Finding Clues to Life Balance In a Time Journal

Time…thou ceaseless lackey to eternity.

~Shakespeare

For a long time I was tentative about the idea oflife balance. It conjured up images of hanging scales, suspended in mid-air, perfectly even. Or small, orderly piles of things – I don’t know, maybe rocks or shells – all mounded in equal proportions.

Taken together, these images hinted that life balance involved a certain amount of symmetry. And let’s face it: life doesn’t always feel symmetrical. It’s more jumbled and random. But I usually like that about it.

HARMONY AND TRANQUILITY

There is a place, however, where I’ve noticed an unusual amount of symmetry: my garden. Nature has an affinity for rhythm and regularity, repeating shapes and forms. I’ve come to appreciate that. It’s taught me that balance is not so much about order and precision, but rather harmony and tranquility.

With that idea blossoming, I’ve begun to cozy up to life balance, making it more personal. And the central element I’ve come back to again and again is time: a life in balance means feeling harmonious and tranquil about how we spend our time.

Now, you may know that I’ve already jumped into the time fray, here when I shared my experiments with it, and here when I reproduced Anne Lamott’s urgent warnings to get a life and beware the time thieves lurking around every corner. So you might be wondering why I’m going there again, particularly since I’ve just taken an almost three-week hiatus. (And by the way, a profound thank you for visiting even though I wasn’t writing.)

Anyway, if you feel the need to mutter under your breath, “Sheesh, she’s beefing about time again,” then by all means do. Let it out. Let it all out. I completely understand. From your vantage point it probably looks like I have no business having an issue with time.

But you know what? I do. And I’m in good company, because just about everyone I know and work with does too. I hear repeated refrains of “I can’t seem to catch up” to “I don’t know where the day goes” to “I’m always running late.”

Maybe you’ve even sung that familiar tune yourself?

MY ADVENTURES WITH A TIME JOURNAL

Well, I decided to do something about it. I know we all get the same 24 hours, but mine had been feeling unusually slippery. So in the middle of August I spent about a week chronicling my days, time-wise.

It was pretty easy. I blocked my day out in three-hour segments, and at the end of each one I briefly journaled about how I’d spent those hours. Then I added approximations of how much time each activity took.

At the end of the week, the payoff was a handful of big insights.

1. I need to acknowledge the in-between spaces in my day. Those sneaky minutes spent transitioning between activities get me every time. Case in point: I decide to garden for 30 minutes, followed by 30 minutes of yoga. That’s about an hour, right? Nope. Because I’ll also put away the garden tools, survey my accomplishments, get out the yoga mat, stick in the DVD, warm up those muscles. And when I’m finished, I’ll stow it all away until next time. So that hour of gardening and yoga is more like 90 minutes. No wonder I feel rushed. Which takes me to my next insight.

2. Trying to cram everything into my busiest days is a recipe for chaos and crazy-making. I’m lucky. I have a lovely blend of working from home and working at my office. It suits me perfectly. And contrary to romantic notions about how great it is to be home all the time, it can be isolating. So it’s healthy to get out and go to an office now and then. Which I do, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, from afternoon to evening. But by Wednesday night, I routinely feel frazzled.

Thankfully my little time journal revealed the culprit. Not only were those days filled with phone calls, emails, preparation, travel to the office, and client appointments, but there was a whole bunch of other stuff I tried to cram in. Like grocery shopping. Gardening. Lunches and dinners with friends. And I mustn’t forget blogging. Which brings me face-to-face with my final big insight.

3. My relationship with the virtual world is a wobbly work-in-progress. OK, this wasn’t a total surprise. Late last spring I got wise to how long it takes to write my blog and attempt to graciously host the whole affair, as well as the time needed to be a good neighbor to my blogging chums. So I cut back to posting once a week, and that’s been good.

Yet still, the lure of the internet persists. I’m a curious person by nature. And there’s always something to learn online, some promising thread to tug on. In the end it rarely pays off, though, and seeing it in black and white in my time journal was sobering.

