I created the graphic above because that’s how I feel about Time. It’s slipping away like sand and dissolving into a nothingness that leaves me wondering where it went.
My purpose isn’t to sound poetic or to romanticise the disappearance of Time. It’s to pinpoint a common problem that most of us have. We’re victims of Time thieves and we need to take back what’s ours and protect it.
As an educator during a pandemic, I know my Time has been pulled out of my grip by school demands and home demands. AND AT THE SAME TIME. I feel like the sand has been dripping through my fingers and when I finally manage to ball my hand into a fist, so little is left, I wonder what I should do with it or IF I can do anything with it.
I started looking online for resources on Time Management. I went to bookstores and browsed desperately, till I found what I was looking for: Valerie Burton’s “It’s About Time: The Art of Choosing the Meaningful over the Urgent.”
She won me over when she spoke about the importance of being REFLECTIVE about how you spend your time. By now, y’all know how much I love that word. She introduced me to the concept of making Time Budgets, first to see where your time goes on a Daily/ Weekly basis…and then, planning for where you want it to go, even if it’s in the year ahead. Imagine blocking out time, months ahead, for that much needed stay-cation! Sounds crazy, but later on, I’ll share with you why it makes sense.
Valerie’s book also has some great quizzes in it, and I have to say, they brought me face-to face with “core vulnerabilities” I didn’t think I had: Screen Seduction and Social Status. I knew about my Perfectionism, but I didn’t know, or at least, I hadn’t been willing to admit, that I pay attention to how many likes my posts get on FB/ Instagram. Time was being wasted online, checking my notifications and scrolling out of boredom. Time that I could use elsewhere and to take care of me.
It hit me when I cancelled workout with my trainer for the third Monday in a row. I just wasn’t “feeling it”, I’d taught until 1 p.m., remained planning until 3 p.m., all I wanted to do was laze in bed and mentally moan about how hard my life/ work was. I snapped at my nephew, wishing he wouldn’t make one more demand on my time and I reached for my phone to tell my trainer, ‘hard luck. I’m out this evening.’
Then, these thoughts occurred to me:
- I felt bad, because my trainer is very organised and cancelling two hours before our session, showed a lack of regard for her time/ planning. Something that as a teacher, would irritate me.
- I was losing quality Self-Care Time, neglecting my physical fitness and mental wellness (I love those endorphins).
- I was losing money: I’d paid for those sessions.
- My nephew is my darling, my sweetheart…four years old and FAMILY.
Maybe having read Valerie’s book made me think this way, but regardless, I made some decisions about what was/ wasn’t going to happen going forward.
I hope you can apply them to your own life and in my usual style, I’ll make it easy by giving you an acronym for TIME:
Tell the Truth: First of all, to yourself. Are you checking your phone out of boredom? Did you post a funny llama meme and want to see if your friends think it’s funny too? Do you feel down when you see it only got 3 likes? Well my dears, if you answered yes to those questions, you might be vulnerable to Screen Seduction and Social Status.
We tend to think that we’re giving our mind a relaxing break, when we spend time scrolling through our feeds. But the fact is, we’re not. Our brains are still being taxed, our eyes aren’t getting a break from the screen and the likelihood of us suffering from brain fog is going to be higher. And if you think brain fog isn’t dangerous, consider driving home and not having any recollection of the journey. Frankly, to me, that’s frightening.
Also, tell others the truth. We’re social beings. We get invited to events and we don’t want to disappoint our friends/ loved ones. But the truth is, sometimes we’re just not up to the crowd, the gathering isn’t that significant to us or simply put, we’re dog tired. Be polite, thank your people for the invitation, but cut it from your schedule.
Even if it’s a work event, ask yourself some questions. Is this event something that benefits me and contributes to my vision? Am I going to be able to prepare for it and give it my best? Are the people who’ll be attending the event, on my ‘absolutely-must-meet’ list? Basically, figure out if the event matters to your professional plan. If it doesn’t, again, be truthful with yourself and others: “I’m not invested enough, to contribute that amount of time needed for this event .”
