Tag Archive | time management

“HYLMN”: Time-Bound


This is the first in a series I’m calling “HYLMN” (“How You Like Me Now?”) that I will do once a month with one of my posts from as far back as I can go. I’ve been posting since 2010, and there’s the question: how has the writing held up? Do I still believe in what I wrote?

Here we have the text of my post from August 22, 2012, called “Time-Bound” and an afterword as to whether I still feel like what I talked about was relevant:

That’s not writing. That’s typing. 

Truman Capote

Part three of the series (part one, part two) inspired by that awesome conversation on the front lawn has to do with a phrase that has been creeping into my vocabulary: Time-bound. Normally it’s just used to indicate a task or event that has to happen within a certain framework of time – either it takes a certain amount of time, or it needs to happen at a particular o’clock.

However, the word stuck around in my head and played around. Time-bound. Bound by time. Time as a substance that binds, that constrains. Hours, days, months and years as limits and containers and…

That’s when it hit me:

 We Are All Time-bound

In fact, that’s the one thing that we can be absolutely, unequivocally certain of. All humans are not created equal – variations in environment, circumstance, genetics, climate, etc all imply differences both subtle and vast. However, assuming you were born on planet Earth (and if you weren’t, please contact me, I’ve been dying to meet you) you have exactly as much time during the day as anyone else. Most of the world chooses to divide it into 24 hours of 60 minutes of 60 seconds each, but larger than that things get a little more tricky, like in Asia (different calendar) or Indiana (who needs Daylight Savings anyway?).

That’s the one place we’re equal: we all have the same amount of time. Allocating it, now, that’s not so easy – certainly circumstances come into play there as well, such as needing to spend hours of your day walking to and from a watering hole in order to feed your family, versus simply turning on the tap. Still, you make choices, every day, as to how you allocate and spend your precious and irretrievable stash of time.

Futura: the Preferred Font of Astrologists

via flickr CC courtesy Alan Cleaver

Make no mistake, you are bound by it. Bound for the future, that is! We are all time travelers, moving in the same direction at the same rate. Of course, that experience is subjective, much like getting on a bus you take to work every day and zoning out, suddenly realizing a quarter of an hour later that you’re there and not noticing any real passage of time. How it flew!

Meanwhile, the person sweating in the seat across from you is late for an important meeting with the boss which she is not prepared for, and the bus ride was the Longest Seventeen Minutes Of Her Life.

So: we are all both allocated the same amount of time, we get to choose how we allocate that precious store, and the experience is as variable as the progress of time is unstoppable. “Hold on a minute!” ain’t ever gonna happen, and “Just a second!” never really is. You can’t kill time or lose time, any more than you can peel off your shadow. Time was getting along fine before you were born, and tempus is going to keep fugit-ing on long after you die.

Since the only variables we have control over is how we allocate it and how we experience it, what’s the best thing to do? The answer is the same as the answer to the old riddle, how do you catch a very special rabbit?

Unique Up On It

Look, everybody’s got the same amount of time, but at the same time everyone is a unique individual. That means, I think, that the answer to “What is the best use of my time?” is Uniquely. In other words: what is the use of your time that is particular to you – that nobody else can do?

…the answer to “What is the best use of my time?” is Uniquely.

I’m not saying you have to be Michael Phelps and win more than anyone else, or be Tim Berners-Lee and invent something that would change the course of human history. There are many qualities of uniqueness, and there is something, some way of spending your time, that lends that inner glow to you. You know it when you do it – I get it, for example, sometimes when I’m writing for this blog. It’s that moment that you realize you’re doing what only you can do, and that’s when your time is best spent.

I believe that if you’re doing something that somebody else could do, you’re wasting time. More importantly, you’re wasting your time, and you’re never going to get it back. Let them do it, and get to work finding that thing that only you can do. If you don’t know what that is, then the best use of your time is figuring it out, because you’re the only one who can do that.

Gotta love consistently circular logic.

Drinking at the Task Bar

Please note, I am not saying you need to invent the great new successor to the wheel. I’m saying that there is something that you can do that is different than the way that anyone else does it. I’ll use the example of being an EMT.

via flickr CC courtesy Elvert Barnes

The job of an emergency medical technician is relatively simple: keep the bag of bones & blood & air we call a human from leaking too much before getting it to a hospital and making it someone else’s problem. There are all kinds of procedures and nifty tools and devices that go bing! to help accomplish that, plus the shiny box on wheels you get to drive really fast with blinky lights and the woop-woop box that makes people jump. It’s fun! I miss being an EMT.