Because that’s not really me. I’m not the woman who wakes up and checks email first thing. Or sits down in a restaurant and pulls out her iPod to scan blog comments. Or fires up the computer because she needs immediate gratification when she can’t remember what year a certain movie was made.

But of course, I have been that woman. So let’s just say I’m still figuring out how to draw the boundary lines between my real life and my virtual life. And one thing is clear: I must make more conscious choices about where I spend my precious time.

LIVING AND LETTING GO

As I sat with this final insight from my time journal, I got it: a life in balance pivots on the existential concepts of freedom and choice. Living and letting go.

Those existentialists were smart. They understood that a rich life, with its freedom of choice, requires a unique kind of commitment and responsibility. Because choosing is not for the faint of heart. To choose means to face the poignant and bittersweet truth of letting go. And within every single choice, even the smallest ones, is another choice about what we’re giving up.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert on time management, but I do know a thing or two about the existential questions of life. And my time journal unexpectedly cast its light right over that deep and meaningful territory. It showed me that if I choose to load my day with activities, then I also choose to give up a sense of balance. Or, if I choose to let my body leisurely wake up, walk to the window, raise the shade, and gratefully greet the day, then I also choose to give up the buzz of flicking on the computer first thing in the morning. And even when I refuse to choose, which I believe is sometimes a good option, then that in itself is still a choice.

CHOICES, CHOICES

I’m in a mood to choose. No surprise there. And my first choice is to get to know my personal version of balance a little better. To make that happen I’m also choosing to give up Meaning Mondays. Instead, I’ll be posting once a week, on Thursdays.

When I first set out on my Meaning Mondays quest I thought I’d make it an entire year. But one of the great things about choosing is that we also get to change our minds and choose again. So I hope you’ll join me in bidding a fond farewell to Meaning Mondays.

Thank you so much for being a part of it. I may be the one who wrote the song, but you made it sing. And last January I wondered if we could create a community of small vision meaning makers. Looking back, I think we did.

FINALLY, OVER TO YOU…

There’s a lot to ponder here: life balance, harmony and tranquility, time, time journals, the virtual world, the real world, technology, freedom, choice, living, letting go.

So please, jump in wherever you’d like, and tell me: What resonates for you today?

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26 thoughts on “Finding Clues to Life Balance In a Time Journal

  1. This resonated with me loud and clear. Until the end of August, I had established a sense of balance that I was enjoying. The TV and the computer were largely off at home – there was time for the flowers, the creativity, and the thinking. And then I had to start working from home. And then I found that I liked doing computer stuff at home again… and then I realized just how much time and focus it required – taking me away from the other things that I had enjoyed.
    And thus, the computer at home is off now. The TV is off except on the rare weekend evening or morning… and life is returning to a sense of balance.
    For me, technology threatens to throw balance out the window. It is a choice. I have gone from writing posts every day to writing twice a week – if I feel like it. I have added a new monthly volunteering engagement to my life that starts in the morning – and I am soaking up the time I have in nature and with my daughter to the extent possible… and I am giving myself time to grow and evolve as well… and maybe that last is the real gift at this time in my life.
    Sometimes it is not what we are doing that throws us out of balance but the thoughts that loop through our heads that create the imbalance?

    Love this post Patty and it is wonderful to read your words again.

    • Ah, so true what you say about those thoughts, M. And you know, I think technology often primes us to have just those kinds of thoughts, particularly around how much time it’s taking. So often clients will say to me, “I went on Facebook just to check in, and then before I knew it two hours were gone.” This technology has the ability to suck us in in ways I don’t even think we fully understand. I love how you write about your own quest for life balance. It’s lovely. Thanks.

  2. Hi Patty,

    Welcome back. How were the trees? Look forward to Thinking Thursdays … I chose Tuesdays to post because I knew Monday would be a transitional day.

    Freedom is about choosing. Sometimes it seems folks don’t really want freedom. For example, why are most condo complexes beige? Doesn’t seem like much of a choice. Real freedom scares people because it’s a dare to make your own life and make your own choices.

