How often do you think something along the lines of, “there just aren’t enough hours in the day”? Well, good news, today I’m sharing a really powerful tool to find more time for the things you value and enjoy–even, especially!, if you have a big time sucker in your life, like a long commute, or a caregiving role, or something else that feels like robs of you time to do what you want and need to do on the regular.
It’s part of a week of episodes on becoming more time savvy. Something I for the most part do NOT feel.
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When I read about the term “time poverty” in some article or other I read–probably when I was on deadline for something else, to be honest–I felt so seen. Time poverty is the sense of never having enough time, like, ever, and that is how I have lived my life probably since my mid-20s, when I moved to New York City and started trying to combine a career with a yoga practice and a social life. Tough life, right?
Then I started working for myself, from home, and working all hours of the day and night because I could. Then my husband and I had kids and yeah, my time net worth just started trending downward. It bottomed out during the pandemic when the kids were home from school, my focus shattered and everything started taking me longer to complete and I thought every moment of every day about what I needed to be doing in the moment and how behind I was on everything.
I’m climbing my way out of time poverty and while I’ve still got a ways to go, y’all, I feel so much better. Even though my work load hasn’t really changed. I know I’ve got it. And I know I’ve got the time. So this week I’m sharing the stuff that’s worked for me with you. AND I’m interviewing Ashley Whillans, an associate professor at Harvard Business School who studies attitudes toward time and is the author of a book I just loved called Time Smart–I’ll talk to her on Wednesday, but know that a lot of the realizations I’ve been having about time are covered in her book, and it’s influence is woven throughout these episodes, so if you want more, go find Time Smart. You will not be sorry.
And if you’re wondering why I’m sharing ideas about finding more time spaciousness in your life when I myself have felt time poor for so long…
Well, remember this–your mess is your message. The things that have really put you through it, and that you’ve had to roll up your sleeves and figure out, well–those are things you not only know a lot about, but can speak to with a lot of empathy and understanding. And that’s a magic combo.
In psychology, there’s a technique known as cognitive reframing, which is a technical sounding term for something very basic–seeking to see a situation from another point of view, and to change the way you think about the challenges you are facing.
It helps you get off the same mental track you’ve been on and see a new way through whatever it is you’re facing. It’s super powerful. And it doesn’t apply only to issues you might talk through with a therapist–whether that’s something going on in your relationship or work, or how you see yourself. It’s also really helpful for changing the relationship you have with time.
Here’s an example of what I mean
Let’s say you have a long commute to your job. It’s 45 minutes each way, unless there’s been an accident or something and the traffic is just bananas. That’s a solid 90 minutes a day–90 minutes that you may tell yourself you’ll never get back. That’s a valid way to look at that time, but it’s not the ONLY way.
Reframing the narrative on how you view the time suckers in your life helps you focus on the opportunities that are available to you during those minutes, hours, or days. You could choose instead to see that commute time as an opportunity to do something you value whether that’s call friends and family and catch up; listen to audiobooks or podcasts; or even learn a language.
That’s how my brother in law thinks of the 2-hour drive, each way, he makes every week to go and stay with my mother-in-law
She lives alone and can really use having an extra set of hands around because she’s not super mobile these days. My brother in law has been making this drive for the past three years. I was talking to him the other day about it, asking if he weren’t getting a little sick of it all. And he said, no! That’s when I listen to my German lessons and if I don’t do it, my German gets rusty. He is married a native of Austria, and they go and visit her family as often as they can, and when they go, he really likes being able to communicate with them, as their English is about on par with his German.
For a little blip of time I commuted on a bus from Montclair, New Jersey into New York City and back every day – a trip that took about 35 minutes each way, plus time waiting at the bus station for the bus to come. I read SO much during that time. One of those books was Katherine Graham’s A Personal History, which is just a doorstopper of a book, in a couple of weeks instead of the couple of months it would have taken me otherwise. I didn’t miss how car sick I got from the bus stopping and starting a million times in traffic, but I did really miss all that daily reading time.
If you have a job that requires you to be on your feet a lot, you can reframe it as exercise.
Or, if you have a dog that needs walking, you can reframe it as exercise AND nature time AND podcast listening time.
If you have a kitchen that doesn’t seem to clean itself, you can reframe that as podcast listening time, AND movement, AND a chance to be alone with your thoughts. (If you live with your family or with roommates, you’ll notice–no one wants to come in the kitchen and talk to you while you’re cleaning up! Which means, voila, alone time!).
If you have been working from home and have a ton of Zoom meetings, you can reframe it as time you DON’T have to spend commuting. Or a chance to see co-workers face to face, or an opportunity to be a rebel at work by wearing bunny slippers or pajama pants, or both, to a work meeting.
If you have a loved one who requires a lot of care, you can reframe it as an opportunity to grow closer, or to show your love, or to appreciate the time while you still have them.
It doesn’t give you those minutes back, but you can see how that time is adding to your life, rather than subtracting from it.
Researchers have asked people who have physically demanding jobs to think of their duties as “exercise”
And the people who do report higher job satisfaction and that the feel more physically fit.
IN another study, researchers told hotel room attendants that the duties they performed met their recommended activity levels for the day. The result? Those workers didn’t change their mindset–they also saw significant changes in their weight, body fat, and blood pressure.
Workers who used their commute time to set goals and make plans for their upcoming day enjoyed their commute more. AND they were less likely to report that they wanted to quit and find a new job.
In each of these instances, nothing changed in terms of how time was spent. But so many things improved in terms of how healthy, satisfied, and less stressed these folks felt.
The power of the reframe is real! And it goes beyond just using those particular moments better. It’s about knowing that you are actually the doing the things that matter to you. You are exercising. Or you are learning something new. Or you are doing something you enjoy and fulfilling a need.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment is to think about the parts of your life that you currently view as dreaded time sucks. Write them down. And then challenge yourself to also write down how the time you spend doing these things could already be benefiting you. And then challenge yourself to think about what you might be able to bring to that time that might make it more fulfilling.
The opportunities are there if you’re wiling to take the time and objectivity to see them.
Come back tomorrow, when I’m covering the benefits of not being a task-master–or, in other words, or match your tasks to your time, and not your time to your tasks. Confused? I’ll explain it all tomorrow, including how this mitigates that awful, always running behind feeling!