But it’s not rocket science – no, it’s biology, and there are specific steps and procedures you do to keep that bag of skin warm and not-so-leaky. Lots of people learn that. Lots of people do the job quite well, treating the patient and dealing calmly with the emergency and taking home their paycheck because it’s their job.

On the other hand, some people have the bedside manner. They treat the person, not the patient, and they treat the trauma, not the injury. Their words help to calm the victim, their support helps calm their coworkers, and the hotter the stress gets, the more they shine.

I’ve seen this. I’ve been on a squad where two people were doing the same job. One seemed born to the role; the other seemed bored, going through the motions. Both were eminently capable and competent, but one brought their own unique talents and qualities to their work, while the other simply went by the book and took home their pay because they couldn’t be bothered to do anything else.

Don’t Type. Write.

And that’s the danger: to be caught in a Vortex of Competence. That’s when you find something that you are good at, that you can do, that you don’t mind doing, and that will give you all the cultural reinforcement that you’re doing something really worthwhile. Steven Pressfield would call it a “Shadow Career”:

Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us. 

– Turning Pro

Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean that something is good for you. Instead, that Vortex of Competence doesn’t eat you, it eats your time, and turns the journey of the time-bound into the equivalent of that mindless commute.

…that Vortex of Competence doesn’t eat you, it eats your time…

You can take small steps to change that – much like you can change a mindless commute into a pleasurable experience of an audiobook by a talented author. It may take nothing more than that whole idea of being more present in what you’re doing, of noticing what’s going on around you, how you are doing things.

Or, as I noted Monday, incremental changes may not work. You may need something more powerful to escape the Vortex of Competence, like moving across the country, or quitting your job, or leaving a not-quite-toxic-but-not-quite-healthy relationship. It’s scary! But if you’re going to be time bound, moving in the direction of greatest courage is usually a pretty good use of your minute-by-minute fuel source.

Here’s your homework; the due date is: whenever you want to stop wasting time:

Where are you time-bound?

How you like me now, Gray?

Well, as writings go, I’d give this a solid A-. The main criticism I would have of my young Seattle-living self was that I only paid lip service to the hard fact that while we have equal amounts of time, we are vastly unequal in our ability to utilize it in constructive ways.

I was falling into the “productivity trap” of people who pretend that writing three minutes a day will give you a masterpiece. It will give you something, sure, but it sure won’t be a beautiful polished work of art.

On the other hand, the conclusion I drew – that the best use of your time was to use it uniquely – is something I still very much believe, and have acted on. 

I also like the idea of the Vortex of Competence. It fits nicely into the concept of Deliberate Practice, and the idea that we need to keep pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones and into the places where our courage is needed.

Hat tip to my friend, patron, and writing buddy Karl for the idea for this post!

Finding the Time for Deliberate Practice

Along with the lovely delusion that reading about a skill is the equivalent of learning it, there is the idea that any practice is better than no practice. Need to work on writing? Carry around a notebook and write a paragraph while you’re waiting for the elevator! Want to learn to sing? Put on the music in the car on the way to work! Need to exercise more? Do squats while you’re in line at Starbucks! 

Aside from the fact that people may start looking at you funny, if your goal is deliberate practice, though, doing nothing can, in fact, be better than doing something. That’s because Deliberate Practice has to be mindful. You have to be entirely present – not thinking about work, not driving, not trying to figure out how to pronounce muffiacialatte. 

It’s why Deliberate practice works – because you are paying attention to what you are doing. Not that it means that you’re doing it right, of course – but rather, there’s nothing to distract you from all the things you are doing wrong (remember, deliberate practice is also Not Fun). 

When you’re “practicing” (quotes intentional) without paying attention to what you’re doing, you are letting all the bad habits and mistakes slip through, letting yourself zone out in the pleasure of the act. And hey, we’re all about pleasure here at Love Life Practice, but if you are trying to get better at a skill, letting yourself zone out is a pleasant kind of self-sabotage.

You’re better off finding other things to enjoy and do while you’re waiting. Try some mild creative exercises, like word puzzles or doodles or just letting your mind wander. Save the squats for when you can pay attention to the form, save the writing for when you can give the story the attention it deserves, and save the singing of the song you’re trying to get better at for when you can really hear and pay attention to the notes (On the other hand, go ahead and sing something else. The world needs more singing.

But Where Do I Find the Time, Gray?

Well, that’s the bad news.

You find it in the same place you find the time to do anything else you do: in the same pool of hours you and everyone else has.

And this is where I’m going to diverge from most personal development bloggers. I am not going to “just” you, or “simply” at you. You don’t just find more time. You don’t simply give something up easily so that you can do the practice time. You certainly can’t make more time.