    My life is perfectly imbalanced meaning I spend more time doing the things I like. I’m not sure if by balanced, we mean balance between work and play or some other categories?

    If I had to choose categories, they’d be loving, leaping, laughter, learning, leaving, letting go, listening and lounging. I like to sprinkle my life through those categories and work, rather than being it’s own balance category, gets sprinkled as well.

    I’m not a huge fan of the work/play divide. it feels artificial and something perhaps we should rebel against. that’s my biggest problem with work, it’s supposed to be this land we walk into and leave our real personalities on the coat hanger at the door.

    crazy! Let’s all stop it and just be our complicated, wonderful selves in all situations.

    thanks! G.

    • Hi G – The trees were wonderful! I had to laugh about the condo comment, since we’re considering buying a condo. But I agree with you, I don’t like the notion of life/work balance, but rather feeling harmonious and balanced about how I choose to spend my time. That’s worth the quest for me, and I suspect we are saying much the same thing. There was also a time in my life when I wanted my work life to be fully integrated with my personal life, but interestingly that has changed. Now I want more clear boundaries, perhaps because I am redefining what work and play mean to me. Whatever the case, I always enjoy your pithy comments, and thanks for stopping by.

  3. First, I’m so relieved you’re not quitting blogging. You are one of my favorites and I love reading your artful Pattyisms.

    I love the quote, though seeing the word “lackey” made me wonder if I’m being a lackey to something. I don’t mind having lackey-like moments to my beloved boys because I find joy in doing things for them, but I’ll have to think further if I’m being bossed around by external or internal forces of which I am not aware.

    As for time, I could write post upon post about it. But who has the time to read them ;-)!

    Choices? Yes! The more, the better. I love daydreaming about the possibility of each choice because I have a leisurely gene that seems to get strogner as I get older. Saying yes to one thing which effectively means no to so many things feels like a leap forward into a new level of, yet again, more choices. Poignant and bittersweet truth as you so beautifully described. Having no choice is inconceivable to me and thank goodness, I have never found myself in this situation.

    Live and let go? Again, yes! The living part can be tricky if we’re not participating completely. The letting go, also tricky because oh, we get so attached to certain outcomes. But the opposites — dying slowly inside and holding on to things that are past their heyday — so not the point of having this precious gift that has an expiration date.

    Sending you lots of love and warmth and happy things in these remaining summer days (oh, and a big thanks for continuing with blogging),
    Belinda

    • Hi Belinda – Yes, I’m still here. Thanks so much for your kind words of support and validation. But, I wonder if my post was a bit on the drama queen side, since you’re not the only one who thought I might be giving up writing this blog. Ultimately, though, I think (hope) these questions of time and choice and balance are relevant to most people in this day and age, whether or not they blog. I love what you say about the precious gift that has an expiration date. Earlier in my life I wasn’t so aware of that but now I am, and it certainly does cause me to question my choices more and more. But that’s what the second half of life is supposed to be like. No one said it was simple, right? But what an adventure!

  4. Welcome back Patty! Being a Libra, I need a lot of balance in my life. Often I choose to create the balance, and sometimes it gets forced on me by the universe. I gave up a posting schedule a while back. I used to post on Mondays and Wednesdays, but I found the schedule too restricting, and it interfered with my offline life. Now I generally try to post twice a week and do so when it fits into my schedule. It’s worked a lot better for me to have that freedom.

    Sounds like Thursday is a good day for you, and I’ll be along for the ride.

    PS. A good first topic for your first Thursday post would be “Change.” Coincidentally that’s the topic of this month’s Personal Development Campfire! ;)

    • Oh, so that explains it Eric. I always got a calm, laid back vibe from you. Now I know it’s because you’re a Libra. Thanks for coming along on the ride, I so appreciate that. I’ve thought about posting as the spirit moves me, but I think without a schedule, I might not post at all. Gives me a little bit of structure and accountability, which I do need in life. And I do have something planned for this Thursday, but if I get a chance to do more writing, I’ll definitely go for the change idea. To me change is all about the process of transition, which you know I’ve written about before. A lot. So people might be tired of that!

