“I don’t have time.”
I hate that sentence. I hate hearing it. I hate saying it. I hate the fact that it comes to my lips a kabillion times a day. Saying it actually makes me feel more rushed, that I have even less time than I really do. It reminds me that I’m trying to do a million things and not actually accomplishing anything. Have you ever noticed that?
So you know what? I’ve decided to stop saying it.
I don’t know what I’ll say instead. Maybe I could be truthful and simply say, “There seems to be a lot of jobs on my to-do list and I don’t understand the point of some of them” or “That’s not important enough for me to work into my schedule.” or “That doesn’t really work for me.” Or “I’m sorry but I really need to take control of my life and make sure the things that I value the most are done first and the others…well, I’m sure the world won’t implode if they’re left unfinished.”
Because that is what that statement is all about. It’s about choice. It’s not that the day doesn’t have enough hours in it, it’s that throughout one day we are asked to do a million and one things that don’t matter to us.
But how do you stop saying it? Well, truth be told, if you stopped and thought about how you were really feeling before you actually said it, you would realize that it really isn’t about not having enough time. You’d realize it’s most likely about being committed to things you don’t really believe in or value. Quite often, we get caught up in the other people’s urgency and we end up prioritizing those tasks over our own. And that’s what creates the feeling of being overwhelmed and angry and exhausted.
Think about doing something you love. You could do it for quite some time without complaint. Just today, while walking the dogs, I thought to myself that I could happily spend my whole day outside in motion. So when I feel rushed to get out the door in the morning with these two meatballheads and I’m whinging about the amount of time it takes, it’s not that I don’t have time to walk the dogs, it’s that I have other things that I don’t like doing as much crowding in on my happiness and making themselves seem more important.
So it isn’t about how much time you have. It’s the fact that the time you have is usually consumed with other things you don’t really enjoy.
If you google up “making time” or “tips to make yourself more time”, you’ll find a kabillion sites giving you tips on how to get organized and then you’ll have more time to do everything. But if you aren’t organized in the first place, getting organized is going to take up even more of your time. And more importantly, there is never enough time to do everything.
Creating more time in your life is more of an attitude than an action. It’s organic and comes from within you, not from an external source. It’s not about organizing your life to have more time so you can do everything you think you need to. It’s about reflecting on what’s important, getting rid of things that aren’t and having more time to do the things you love.
It’s like the KonMari method of tidying up but for your schedule. Keep only those things that bring you joy.
Which is not to say this is a ticket to getting out of doing anything unpleasant. No, our days are filled with monotonous, icky, or boring things that are entirely necessary. These are things you’ll have to just grin and bear it. And it doesn’t mean that you are allowed to think only of yourself in terms of your workplace, community or country. You are one member of many and therefore there are many things that may not bring you joy but are essential to the well-being of the group (ex. doing the dishes, working a 2nd job, paperwork, commitees, etc.). But there are still a great many things in our lives that are UNnecessary. Because of our ubiquitous digital connectedness, we are often led to believe that there are more things in this world that are urgent and important than there actually are. And we often find ourselves getting sucked into doing them and then we realize we don’t have any time to do the things that nourish our soul.
Here are seven ways to make more time in your day to do the things you love.
Make a list of priorities: Just stop for a second. (More like several minutes.) Take a deep breath and ask yourself, “What is REALLY important to me?” Be really specific about this. For example, for me, work is a priority – the actual job and the paperwork that comes with it. So I must make time for that and while I don’t enjoy the paperwork, I don’t resent it because I enjoy my job and I love the life that it affords me. But there is a lot of extra work that comes with my job that is ENTIRELY. UNNECESSARY. I do not stay after work except for basic preparation for the next day and meetings. I do not use my weekends for work. I do not use my evenings for work unless it is the aforementioned paperwork that has to be done and is a necessary evil. And while other employees that I work with commit themselves to a variety of different committees and projects, I do not. Because those things are not what I value. Or perhaps I should say, there are other things I value more. These other commitments don’t impact my worth or excellence in what I am responsible for so it doesn’t matter whether I do them or not.
Besides, I can’t use all my time for work. There are other things I value as well. I value being outside, in fresh air, communing with the natural world. I value physical activity – running, biking, hiking, swimming and otherwise just frolicing in the fresh air. I also value music and art. I like having time to play guitar (even if it’s just to practice a new song or get used to a new chord). I value crafts such as knitting and sewing and being able to craft together things that are actually usable and sustainable. I value volunteering and for that I need to commit at least two evenings and a weekend a month to courses, workshops and practical training to remain focused and accredited. These are all very important to me and I am no longer willing to sacrifice them for one single priority or for the priorities of others.
Decide which of these priorities are non-negotiable: I remember being amazed by a colleague who said no to meetings if they were held on Wednesdays. Her excuse was that she had another, even more important meeting to go to. Later, in the privacy of a conversation, she admitted that she’d had guitar lessons but that she enjoys it so much she will not sacrifice it for anything. I was stunned. What? A guitar lesson over work? Yes! She had a tough job and was always happy despite the crap she had to put up with and then it struck me that perhaps she could handle her job because she never sacrificed the things that she really valued. The things that brought her happiness.