You can only prioritize it.

The word prioritize literally means “make more important.” Which is pretty difficult when you’re a mother of three, or a single parent with a professional job, or struggling with illness or injury. There is a popular misconception that we all have lots of spare time that we are “wasting” on things like TV and social media – but for some, it is the brief respite that playing Two Dots gives us from the rest of the world that lets us get up and face our tasks later on. 

No, you don’t “just simply” do anything. You agonize, you deliberate, you weigh, you consider, you feel guilty, and maybe you are able to claw a few minutes – or, by the grace of All That’s Sacred, a blessed few hours – to actually do the work of Deliberate Practice on the thing you are working towards. 

Which, let’s remember, is Not Fun.

It is not easy for everyone to find the time to do Deliberate Practice. The stories you hear about people who have written books on gum wrappers and made fine art out of their children’s used popsicle sticks are the outliers, the rare exceptions, and while it’s fine to point out their dedication and tenacity it’s important to also acknowledge that they were the lucky ones.

So if you can’t find that time, please give yourself a break. Because this is where the good news comes in:

Promptum Est

If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. – Hamlet

Or, if you want a slightly more modern version, there’s the Beatles: Let it be. Or maybe even more contemporary Bart Simpson: Dude. Chill.

The fact is that if you absolutely cannot brutally carve out the time for Deliberate Practice at some skill right now…it’s because you have more important things to do. Seriously, whether it’s working on your own health, caring for your partners, or doing some kind of other work, it’s entirely possible that you simply don’t have time for it.

Yet.

Time is what keeps everything from happening at once – Ray Cummings

You can’t have everything. Where would you put it? – Stephen Wright

Those are two very important concepts to remember. The thing you are doing now? You will not be doing it forever. Time never stops, and that means that If it be not now, yet it will come. Trust that the thing that you want to do will either be waiting for you by the time you get to the point where you can do it – or you will have something else you want to do more. 

Personally, it’s that last part of the quote from Shakespeare that I keep in mind: the readiness is all. What’s important is to be mindful of where you are now, and what you are doing. The rest of the quote explains why:

Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.

It’s another version of the “best laid plans” principle, or the simple fact that we are really bad at predicting what is going to happen, much less what’s going to make us happy.

That’s ok. The fun secret of mindfulness is that it is a pretty nifty experience, though I’m not sure I’d call it “happiness”. But that’s another post.

If you are tempted to try doing some deliberate practice, I wish you all the luck in the world. If you’re too busy, though, that’s ok too – as another philosopher-poet has pointed out.

It’s alright,

You can afford to lose a day or two.

Why don’t you realize?

Vienna waits for you? 

– Billy Joel

Finding Time for the Things You Love

Notice the title of this post is not “Making Time for the Things You Love”.

You can’t make time. Nobody can; it’s the one truly egalitarian resource, where everyone gets the same amount and uses it in the same way.

Which means, when I say to myself I don’t have the time to do… and I insert any of my neglected hobbies/skillsets in there, it’s true, but not in the sense that I have any less time than the people who do practice those hobbies.

No, I don’t have the time because I’ve misplaced it.

And what I need to do is find it.

The Simplest Hardest Things

There are a lot of strategies people use for finding time that they’ve lost. You could “just” get up earlier — which works great for some people, and for others (such as the parents of infants) seems like the most ridiculous idea ever in an existence where even a five minute nap (or an uninterrupted trip to the bathroom) seems like a luxury.

Another is scheduling. Personally I’ve found this pretty effective in the short term; I put together a “zero-based calendar” which simply means I schedule every hour of the day, including blocks for “read” or “exercise”. I don’t have to find time, I know exactly where it is! The only problem is that a zero-based calendar doesn’t really have any slack, so when you have the unexpected errand or delay it tends to throw everything off.

One of the big truisms of personal development is: If you need more time, stop watching TV. Of all the ways to find time, that should be the one that’s easiest, right? Just don’t turn it on. That’s too hard? Hide the remote. That’s too hard? Hide the power cord. Or hey, get rid of your TV!

Wait a moment. That seems…draconian for something as simple as “stop watching TV.” Yet many people have done it, or advocate it. Why would it take such a drastic step to reclaim your time (thank you, Rep. Waters)?

The answer is simple to state and hard to solve: it’s not just time that you need.

The Energy Trap

Many times I get to the end of my day — when I normally end up watching TV — and I realize that now is the time. Now is the time to fire up Duolingo and learn Spanish, or open my sketchbook and grab my pencils, or fire up xCode and build that iPhone app, or finally learn to play the blues on my guitar.