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  6. Hi Patty,
    Welcome back from your soul travels! I missed your posts and sent you much creative energy during your senescence.
    Wow, and what a way to return, this is an amazing post.

    I could comment about every sentence and paragraph in this post, it’s rich with thought-provoking ideas. Before I get too crazy, though, I want to nod my head to you deciding to post less. I think that’s an important decision and will allow more time to cultivate the other treasures in your life. Like Eric says, I aim to post a couple times a week with the freedom to post any day or to not post at all. I’ll here with bells on Thursdays.

    Living and letting go has been two topics at the forefront for me, especially this year. It seems the less tightly I cling to anything, the more ease has been brought to my life. It’s a long story, but I’m certainly learning so much of late about letting go.

    I’m so happy you’re back and brought with you such interesting and lovely insights.
    Much love to you, Patty.
    ~xo

    • Hi Lori – Aw, shucks, thanks! You’re so sweet. I’m inspired by people like you, who make this what they need to be. Posting once a week, which I’ve been doing all summer, has been great. But Mondays, that hasn’t been great. That’s so true what you say about clinging less equaling more ease and balance. That’s a lesson I keep learning again and again. One of my favorite questions: what am I holding on to that doesn’t serve my life, my values, my journey? I think we all need to ask ourselves that as often as possible.

  7. Patty: This post was really helpful to me and I really appreciated the exercise you did of taking a closer look at how you are spending your time. It is so true that you may underestimate the transition time between activities and not account for certain periods of a time. I know I often look up after completing a couple of activities and am questioning how on earth so much time passed by. I also like what you said about choosing to do one thing, but that you do have the ability to change your mind. I think often times we make commitments in the beginning and continue through with them not because they make sense for us, but simply because when we began we made a commitment. However, life is all about living and learning and that means as we learn things, we have to be able to change things and tweak them, even if we are in the middle. Thanks for all the great insights.

    • Yes, exactly Sybil. That’s kind of a shock, isn’t it, to realize so much time has passed? Sometimes that happens when we’re in a flow state, and of course that feels good, but not so much when we feel pressured to get a certain amount of stuff done in a certain amount of time. And interesting what you say about changing our minds. So many people struggle with that. At one point I had started writing about just that, but who knows if I’ll ever finish it? I suppose I’ve changed my mind about it! Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Hi Patty,
    This is exactly what has been on my mind this weekend..
    Energy is precious..I choose to invest my energy in activities and people that I absolutely love..Yes with two children in school and soccer, a full time job and a fledgling business, and a boat…there are some things my mind tells me I’d rather not do (laundry and dishes for instance)..so in those cases it is perspective…I make my chores as fun as possible and in life I drop commitments that don’t serve the children and I very well..
    My life is as simple as I allow it to be, and as in the case of your garden..I believe in natural unfolding as our day progresses..nothing is set in stone, I let my heart lead, let my children’s hearts lead and magic is interwoven throughout our day..
    In my life I concentrate on growing the good..so as far as time, I don’t worry about the ‘time I do not have’, I celebrate the time that I do have..I used to be in the mindset of always catching up, now it’s about enjoying the day and all that is in it..I feel ‘busy’ when I allow my mind to kick in, I feel ‘fulfilled’ when I allow my heart to lead…
    As far as your posting change..I’m glad you are embracing that and I bet your creativity overflows as you adjust..
    As Lori says, this post is full of much..I shall refer to it again as I continue processing my own thoughts about how I use my energy..

    • Hi Joy – That’s simply lovely, the description of your day and how you let it unfold. “I don’t worry about the time I do not have, I celebrate the time that I do have.” Very, very wise. Thanks so much for popping in.

  9. Hi Patti,

    I’m switching over from my google reader to email subscription so I don’t miss Thursdays. I think it’s important to do what your heart tells you to do. I’ve been under the weather for the last few weeks and I think I have allergies. My doctor has it all wrong!

    Anyway I barely blogged. I had posts saved, interviews of others and guests on my blog.

