Time…thou ceaseless lackey to eternity.
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.
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?
WHY NOT START NOW?
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