what I need to get done independently. Yet, I've seem to hit a road block. I'm aware but have not yet learned to effectively practice what it means to have enough time.
So I asked what anyone would ask, "Is there an app for that?" Luckily, I did find an application I could use easily to track how I spend my time. Tracking my time seemed like a good starting point though I was doubtful I would gain much insight since I believed I already had a good sense of how I spend my time. I just have too much to do. I decided to track my time for 30 days. After only two weeks the results were obvious. This is what I learned:
I talk incessantly about the importance that our behaviors align with our values. I believe the big picture of what I do reflects my personal values. I am in love with my work, family, and friends, being creative, learning, etc. However, how I spend my time on a daily basis does not reflect my values as much as I thought they did. Gretchen Rubin says it best, "What you do every day matters more than what you do once in awhile." Judging by my daily time reports it looks as though I really value, a clean house, work, and sleep. Though it feels radical, I am going to try to push myself on a daily basis to practice more of the things that bring me joy; quality time with family, creating, meaningful work, time with friends, and reading for leisure even if that means going against the norm and disrupting others' expectations.
I was a little worried at the start of this experiment that if I were to track every minute of my day I would have less patience for times that seemed wasteful and out of my control, like waiting in traffic. I was afraid I might become more stingy with my time. I was pleasantly surprised to realize three things; 1. I was able to better assess whether activities of my choosing were truly meaningful and brought me joy similar to choosing the freshly baked doughnut despite the calories. 2. I was more accepting of times that were out of my control like waiting for appointments and I could simply make the best of them. 3. I found that I was actually more generous with my time since all my time was being accounted for. As simple as it was to tap on a task to start the clock on the app, the act was a way for me to set my intention, commit to the task, giving myself permission to be completely present in the moment. In fact, the settings in the app could be adjusted to allow for multitasking, but I wanted to steer away from multitasking as much as possible. Focusing on one thing at a time truly felt like a gift (listening to my favorite podcasts while folding laundry was the only multitasking I did not give up). Less multitasking meant more focus and presence which actually increased productivity in some cases and increased joy in all cases.
Interestingly, having each listed task measured in minutes and displayed in a pie graph at the end of the day felt reassuring that I was not wasting time, everything was accounted for even the tasks that do not have a neat end product or tasks that never feel complete (like picking up the house with a toddler behind you). Seeing my day organized in time spent rather than measuring my productivity by tasks crossed off my "to do" list seemed to be the cure for the deflated feeling I get sometimes at the end of the day when I can't recall what I actually "accomplished."
Certainly, there are things I don't particularly like doing but they must be done. I found that I can find some joy in most cases. I do happen to like creating calm out of chaos, and arranging items so they are pleasing to the eye (which seems to be what a lot of housekeeping is). Even when I can't find the joy, I can definitely feel a sense of gratitude that I am capable of doing the task at hand even if it is imperfectly. I also recognize and feel gratitude for the privileges I've been given; I don't have to walk on foot for hours in search of clean water, I don't have to rely on a public transit schedule, I don't have to wait or depend on others to meet my family's basic needs. I have a lot to be thankful for. I found that some tasks are more manageable when they are a labor of love - making school lunches, care-giving for a loved one etc.
I don't want to have to track my time every day, so I am hoping to take away the following from this little experiment of mine. 1. Set the intention and commit. Physically block the time on my calendar, eliminate distractions, enforce boundaries to protect that time and be ever mindful and present in the moment. 2. Let go of FOMO and expectations. I don't want my worthiness nor my life to be built on money nor accomplishments. 3. Find the joy and gratitude. This experience taught me that finding enough time doesn't mean cramming as much as I can into every second of every day as a result of whatever existential anxiety I'm carrying around, but this experience taught me more about letting go. Let go of expectations- both my own and others', let go of the ego pressure to be important, in demand, and popular, and let go of the fear that I am supposed to be doing something else. I am meant to be here now.