There’s only one problem: I’m tired.

Sure, all those things are things I’d like to do…but by the end of the day, the thought of doing them after all the other tasks and problems I’ve dealt with is exhausting. And that makes sense; an active life is tiring.

It’s easier to scroll through Facebook than play with Duolingo. It’s easier to binge on a TV series than it is to practice guitar. It’s easier to play a video game than to — no, actually I take that back. I find video games at the end of the day very tiring as well.

As it turns out, finding where I’ve misplaced my time is easy. What’s hard is finding my energy there as well. We’ll talk about strategies and tactics for doing that in another post, but meanwhile this post (like pretty much all of them I write) is simply a reminder to my overachieving workaholic self:

It’s not that you don’t love those things. You’re not letting them down. It’s ok to be tired, and it’s ok to not do the things. Rest.

How to Like It More By Doing It Less

It’s kind of scary how many of my posts begin with this phrase…

I have a friend, who…

But I do have a lot of friends, and I enjoy both interacting with them and observing them as they deal with the various challenges of life. It’s that old idea that everybody can either show you how to do something better…or show you how to avoid making things worse.

This particular friend is the former – making things better for herself, and (by example) for others who have the same problem she does:

Too-Much-Itis

For some, it’s too much consumption of things that are unhealthy. For others, it’s too much keeping of things they don’t need. Some have the TooMuchitis of buying, or watching TV, or the ever-present Social Media. But this friend in particular (along with, now that I think of it, a large percentage of the rest of my friends) has the variety of TooMuchitis in terms of doing.

That is to say: she does a lot. And on any given day, in addition to the things that she already wants to do, she will often find new things she wants to do. Thanks to the illusion of Google Calendar it looks like we can subdivide and rearrange our hours in the day with absolute precision; however, as she (and many others) find to their frustration, reality isn’t shaped like that.

Yet. There may come a time when you put an event on your calendar and there’s a pop up that says “Sorry, you won’t have enough energy for that. Maybe schedule a nap instead?”

Until that happy (and scary) day, though, she has to deal with the case of TooMuchitis in a different way.

Sometimes You Have to Give Something Up

Believe me, I know, it’s hard. This blog in particular is something that I’ve considered giving up more than once – and there’s still a voice that tells me I should. More than once I’ve sat down with a blank sheet of paper and a pen, determined to finally focus and “kill my darlings” and give up on some of the things so that I can do some of the other things better. In fact, I even enlisted the help of my Mastermind partner one week, and she asked me, every day, what can you give up today to make other things better?

The answer, day after day, was nothing. It’s a problem, I tell you, the malady of DoingTooMuchitis.

Back to my friend, though. She was smarter than me, and found a way to change the drudgery that was creeping in on one of her projects (anatomical embroidery, believe it or not). She had found that in her desire to do it “more, better” she’d started thinking of it as a business…and that meant that the joy got sucked right out of it. It’s a common refrain from the “follow your passion” crowd, but she figured out how to beat it.

What she does is limit her access to it. Rather than making it a daily habit, or creating an easy environment for it, she makes it a special occasion. The act of taking things out, of setting aside the tools and making the space and prioritizing the time lends a sacred kind of joy to the ritual. And by doing it less often, she gives herself the opportunity to miss it.

It’s not quite scarcity – because she knows that there will come a time when she can take out these projects and work on them. “Though it be not now, yet it will be. Which not only increases the joy of the doing, but also leaves space for the doing of the other stuff.

Which, like all of us, she still has too much of. One step at a time, though, right?

If you liked this post, how about clicking that sweet little heart down below and maybe sharing it with friends? Do you suffer from DoingTooMuchitis? Tell us about your symptoms in the comments.

Take Your Time-Deliberately

There is another facet to my most recent time hack experiment. I have theme days, sure, and I have morning rituals still, but those are still working within the schedule – as in, if I give them too much power, I am the slave of arbitrary numbers ticking off electronically with no actual relation to the physical and emotional world around me.

That’s why I have deliberately chosen another practice to run concurrently with the “Theme/Push” days.

(Yes, I know this might be something that should be in the “Practice” column, but since it’s about improving my quality of life, I put it here.)

Stop and Smell the Life

The practice is simple: I take my time.

It’s an interesting phrase, when you think about it. It implies ease, slowness, a lack of hurry. It’s sometimes used sarcastically as a way to shame someone into hurrying up.

Those are the colloquial meanings. What if we look at it literally? What does it mean to Take your time?

