But I don’t have enough time! – A Discourse on Modern “Time-Management”

So busy, but good

No time, I’m late! – Photo Credit Flik – https://www.flickr.com/photos/flik/2533996623/

The modern day lament of “there just aren’t enough hours in the day” seems to ring true with everyone I know. Parents, singles, business owners, employees, men, women, rich and poor. Basically anyone over the age of 12 is now conditioned to respond “So busy…but good!” when asked “How’s it going?”

I’ve personally been feeling the crunch lately and found myself falling into the trap of an exasperated sigh followed by the standard “SBBG” reply as my default. It’s kind of like when I don’t actually listen to the guy at the movie counter who says “Enjoy your movie!” and I say “You too! Ummm…I mean…have a good night…*awkwardly stumbles away*

I’m so deep in the mindset of “you’re SO BUSY” that I don’t even have time to actually listen to you. I am already prepped with my answer and it’s gonna prove how much stuff I have going on. You wanna compare? Let’s go. I just moved which means I’m ready to trump basically anything other than pregnancy, divorce, or death of a loved one that you want to throw at me.

But that’s the thing. It’s not a competition and yet for some reason we all seem to treat it like one. It’s not a new idea that “busy” is a status symbol. Imagine what you’d think if you asked someone “How’s it going?” and they said “Good. Just got so much free time right now I don’t know what to do with it all. I’ve taken up crocheting just because I can. Just trying to fill the day with something.

WHAT?!?

Don’t you have something to do? Did you just get fired? Do you have a sugar daddy? What do you mean “free time?”  I can barely make it home in time to walk the dog let alone learn a new skill. This guy is a weirdo.

Thinking on this collective bend towards SBBG I have to wonder: what do we get out of it? If we’re the ones who structure our lives (more or less) then why do we try and shove so much in? Is it because the clock is ticking on this mortal coil and we need to get as much in there as we can before we’re feeding the flowers?

Is it because we feel better about ourselves when we’re in a flurry of action? I know one of the worst things someone could call me is lazy (even though I’m constantly telling myself that I am just that and if left to my own devices I would gain 300 pounds, stop performing all non-mission-critical tasks and devolve into a tv-watching-hot-pocket-eating-mongoloid who laughs at his own farts).

Is it because we find it difficult to “justify” free time or self care?

Side note: I worked as a massage therapist for years in Washington, DC (one of the wealthiest areas of the country with some of the most overworked and stressed out people on the planet) and spa after spa and therapist after therapist had a difficult time getting clients to come in to take care of themselves even though they had the means to pay for it. An investment in ourselves often times feel like a luxury we can’t afford to explain to others.

Take the test.

Your coworker strolls in after their lunch break looking pretty blissed out. You ask her what’s got her all smiley and she tells you she just came back from a massage. What do you think? Probably a combination of “I’m so jealous, I wish I could get a massage” and “Seriously? Isn’t she worried the boss will find out? What is she thinking?!” (Never mind the multiple studies that suggest a weekly massage actually improves your productivity at work.)

So why keep this up? Why this overarching commitment to being super busy…but good? Sure, life takes some work. Sometimes you’ll pull long nights. Sometimes you may get a last minute project you weren’t planning on or something will go awry which means you’ve suddenly got to saddle up some extra responsibilities. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about this underlying urge to make sure we’re so busy we can barely think.

I think (see what I did there) that a lot of this is avoidance. That’ll look different for everyone and I’m not saying just because you’re busy means you’re hiding deep seated daddy issues. (You might be…I was) What I am saying is that this desire to fill every waking minute with something…(hello Candy Crush, Facebook and Tinder) keeps us from focusing on anything. We’re a culture of multi-taskers and research tells us time and time again that this is a productivity killer. 

“But I’m different! I get so much more done because I’m a REALLY GOOD multi-tasker.”

Of course you are. Everyone thinks they’re amazing at it because if we’re good at that then we’re clearly so busy we have to be good at it and that feeds the original SBBG monster.

So if avoidance is part of the…Jesus, I just checked my phone in the middle of this sentence just to make sure I hadn’t missed an e-mail.