So decide which priorities cannot be swayed. And I don’t mean, the things that MUST get done. We all have things that take up our time that we have no choice in the matter. Small children. Big children. Sick children. Busy times of the year that are predictable (report cards, fiscal year end, Christmas, etc.). I mean the things that we would love to do on a regular basis. The activities that feed our souls. Once you’ve decided on what is non-negotiable, follow the next step.
Learn to Say No: This is very difficult for some of us, especially those of us who are naturally people-pleasers. But it’s important. If you are someone that agrees to everything before you have time to actually think about it, pack your pockets with stock phrases to buy you more time. The next time someone asks you a question you feel in your gut isn’t going to work for you but can’t find the words to respectfully decline, just say “I’ll let you know.” or “Sounds interesting. I’ll think about it.” “I’ve never considered that before, let me sleep on it and I’ll talk to you tomorrow about it.” Then, later, you can respectfully and confidently decline without feeling like a pushover or hurting feelings. If it’s an email request, don’t respond right away. Consider whether you really want to fulfill the request and if not, then you’ve taken the time to figure out how to respond appropriately.
Check Your Email and Social Networks Only Three Times a Day: I heard a report on CBC a couple of months ago that said that a study showed that checking your email and social networking three times a day – morning, lunch and evening – is the most beneficial, productive and the least stressful number of times to be connected. Fewer than that and you feel like you’re missing something important and more times than that just ends up wasting time. While I haven’t been able to get as low as three times a day, I have certainly cut down on my Facebook time. I can waste plenty of time viewing videos of baby animals or ridiculous Halloween pranks. While they are funny, they certainly don’t help me get any of my work done, which consequently doesn’t allow me to do any of the things I love.
Also, stay away from sites like Pinterest that can suck you in for hours and actually add stress to your life. I love the ideas on Pinterest, I really do. But after a while, I start to feel that I’m an epic failure because nothing I do looks as good as it does on Pinterest. So I just stay away and leave it for a Saturday morning with a coffee and no place to be.
Do Not Engage: Whenever I see a charged post on social media, I often feel obliged to share my opinion, correct someone else’s or post something in rebuttal. Don’t do it. Just don’t. In fact, I have gotten myself so distracted and worked up over some comments or articles that I’ve lost sleep. Not to mention the extra time it takes to make sure the post says exactly what you intend. This is not productive. And it’s not healthy. I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of just how nasty social media can be, between friends and family but also on a larger online community scale. None of these situations are pretty and can very quickly spiral out of control with negativity. In the end, all that’s left is hurt feelings, a really bad taste in our mouths and a whole lot of wasted time.
Let Go: Let go of some of your duties. Get someone else to do them, even if they don’t do them to your satisfaction. If they don’t mind doing it, then just let them. The world is not going to implode if the dishwasher is not loaded “correctly” or a memo is not as well written as you think it should be. Trust me on this. Just let it go.
Be Mindful: This one is counter-intuitive. Being mindful means that you focus on only one thing at a time. “Then I’ll get nothing done,” you say. Guess what. NOBODY CAN MULTI-TASK. We have been told a lie for so long about the benefits of multi-tasking that this might take some getting used to. The human brain cannot process two complex tasks at the same time. The best we can do is efficiently switch our attention. If we try to do more than one complex task at a time, we actually don’t do either task properly or well. And we don’t feel like we’re getting anything done because we haven’t sufficiently thought about any one action to realize that it was done and done properly. We are simply going through the motions.
I had to really focus on doing this step properly. I guess that’s the whole point. It’s focus. It’s being present in every moment. It’s greeting each person and realizing they are a person with a story. It’s playing the guitar and realizing that you are getting more comfortable with chord transitions. It’s going for a run and paying attention to your breath and to the life inside your body. It’s about taking the dogs for a walk and really appreciating the incredible love and loyalty these creatures unconditionally give me. It’s about really getting to the bottom of an issue instead of slapping a bandaid on it and hoping for the best. Eventually, it becomes more natural. This one was so hard for me at first that I enrolled in a free online course in mindfulness which taught me strategies for improving my focus. Now, because I am not multi-tasking, I feel the accomplishment of getting every single task done. I pause and savour each success. I can now recognize that I do a lot of really cool things in a day and I get a lot of things done. It has also made me realize that the things that didn’t get done because they didn’t make it onto my list of priorities, aren’t really that important anyway.
Finally, (okay, this is #8 but…)
Stop Saying, “I Don’t Have Time”: This one might be harder than you think. First notice when you are saying it or thinking it. Be aware of how often you say it. Then try to reframe your feelings and think about why you feel the urge to say it. Be truthful with yourself. This statement is a cop-out. We say it all the time. Without thinking about it. Stop saying it. It’s a jedi mind trick, really. The more often you say it, the more we believe it. If you stop saying it, you’ll start to notice that you start to feel a little calmer, and not as rushed, not as overwhelmed and not as angry, irritable or exhausted.
In the end, if I only focus on what I value then it turns out that there IS enough time in the day to get everything done and to do what you want. Your soul is nourished, your mood improves, life becomes more exciting and fun and at the end of the day, you can look back on your day and say, “Today was a good day.”
What are strategies you’ve found helpful to increase the time, value and joy of your life?