    I healed and got more creative as I let go of the need to do anything but get my health back.

    It’s important for me to do a personal inventory every week about my online activities. If I don’t it takes over and I want more out of life than virtual everything!

    I wish you all the calm and balance you deserve.

    • Hi Tess – Yes, I so enjoyed reading about your experience of healing and renewal. Those times really do point the way to what’s important, don’t they? And I love your idea of doing a personal inventory every week about your online activities. I’m going to try that. That would be a great next stage for my time journal, just focusing it on when I’m online. That act alone would have an effect on it. It’s amazing what happens when we bring things into awareness. Thanks for sharing that!

  10. Hi Patty — I definitely resonated with what you said about choice not being for the faint of heart — acknowledging that I have a choice in the first place forces me to stare into the “abyss of infinite choice,” which can be scary and requires me to catch my breath, but without that acknowledgement life loses its aliveness.

    • Ah, the “abyss of infinite choice.” Now that certainly resonates for me today, Chris. Is that your line, or did it come from somewhere else? Whatever it is, I’m going to remember it. Thanks!

  11. Patty — As I moved through this post, my stomach began to tense…and I thought, “Oh, no…not another one.” I kind rushed to the end because I didn’t want to believe you might leave blogging.

    I am very relieved that you will continue once a week…that’s fine with me. I just know I would miss your wisdom and humor if you totally stopped.

    That being said, I can understand how blogging steals time. It does require a lot of it. You have to make the best choice for you:~)

    One thing you might think about is writing and closing comments occasionally. I don’t read what you write just to get a reply or to give my two cents. I read your words because they’re good for me and you make me think. I would read them, even if comments were closed. Just something to think about.

    BTW I like the idea of the journal, but, to be honest, it’s scary to think of actually recording how I spend my time:~)

    • Well, Sara my friend, if it feels a little scary to do a time journal, then all the more reason to try it! But I do know what you mean, because it was sobering to see it in black and white. I thought about doing a combo time journal/art journal, but that probably would have taken too much time, ironically. So I’ll keep them separate for now. The thing is, though, once I did the journal I had such a sense of reclaiming what was mine. It’s truly a transformational experience. Thanks so much for your wonderful words of support. I have thought about closing comments, but the funny thing is, I love answering comments. It gives me an experience of interacting with my readers. So I’ll keep experimenting.

  12. I like the idea of a time journal to really know where your time is spent. It’s a nice exercise to learn what is important to you and what becomes a victim of “I will do it later.”

    The living and letting do is something I struggle with daily. Learning to figure the balance between the two can be tricky.

    Enjoyed this post. Thanks.

    • Hi Rudri – Welcome, and thanks so much for stopping by. You’re so right about the balance between living and letting go. I think it’s a question we have to look at on a daily basis, but then we get swept up in all the going and doing of life and it can be so easy to leave it behind.

  13. Dear Patty,

    A great post about become more aware of our time. It does seem to be a major factor of concern in what can become a very “busy” life.

    I notice time most when I begin to rush – something I don’t do often anymore. When I find myself hurrying or becoming stressed about having too much on my plate, I CHOOSE to slow down a bit.

    While I may work hard and long to sometimes to create something I love, I always make sure to build in relaxation time.

    That’s probably why I’m not big on goal setting. I prefer to follow what seems to be my body’s natural rhythm of tremendous output and then “down” time to simply be in
    another way.

    I salute your choice to blog just once a week. I started out 3 times a week and am now blogging once a week. Although I LOVE it, I realized too it was more balanced for me to blog less frequently but consistently.

    I love reading your insights and your saucy and intriguing use of words.

    Hugs,
    Lauren

    • Hi Lauren – Oh, your words are music to my ears. I remember a conversation in grad school (more than 10 years ago) about goal setting, and I just chafed at the the whole notion of it. I think I said something like, “I think if we’re going to set goals, then we need to forget the goals and get on with our lives.” And slowing down, such a wise way to go about life. So much more mindful. Thanks so much for stopping by.

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