If avoidance is what we’re getting out of SBBG what click here are we protecting ourselves from? I think, by and large, we have gotten less adept at being with perceived “negative” emotions and feelings. If you’re a human (which I must assume you are unless your human has put this on for you because audiobooks make you think someone is in the house with you) then you feel negative emotions. You feel negative emotions everyday. You harbor negative feelings and thoughts. You judge others and feel simultaneously bad about it and self-righteous at the same time. At least I’m not that guy. Her skirt is ugly. He’s such a terrible employee. Ugh, what an awful mother.

We (generally) don’t speak these out into the world because of decorum and our desire not to be hit but we still think them. We also think them, to an exponential degree more, about ourselves. You’re such an idiot. Why can’t you get your shit together? You’re screwing it all up again. You’re a bad mother. You’re so lazy. You look gross. Your family sucks which means you suck. You wanna be an artist? That’s ridiculous. You’re ridiculous. Who could ever love this?

Oof. None of that feels good. We inflict those thoughts on ourselves all the time though…unless of course we’re busy.

“Let me stop you right there Strother. I don’t think the key to better time management is feeling my feelings.”

Don’t worry I’m not advocating (solely) for that.

With all of our multi-tasking and the noise we have in our life we don’t have to wait more than a couple of seconds before we can get some type of stimulations. Bored at work? You have millions of articles to read if you’d like. Standing in line got ya down? Hello there iPhone! Long commute putting you dangerously close to being alone with your thoughts? Nice to see you again radio or bluetooth! Thanks for saving me from myself.

What happens when we just stop? We often feel uncomfortable. Go ahead try it. Stop reading this and just sit. Take a deep breath and just hang out. Try it for 1 full minute. Set a timer on your phone now.

Seriously try it. I know you’ve already invested a lot of time into reading this you might as well get the full effect.

I’ll wait.

What was that like? A minute is a lot longer than you think it is. Did you make it through the whole thing? Did you say “screw this” and go back to the article because you didn’t want to “waste anymore time”? What’d you think about with a full uninterrupted minute to yourself? I’m not saying there’s anything you should have thought about just that it’s worth noticing what comes up.

Well congrats. You had your first introduction to meditation just now. How sexy.

Meditation is one of the tools I have (somewhat begrudgingly) worked into my daily schedule. I sometimes miss it and I’m certainly not perfect but after a month challenge (it’s how I do things) I really feel it when I don’t take the time.

We’ve veered off the “time-management” side of this article a bit. I promise there’s a point though!

We can’t really manage time. That’s an illusion. You can only direct your attention and your intention. What you are focusing on and what you’re committed to doing. These may wax and wane but the only thing we can actually manage are these two things. Time marches on whether or not we “manage it” (and we can of course get into the illusion of what is time and is it real and distance from a black hole relativity etc. etc. but I doubt that’s what you read this far for).

If you want “better time management skills” then focus on where you’re actually putting your attention.

(Full disclosure I wrote till about 8 paragraphs ago in a burst of productivity then put this article down for a good 2 months…irony not lost.)

Is it planning that trip you’ve been meaning to go on? Is it meditating? Is it finishing that article? Is it applying for a new job?Is it anything that moves you closer to the thing your intention? If you want to be good at “time-management” then get good at directing your attention.

Guess when you’re not good at that? When you’re overworked, stressed and exhausted.

It’s easy to say “I’m so tired I’m just gonna go crush some candy for a bit” when you haven’t slept or paid attention to your mental health. Meditate, work out, take a leisurely walk, take care of yourself. Your attention will fly away faster than flappy bird if you aren’t present.

So try it out. Be present. See what you can accomplish in just 15 minutes of fully present. No distractions. No smart phones. No office chatter. No articles. No “maybe I should schedule that meeting with Tom” daydream’s. Pick the thing you’ve been putting off. Commit to focus on it for 15 minutes no matter what. Even if nothing comes out of your brain you will focus exclusively on it and nothing else even if that means you sit and stare at a blinking cursor for 15 minutes.

I guarantee you will be closer to done and fulfilling your intention if you focus in your attention for even a short period of time.

Unicorns focus through their horn…find yours.

–Strother–

PS: I wrote the last half of the article in 15 minutes after putting it off for 2 months.