For me, it means trying to notice when I can stand up to the schedule and be in Life instead. I almost said “be in the moment there, but that’s a trite cliché in the personal development world. Besides, again, words have meaning: what if it’s longer than a moment?

Instead, I simply try to recognize that something is happening that should have my attention. And I do my best to give it that, which means not giving my attention to my watch, my schedule, my notifications, all the things that are trying to pull me away from my actual Life.

TYT in Action

This morning provided a wonderful example. I have a pretty busy day today, with many meetings and a friend coming into town and of course my theme that need shepherding in between. I have a pretty precise idea of everything I’m doing today, and it’s laid out nicely in my calendar.

When I was at the tail end of my morning protocols and about to jump into writing this post, my phone rang. It was one of my daughters, concerned about her recent engagement (yes, that’s right, another one is getting hitched!).

Now, my first reaction was to look at my clock and mentally say I can give her ten minutes, but then I have to get that writing done.

Then I thought about what I was doing. What I was prioritizing. And I said “Sure, hon, talk to me. And we did, and while I didn’t solve her problem by any means, I think she was glad to talk to me about it. I didn’t look at the clock at all, even when I hung up; I knew what the next task was already.

Other moments when I’ve taken my time: meals. Walks with my partner. Dancing at my (other) daughter’s wedding. And other precious, intimate experiences. I’m writing about it because it has, noticeably, improved my enjoyment of life as well as my stress about time pressure. I simply refuse to allow the schedule to be anything more than a reminder of an intention set by a past version of myself that was less informed than the present-me.

I choose whether that schedule still serves my present intention-and often it does. It’s keeps me from guzzling the gravy hose quite so much, and gives me a structure to play in, rather than a prison to endure.

And finally, you simply have to ask yourself: if you’re not taking your time…who is?

Becoming a Time Lord: Theme Days

I no longer subscribe to the meticulous scheduling and monitoring of time in search of a vaguely pornographic idea of efficiency. However, you can’t just turn off that kind of obsession with productivity cold-turkey, nor would I want to. While there may be nothing wrong with just enjoying life in a miasma of yummy food and comic books, I still have the drive to accomplish something more. To paraphrase a friend of mine, living a life of beautiful excess is not the same as living an excessively beautiful life.

After several months of pretty tenacious scheduling (both in paper and on my calendar) as well as trying out a few different methodologies (Ink & Volt, for example) I’ve hit upon a technique that seemed promising to me.

Theme Days

It’s a version of the old “Maker/Manager Time” idea.

Right now there are three big projects that require my attention. One is a big conference I’m directing for Memorial Day Weekend; one is a series of Open Spaces I’m doing throughout North America in the next year; and one is building a non-profit organization designed to promote the practice and understanding of consent. My previous strategy had been to try and devote at least an hour (preferably two or three) to each every single day.

That was working, but only up to a point. I found myself, over and over again, getting into a groove only to have my schedule tell me it was time to change a task. Or, more often, Life would interrupt – someone dear to me needing a ride, or a household chore coming up, or some such. Sure, I could say “no” – and many productivity gurus hold that as the key to success – but to me that would be at the cost of the kind of life I want to lead – where I am available to spend time with loved ones, where I have the slack to handle the shocks that come up or to enjoy the unexpected beauty of any given moment.

Now I’m Trying Out Theme Days. The idea is that Tuesday through Thursday are each a “Theme” day, where the focus of the day will be each particular project. I don’t use the word “focus” as such, because I don’t want to be so hypervigilant on my task that I don’t notice the rest of life. What I’ve found, though, is that when you have the day devoted to a particular project, when interruptions happen it’s less disruptive – because there’s no question about what you’re going to come back to.

Certainly other projects come up and demand my attention – but I have a way to continue the arc back towards the Theme. For example, when I was working on the Consent project one day, the head of security for the big conference pinged me. He wanted a meeting, and by mentioning that I was trying to work on this other project he kept his questions short and concise. We were able to mutually meet the needs and I was able to dive right back into the project.

And the time! Oh, it’s luxurious. I don’t have to wonder if I can cram what needs to be done into an hour or two. I have the whole day. And I can keep the day on the Big stuff, and leave the little things to the other days.

Push Days

That’s the burning question, right? “If those three days are Theme days, what do you call the other days?” I was honestly struggling with this until a writer for Fast Company, David Finkel, wrote an article about his version of this time hack. He uses “Focus Days” (and is much more precise about not letting anything else interrupt them) but the other days he calls “Push Days”: “…where you just push your normal projects another step forward.”

That works for me: Mondays and Fridays are “Push Days”, when the task list can be long and tedious and it’s ok because the Big Stuff will be dealt with later. That “later” is important, though. This isn’t a spur-of-the-moment time hack: it requires planning.

