I’ve been thinking a heck of a lot about time lately, due to a variety of experiences and upcoming events:
- My clients’ challenges with it;
- The course curriculum on coaching time that I’m currently working on;
- The time management panel I’m scheduled to moderate at the ICD Conference in September; and
- My own time (perhaps the least comfortable of the four).
When I set out to be a professional organizer eleven-ish years ago, I never imagined that organizing time wouldn’t be a part of the equation. After all, when people reach out for organizing assistance, at least one big reason for the outreach is not having enough time to manage things on their own. Or, at least, feeling like they don’t have time. Feeling like they don’t have enough space in their homes (they frequently don’t), but also thinking that somehow I’m going to magically create it for them. Like, I must know more about the possibilities of their garage than they do – and hopefully, those possibilities won’t result in having to get rid of much. Plus, we’ll knock out the whole thing in a few hours, right?
The challenge is two-fold:
- On a physical level, many of us are trying to cram more stuff in a closet than will logically fit.
- On the temporal level, many (most?) of us try to cram more activity into a unit of time (be it a minute, hour, day, or week) than will logically fit.
I think the latter is a more significant issue, perhaps because tasks, appointments, and projects are less tangible than extra shoes, purses, and pairs of jeans. We argue with the boundaries and limitations as if we have any control or say in the matter – like a toddler throwing a fit because the dog ate the pretzel they threw on the floor.
Isn’t it fascinating (and troubling) that the more we invent things to help us with our time and efficiency, the more problems we tend to have with time and efficiency? How many conversations do I have with people about “making” time for laundry, when there are two amazing contraptions in their homes explicitly designed to make laundry easier and faster?
The problem is, being able to wash clothes fast and efficiently implicitly gave us permission to buy more clothing (as did many other things). Say you were living in the 19th Century, heading down to the creek once a week to scrub your overalls against a rock and hang them to dry (tracking any potentially troublesome weather patterns that could get in the way); you likely weren’t going to try to maintain 20+ pairs of them. There were too many other things to be done for survival than mess with extra petticoats. But being more efficient tends to create gaps to fill with something else.
Further, marketing messages set up the fantasy that there’s a “right” way to do laundry – everything all folded pretty, those whites looking bright, colors popping, all stains magically eradicated. People who are on top of their $h!t get it all done every week in that just-right way, don’t they? Have you guys ever actually timed the whole process, start to finish? I don’t know about you, but I have better things to do than file-fold my T-shirts.* The biggest fantasy of all is that you can ever be “done” with laundry.
“That’s all you do?” Ah, nothing like some fresh 1970s mom guilt. But I digress…
If we pause for a moment to let the logic of our time boundaries sink in, we can accept that we must make some decisions.
Yeah, sorry. We’re back to that pesky decision-making stuff. But I have an idea…
What might result if we gave some space for fantasy, maybe reframed it slightly as imagination? All logic and no fantasy make us dull creatures, doesn’t it? The trick is to embrace our own imagination instead of the visions of gurus, experts, and productivity geeks. Where does it take you if you imagine and fantasize about your tasks and time?
OK, so you might be saying, “Geez, Sara, I’m imagining that I’ll get through all of my emails, and the car will get washed, and I’ll have the house ready for the dinner party, and the project I’m dreading at work will disappear, and I’ll get my 10,000 steps in, all before the end of the day.”
Logically, you have the sinking awareness that it’s not all possible, at least in the short term. If you take care of your emails this morning, you probably won’t get around to washing the car. This fact disappoints you, and you don’t like being disappointed.
Imagine bigger. What does any of that stuff mean to you? The emails might connect to being a responsive, helpful person (which you do really love to be). Imagine what that responsiveness and helpfulness feel like when you finish pecking away on the keyboard. And that car wash – it might mean keeping up with the neighbor who is obsessive about his F-150, and when you stop to think about it, logically, you don’t care as much as he does. Maybe that task happens some other time. Or, perhaps you could imagine paying said neighbor’s kid to come over and wash the car for you.
As Oliver Burkeman points out so beautifully in 4000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals:
“…the more firmly you believe it ought to be possible to find time for everything, the less pressure you’ll feel to ask whether any given activity is the best use for a portion of your time.”
I get that the whole list doesn’t work out perfectly – it never will. That project might have to take precedence no matter what (and I’m not suggesting you imagine getting fired for ignoring it). You might play with some visuals to spark that imagination:
Your imaginative process might be a mind map, a handful of sticky notes, or something super cool that I would never think of. How would you and your time flow smoother if you accepted the logic of finite time, trusted your instincts, and mixed it all with a nice dose of creativity? If you’ve experienced that kind of time “management,” what was it like?
*It’s a bit of poetic justice that I’ve been running my laundry while I write this post (doing a little task layering :)). I have zero expectations of getting it all done, as I have other things I want to focus on today. But I’ll have enough done, and that’s a decision I will embrace.
p.s. I hope all you ICD and organizing friends out there will come for our panel in September!
p.s.s. Coaching friends, stay tuned for more info about the Holistic Time Coaching class through Coach Approach Training…