Identify the Non-negotiable: So remember that stay-cation I spoke about? Well it’s non-negotiable. It’s me-time, it’s family time and it’s not changing. That time is blocked and everything, is going to have to work around it.
Our time should be sacred. We need to teach ourselves and others to value it. Therefore, we have to establish our boundaries. Most times, it’s what you allow to happen, that will continue to happen. Of course there’re emergencies and disasters (pandemics), but that’s not what I’m talking about.
Someone from work shoots off an email at 7 p.m. and your phone notifies you, but……you’re in the middle of dinner with your family. Do you feel compelled to check your phone and get impatient that your son’s Roblox story isn’t coming to an end?
Or are you like me? Prepared to cancel workout, because you check your email at the end of the workday, and realise that a new task has been assigned. We think we’re on top of the game and feed the perfectionist in us, when we jump to the crack of the whip on our backs. But when you give up activities that really matter to you, you disrespect your own value system and devalue your own time. You send the message that other demands on your time are more important than your own.
So work-out time has become my non-negotiable. It’s the one thing in my day for which I make no apologies. It’s going to happen and that’s that. So when I wake up in the morning, I say to myself, “Great. I may not know what’s going to happen today, but I know that WORKOUT is happening. Non-negotiable.” And guess what? Since I’ve mentally made up my mind to not miss it, I haven’t.
Make sure it’s Meaningful: Valerie’s pretty clear about identifying the meaningful. Very simply put, it’s what matters in the grand scheme of things, years from now…as Time goes by. So, when you grow older, what will you more likely regret? Not finishing that urgent report on student online engagement, or not reading that bedtime story for your nephew who still thinks dragons are real? I’m not saying the report isn’t important, but I can get back to it, AFTER I’ve lulled him to sleep and spun the most incredulous tale about a green and red dragon called ‘Neeman’.
Fill your agenda with the activities that matter to you. One quote I love from Valerie’s book is: “Align your time to your vision.” In my vision, happy family comes way before job satisfaction. And I make no apologies for that. It’s my time and my vision.
Eliminate the Useless but not the Trivial: Yes, you read that right. Useless, is reaching for your phone because you have a few minutes between classes or while you’re waiting for an appointment. You scroll through Instagram feeds which, strangely enough, leave you feeling like you lead the most boring life, can’t apply make up and need to own more crystal jewellery (if it sounds specific, it is). I have no use for any of this information and frankly, it also brings my mood down. I wouldn’t subject myself to a source/person who did this to me in real life. So I shouldn’t let a social media site do it to me either.
So now, instead of turning to my phone, I choose to stretch instead. I get up, take a walk and go annoy an actual person in my house with a corny joke. If I’m waiting in line, I might share a light moment with the person next to me (standing 6 ft away of course) or quietly turn my attention to breathing slowly and calmly.
I might even begin to notice the trivial. I gaze around, emptying my mind of the chatter. I focus on a bird chirping, I watch a leaf shaking ever so slightly in the breeze…I stop to look at a painting I’ve walked pass a hundred times before, but never really paid any attention to….
That’s giving your mind a break. Valerie encourages readers to “notice the trivial”, pointing out that for many great thinkers, creativity knocked when they took the time to just “day dream”, “doodle” and “imagine”. Re-think and reframe how you view these activities. We tend to label them negatively and we berate ourselves (and our children) for giving into ‘idleness’. But I ask you this, what’s more idle? Scrolling through a feed you’re not interested in and that depresses you….. OR …..painting a picture/a VISION in your head that makes you happy and relaxes you?
So these are my key take-aways from Valerie’s book. If you get your hands on a copy, read, read, read…keep as a manual and bookmark pages. You can also check out her website, because trust me, it’ll be TIME well spent (hehe, see how I worked that into my conclusion?).
I’ll be putting out a graphic of my acronym soon. But you know, it’s time for one of my non-negotiable activities now: LUNCH/MINDFUL EATING WITH MY FAMILY.
Be safe and Build a Healthy Relationship with Time. Your quality of life depends on it.