Beating the Clock
Where do you come up with your best ideas?
Most likely, it’s not at your desk. It’s not navigating to summer camp while trying to sing camp songs with the kids sitting in the backseat (not that I’ve been doing that lately, or anything). And it’s definitely not trying to type an email and talk to your mother on the phone at the same time. You likely come up with your best ideas while you’re swimming or walking or painting or most famously, in the shower. In my case, the best ideas usually arrive 20 or 30 minutes into a long run.
Despite knowing that these “shower moments” exist, in our modern lives, we often optimize for work and routines over the things that give our minds space to expand and explore. I often hear friends, colleagues and readers remark, “I’d love to [INSERT VERB HERE], but I just don’t have the time.” Admittedly, I’m in this camp too, genuinely wanting to cook at home/swim/bike/run/meditate/sleep/learn something new/take the kids out for breakfast/plan a double date with friends, but often feeling too strapped for time to fulfill these commitments. Many of us are living “The Busy Trap,” as a famous NY Times article called this a few years ago — a vicious cycle that will own our lives if we don’t listen to our own compasses and find our own anchors.
Time is indeed a limited resource, getting quickly gobbled up by work and family and commutes and ever-so-precious sleep. But as with any limited resource, we have a lot of control over how we use it. Time is ours to consume, we’re not passive bystanders while it consumes us.
So next time you find yourself saying you’d “love to [INSERT VERB HERE],” ask yourself a few key questions:
- What’s getting in the way of me finding time to [INSERT VERB HERE]?
- Which of these barriers are in my control, and what can I do to overcome them?
- What trade-offs will I need to make in order to [INSERT VERB HERE]?
- What do I need from my partner/kids/boss/friends in order to find time and space to [INSERT VERB HERE]?
- What can I realistically commit to for the next month?
As you’re making room for the things that matter most to you, here are three basic strategies I’ve found helpful in creating more time and space for the things I know I need to be well.
Organize your day into blocks of focused time. Some experts recommend 90-minute blocks, and I’ve found both 60- and 90-minute blocks of time to be helpful. Each block of work/family/me time should be focused, meaning unnecessary technology is turned off and the attention is centered on one activity. For more info about this, check out my blog post on unitasking.
Carve out some “me time,” during the week and count on it. In our relationship, my husband knows that Tuesday and Thursday mornings are my sacred time, and I know that Monday and Wednesday mornings are his. I can use my time for whatever I need — a long workout, an early work day, time to write a letter to my mom, or coffee with a friend. It’s one way to make time to [INSERT VERB HERE].
Sleep. Yes, this seems counter intuitive, but the truth is, sleep is the foundation of our overall well-being. When we’re tired, everything falls apart. Stress creeps in, and it’s harder to focus on using time efficiently. As Tony Schwartz says, “relax, you’ll be more productive.” Don’t underestimate the power of a strong foundation.
Good luck, and happy [INSERT VERB HERE]-ing.
Photo by Trekking Rinjani, via Flickr Creative Commons.