It’s not just looking at your calendar and saying, “Okay, I’ll carve out two hours for myself tomorrow for sure”—because tomorrow is way too late. Something else will inevitably pop up to sideline your plan. Instead, you need to have a recurring, definite appointment with yourself, blocked out on your calendar, week after week. That way, it’s a lot harder to stand yourself up. – David Finkel

I began this particular time hack last week, combining it with another process that I’ll talk about in the next Life post. It’s hard at times – but I am catching the glimmer of a sea-change in the way I deal with time. There is a luxurious glee to divorcing yourself from the clock – there are moments when I no longer feel like my cherished projects are being slowly starved for time.

Then the anxiety comes back, of course. This is a process, not a destination. I’d love to hear how you carve out time for your projects. What do you sacrifice? What do you gain?

Are You a Slave of Time?

“I realized during meditation this morning that a huge part of my stress lied in a perceived scarcity of time. I am so concerned with ‘not wasting time’ – with ‘living up to my potential’ – that any moment that is not propelling me towards some goal is felt to be a waste, a luxury, a sin.
That’s ridiculous.”
– Personal Journal of Gray Miller, February 10, 2017

I’ve talked before about not so much wanting to “manage” my time as much as wanting to be a “Time Lord” (and that’s only partially because I’m in love with a Dr. Who fan). I fell completely in the whole “Inbox Zero”/“Four Hour Work Week”/“Getting Things Done” seduction scheme, with the pornographic dream of a world where I could do everything and anything if only I could manage my time more efficiently.

Actually, come to think of it, I fell for it long before any of those concepts. My mother created a fictional hero called “the File” who was sort of a cross between Jason Bourne and Encyclopedia Brown. He fought crime while writing volumes of literary and scientific research, spoke multiple languages, practiced martial arts, and, of course, didn’t sleep.

I don’t remember any actual stories about the File, but I remember the character sketch. It fed into my later identification with other hyper-efficient characters: James Bond. Sherlock Holmes. “Slippery Jim” DiGriz. Tony Stark. Tim Ferriss. Jubal Harshaw. Even Heinlein’s Lazarus Long became a model, which really wasn’t fair since he was a man who lived forever. Of course he had time to do everything!

The Fallacy of Enough Time

Time is what keeps everything from happening at once. – Ray Cummings, “The Time Professor”

It’s really kind of silly to feel a “scarcity” of time – because it’s the one thing that everyone has exactly the same amount of. No one can get more, no one can take any away from you. You have it, it’s yours, and you know exactly when it started being yours (in fact, I celebrate the 48th anniversary of my own Gift of Time today). As for when you “run out of time” – well, that’s something you can hope for, and make educated guesses and plans about, but the fact is nobody knows. Which again is a kind of “great equalizer.”

Why, then, do I feel like time is scarce, when it’s the one constant? The answer, of course, is that time doesn’t exist apart from other things. Here’s some of the fun flavors we add to time:

  • Activities to do, that
  • Result in measurable accomplishments, such as
  • Materials produced at a
  • High quality within a
  • Set “Due Date” (usually arbitrary)

That’s a heady mix to stir into our allotment of time! And if, like me, that “usually arbitrary” evokes a “No, I really need it done by a certain date!” I would ask that you really ask yourself: Why?

For example: why am I writing this blog post on a Tuesday?

Because I want to have it ready to post by Wednesday at 9am.

Why?

Because Wednesday is the day I put out Life Posts, and that’s a good time for people to read blogs.

Who decided Wednesday was the day you put out Life Posts?

Um…that was me.

Why did you pick that day?

Um…because Wednesday is hump day? And because “Life” comes in the middle of “Love Life Practice. And…well, it just seemed to be a good time to do it.

Basically, while there are a few (pretty weak) rationalizations, the reality is just “because I felt like it. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Preference is a great justification. Often it’s the “preference” of someone who has some other power over you, and that’s motivation enough (I don’t think the “why” game would work so well with my landlord).

The point, though, is that while Time is a constant, everything else – Activities, Results, Materials, Quality, and Due Dates – are variables. But for some reason we treat it as if the opposite were true – as if we can “make more”, “find”, “waste” or “kill” time. Meanwhile we tell people “being late is not an option”, or “here’s what I have to do today”, or reach “peak productivity” – every day.

Think about that. “Peak” is a metaphor for a mountain climb, a long journey with a beginning, long journey, a climactic “peak” moment, followed by a long journey back and a rest and reflection on the experience (such as “The Hobbit”).

