Today I'd like to draw your attention to an extremely popular but thoroughly toxic story that most of us are consistently, horrendously guilty of telling ourselves on a loop in our heads all the time, which is:
"There's just never enough TIME!"
Last week I received an email from a friend and reader who asked how I find the time to write every week, which he is "too busy" to do.
Pretentiously, I wrote back about MAKING TIME for your art, and how even though some days I'd rather stick forks in my eyes than sit down and write, I make the time, damnit, and isn't it interesting how time is our most precious resource, the one thing we can never have more of, and yet we consistently tell ourselves the story that we are time-poor?
I bet he rolled his eyes at that email.
Today, I found myself rushing around, furiously scribbling down and crossing things off my list, repeating the same imprisoning story about how there's just NOT ENOUGH TIME in the day to send ALL the emails and make ALL the calls and prepare ALL the documents, AND please the client AND do the colleague the favor AND write my Sunday story ahead of time AND find parking downtown at rush hour AND lead tonight's workshop AND pack my bags for the trip to Death Valley that starts tomorrow at 5:45 AM.
NEVER MIND eating, or bathing, or going for that walk you promised yourself on this beautiful sunny Californian day with all those obnoxiously gleeful birds chirping outside.
Standing in my kitchen, scarfing down a plateful of leftovers as I mentally divided remaining minutes by proliferating things to accomplish, I had the thought:
"I definitely DON'T have time for a walk. Which means I'm about to sit back down at my computer, alternately typing and banging my head on the keyboard until it's time to get in the car."
Which was promptly followed by another thought: "Screw THAT."
Defiantly marching down the nature path ten minutes later, I loudly announced to the surrounding trees:
"YES, there is PLENTY of time for me to go on this walk, AND write my Sunday story AND prepare for my client AND be generous with my colleague AND take a shower AND find parking at rush hour AND deliver a workshop AND pack my backpack AND GET A FULL NIGHT'S SLEEP before I leave for Death Valley tomorrow at 5:45am!"
Anyone higher up on the network of trails might have heard my voice bellowing from the riverbank to the sky about the absolute bounty of time at my disposal:
"YES, there is PLENTY of time, because TIME is ALL we have and there is ALWAYS plenty of time."
And when I glimpsed a lovely purple flower offering itself to the world next to the sidewalk leading back home, you're damn right I stopped to smell it -- and although it didn't smell that great, I got to feel the THRILL of being present for it.
Now, you don't have to act like a crazy person shouting to no one in the middle of the forest to cultivate an ABUNDANT-TIME mentality -- but if you want to quit being TIME-POOR, and start being TIME-RICH -- here are a few humble suggestions:
1. Know that work expands to fill the time you give it.
We've all developed certain expectations around how much time it takes us to do x thing. But sometimes, what you assume will take two hours can actually be done in one, if that's what you decide to give it.
Normally it takes me at least 2 hours to write and post a Sunday story, but today I decided to write it in one. You might think it will take you an hour to get that proposal looking perfect, but what if you only gave yourself 30 minutes? Often it's our perfectionism that takes the extra time, forcing us to compulsively change around the tiniest details because it just looks nicer that way.
I'm all for doing your best; but sometimes your best can be achieved in half the time. Set a timer for the investment you want to make, and re-assess when it goes off.
2. Get really good at managing other people's expectations.
Just now, as I sat down to write this, a client emailed to ask if I could take on a new project. (First thought: WHY DO YOU HAVE YOUR EMAIL OPEN WHEN YOU ONLY HAVE ONE HOUR TO WRITE YOUR DAMN SUNDAY STORY.) I looked at my calendar and replied yes, I can fit 10 hours in over the next two weeks.
Of course, the client ALWAYS wants it sooner than that. And we both know I COULD make it happen faster; but squeezing 10 hours into whatever pockets of freedom I still have next week will DEFINITELY make me feel time-poor. There would be no room to cook or read or play or exercise, and as soon as you sacrifice the things that keep you sane you will end up RESENTING everything else, which is rarely a recipe for producing great work -- and definitely not the reason anyone goes into business for themselves.
Instead, consciously give others a timeline that adds ZERO extra stress to your life, and be sorry-not-sorry. If it's an emergency, they'll let you know -- and you can make another decision (or if you are feeling so bold, apply a rush fee,) at that point.
3. Stop multi-tasking.
The evidence is in: multi-tasking is a myth. When you think you're getting several things done at once, research shows that you're really just toggling back and forth, which makes things take longer and causes stop/start energy drain.
It also means you're never really giving your whole attention to what's in front of you. And whole attention -- call it presence or focus or flow, that elusive state that descends when the rest of the world falls away -- is where productivity soars.
4. Quit anticipating the thing you have to do next.
This is a natural extension of the principle of whole attention, aka being present. It's super simple in theory, but MUCH harder to practice. It simply means that whatever you're doing or experiencing in the present moment, is the only thing that's real.
When you're brushing your teeth, you're not thinking about the email you have to write. You're simply experiencing what it's like to brush your teeth. When you're in the Lyft to the meeting, you're in the Lyft, listening to Mohamed talk about a book called Evolve Your Brain and the fact that sugar is just as addictive as cocaine -- rather than thumbing your phone, wondering whether you'll be late for the meeting, and worrying about what will happen if you are.
The past and the future, all the things you've done still have yet to do -- they are just stories that keep us running on a hamster wheel of distractedness, until the day we finally keel over from exhaustion.
Trust me -- there is another way, which is to realize how perfect and whole and safe you are in this very moment. Right now, and now, and now.
Truly, it's the only thing we've got.
In other words, if you want to see through the cognitive trap of linear time, stop asking yourself "what next?" and start asking yourself -- "what now?"