You know what happens when everything is a peak? It’s called a plateau. I’m not saying that having a goal for excellent performance is a bad thing – that’s great! But expecting constant peak performance is not only unrealistic but destructive.

The Solution to Time Scarcity

Ha! Gotcha! I don’t actually have a solution here – I mean, I could make one up, cobbled together from the plethora of other time management systems out there, but I like being honest with you, dear reader. I can tell you that since that journal entry, I’ve been paying more attention to some of the things that make me feel time is less scarce:

  • Natasha and I had planned a business trip to Minneapolis last weekend, which was cancelled last-minute. Suddenly we had an entire weekend that was unplanned – and the result was some beautiful together time as well as getting further ahead on some personal projects.
  • I had a day with several projects scheduled including writing, business planning, meetings, and a workout. The day was supposed to start with a breakfast meeting with my soon-to-be-wed Middle Daughter, but she cancelled it last minute. At the end of the day, I realized I’d gotten everything I’d planned done in a way that felt relaxed and flowing.

That meant I’d over-planned by at least the amount of time the breakfast would have taken – but it also pointed out something else: sudden gifts of “unscheduling” seem to be one way to make time feel less scarce. It reduces the other variables, at least until your brain comes up with other things you “have to do”.

Maybe we need to hire “Unschedulers” who will jump out at random moments and cancel meetings and tasks? Maybe we need to do something like the old fashion trick, writing out our schedule and glancing at it over our shoulders so that we can eliminate the first thing that catches our eye? Maybe what we need is to follow Chris Brogan’s idea of only scheduling to 40% capacity.

Yeah, you read that right. Forty percent. It’s a scary thought. But please let me know if you have any better ideas – because something tells me our lives might depend on it.

The more you can convince yourself that you need never make difficult choices – because there will be enough time for everything – the less you will feel obliged to ask yourself whether the life you are choosing is the right one.” – Oliver Burkeman, Why time management is ruining our lives

Three Easy Ways to Have More Time and Less Stress for the Holidays

Busy time of year, yeah? Probably feel inundated on all sides with either of doom and gloom and consume and…damn, can’t think of another rhyme so let’s go with “holiday cheer.”

The practice I’m going to recommend today is an easy and quick fix and it is guaranteed to make your holiday season more relaxed and enjoyable. It has to do with the deluge of newsletters and ads and “special offers” that you’re going to get this year.

Now, in full disclosure: I use newsletters in my business a lot. There’s even one for Love Life Practice, and I’d love it if you subscribed. But one of the things I’m very aware of, as a business person, is CAN-SPAM.

Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand.

And within that lovely little law is the key to increasing your calm this holiday season. Now, “clear and conspicuous” has some pretty weird interpretations, usually involving really tiny fonts down at the bottom of the email and sometimes some tricksy wording (“Click on this button if you want to not unsubscribe from future fantastic emails”). Think of it as a little mini-quest in a video game – you, the hero, must solve the puzzle to free you from future emails!

Unsubscribe from everything!

Why Would I Want to Do This?

There’s more than a few reasons to do this mini-purge, especially this time of year. But let’s start out with a simple fact: if it turns out you miss a particular kind of mailing, you can always re-subscribe.

But meanwhile, especially at a stressful time of year, there are a lot of upsides to clicking that “unsubscribe” button automatically:

  • Time: Each email, even if you skip it, takes time to notice, click on “delete”, etc. Maybe it’s less than a second…but the seconds add up, and imagine what a full minute of calm added to your day might feel like.
  • Decision Fatigue: The jury’s still out on this, but let’s stipulate that willpower is finite. No matter how fast you hit the “delete” button, you’ve had to decide to do it. That’s one iota less of willpower left to you for more important decisions like “should I eat this bowl of ice cream?
  • FOMO: I do some work in marketing, and I can tell you that the objective of a lot of newsletter ads is to deliberately make you feel like you are missing out on something by not consuming whatever product is being marketed. Whether it’s gentle or overt, it’s basically a guilt trip – and that’s something you don’t really need this time of year.
  • Shoulds: Related to FOMO, the fact is that not all newsletters are about selling something. I love Steven Pressfield’s What It Takes newsletter, for example, which is chock-full of great advice for writing novels. Except that right now I’m not trying to write a novel – I have a whole lot of other projects that need my attention. So when I get that newsletter, along with the good advice I get a hefty helping of Remember, you were gonna write another novel? When are you going to do that, Gray? You’re not a real writer, are you? You really should make more time to write. Maybe I’m the only person who hears that kind of voice, but I doubt it.

Here’s the thing: in this digital age we’ve constructed this narrative that if we don’t get constant reminders of things we will miss them, fall into a morass of lazy self-indulgent non-productivity that will result in obesity, locusts, and the decline of Western civilization.

The reality, as it turns out, is that those three things, much like almost everything else, is going to happen (or not) regardless of whether we are reminded of it.

But there’s one more way to apply this idea of via negativa practice that can help the Holiday Stress.

Is This Helping You?

A very good friend and fellow self-improvement enthusiast posited this challenge to me: Is there a way you can change your social media intake so that it is a more constructive force in your life? It’s a great question; for some people (like me) just getting off of these networks entirely is not an option, for either social or business reasons.

I don’t have the complete answer to her question yet. However, I have found that applying that “unsubscribe” button, along with another friend’s decluttering method of “one in, three out”, works pretty well. Here’s the first part of the heuristic:

  1. Be aware of feelings as you’re looking at twitter or Facebook, and watch for moments that cause you stress – that make you angry, or (worse) make you start typing a time-and-willpower-consuming response.
  2. Click “unfollow” on that account. Remember, you can always refollow them later if you feel that you’re missing something. But for now, try shutting out the voices – wherever they come from – that are diminishing your calm.

Then there’s the opposite side of this:

  1. As you’re looking at various feeds, if you see something that makes you laugh, smile, or gives you the urge to share with someone else because it might make them happy (that’s an important part), then follow that account. Even if it’s as ridiculous as TextFromDog, if it is a positive, follow them! Remember you can always unfollow them later.
  2. Now that you’ve brought one in, it’s time for the three out. Go through the list of people/accounts you follow, and pick out three to unfollow. DO IT. No changing your mind and “unfollowing” that cute account from #1. Too late! You have to pick out three to unfollow, and guess what? They’ll likely be the ones that are negative, or that you didn’t really need to follow anyway.

There you go. Social media practices that will give you more time and willpower, and at the same time enhance your calm during the holiday season. Give it a try!

And guess what: if you need permission, you are totally allowed to unfollow @lovelifepractice on twitter or Medium. I promise, anything I write will still be here if you ever decide to come back.

Good luck, and happy winter to you!

making the time to love

Time Enough for Love

Yes, I know, yet another Heinlein reference. but this one is not actually in regards to that book. Rather, it’s a simple enough question: are you giving yourself time enough to love the things that you love?

Things may be people, places, things, hobbies, activities, substances, animals, hats, or even the simple joy of a well-coiled charging cable. The question is, are you actually giving yourself the time you need to enjoy it?

Take me, for example. I love playing guitar. I love the process of learning a new song, of not only making it recognizable but then adding my own spin, my own style to it. Singing it with my voice, putting my own syncopations into it. I love my own bluesy version of “Stray Cat Strut better than any other I’ve heard.

But even though I have “inherited” my daughter’s guitar (a lovely Luna acoustic-electric) I’ve picked it up exactly twice in the two weeks I’ve had it. Both times I simply played the songs I already know, as opposed to exploring the vast world of free guitar instruction available on the web. Why is that?

Well, because there were videos to edit, and sites to code, and blogs to write, and yoga to do, and then there were cigars to smoke and TV shows to catch up on and then there were trips to plan for and bags to pack and planes to catch and now, when I have a morning when I would have had time to play…I am a thousand miles away from the guitar.

Some might say that I don’t love the guitar that much, if I don’t make time for it. I disagree. I don’t think that we automatically make time for the things that we truly love. Some might, but I think it’s far more often that we make the time for the things that we believe we deserve to have time for.

See the difference? If we’re lucky, we love the things we let ourselves have time to enjoy. We let ourselves indulge in that thing which feeds our passion. But far more often we will tell ourselves some other story – “You need to do this, before you can do that” or some variant. To some extent you can blame the Judeo-Christian work ethic, but I think it’s also a big dose of Fear of Missing Out.

Taking Action Against a Sea of Busy

The problem isn’t that you need more time
you simply need to decide.

So I hope, as this weekend approaches, you can make some conscious time for the things you love. Want some help? Leo Babauta has 72 things you can do to simplify your life, which will make some room for those things you love.

Me, I’m going for reading. I’m going to try and carve a good solid hour of nothing but reading – no social media, text messages, nothing but me and some good old fashioned prose, sinking my mental teeth into a full meal of words as opposed to the junk-food reading I do while waiting in lines and such.

And when I get back…that guitar and I need to have a serious talk. Love requires nourishing, after all, and we need to figure out how to carve some quality time out of our schedules. It’s really quite easy, after all. We just have to decide.