the Last but not Least…6 Radical Ideas for Having the Time of Your Life

plenty of time to cross the finish line

plenty of time to cross the finish line

There’s no doubt in my mind you are becoming a trendsetting time-efficiency icon.  We aren’t finished, though.  This entry marks the end of our 6-part time management series — 6 final radical [sometimes counter-intuitive] tips for maximizing the one thing we all have the same amount of: time.

plenty of time to make things from scratch

plenty of time to make things from scratch

13. Eat in!

Besides being healthier and much cheaper, eating IN is actually more time-efficient, especially when we cook from scratch.  When we make our own food we can double or even triple recipes and create multiple meals.  This saves prep and cooking time; it also does our meal-planning for us.

I love to double soups, in part because they taste better over the course of a few days, and in part because I can freeze 1/3 of them to eat weeks later.

I’ve also been known to make a big batch of Mexican rice and beans and, with a little variation, eat for a week! (I never get sick of homemade Mexican food.)

plenty of time to sit around the table together

plenty of time to sit around the table together

Monday dinner: Burritos, avocado, jack cheese, homemade crema and cole slaw, hot sauce    Tuesday lunch: Bean/rice quesadillas with sauteed peppers or mushrooms   Wednesday lunch: Rice and beans in a bowl adding fried plantains  Thursday dinner: Bean-only burritos adding sweet potato  Friday lunch: Nachos with all the leftovers

14.  Invest in a good phone headset.

plenty of time for long chats on the phone

plenty of time for long chats on the phone

Now, I want to be clear, I am not one to advocate combining talking on the phone with just any task.  On the contrary — it drives me crazy when I’m talking on the phone with someone as they are simultaneously checking their email or doing anything that requires their brain.  Truly connecting with each other requires both parties’ full attention.  I don’t think much of the multi-tasking we do actually saves time anyway — often it just forces us to lose focus.  Doing one thing at a time offers a fullness of attention, energy and effort that causes the best connection, the most accuracy, and the fewest mistakes.

There are some instances, though, when multi-tasking can really save time and no focus is compromised.  Anything that requires our hands but not our brains is a great choice for putting on our headset and dialing away.  An old stress of mine — finding time to call back beloved family members and friends for a catch-up conversation — has turned into a ritual I cherish.  I’ll dump three loads of laundry on the bed, don my headset, and keep dialing phone numbers until someone answers.  It never fails that I get to luxuriate in a long conversation while I get all my laundry folded.  The same goes for any *mindless* household chore such as ironing, clothes-mending, a big sink of dishes, gardening, etc.

plenty of time for a friendly game in the park

plenty of time for a friendly game in the park

15. Root for your own team.

In other words, stop watching sports and start playing them.  (Easy to do if you’ve already thrown out your TV.)  If you added up all the time you spent rooting for college or professional teams on TV and spent that time actually playing sports, what an athlete you would be.  (And, p.s., you don’t need to be very athletic to throw a ball around a bit.)  Active, life-creating activities tend to stimulate, invigorate, and engage us much more than passive, life-watching ones do — that’s why too much TV or computer time can put us to sleep.  One of my favorite family  traditions happens on Thanksgiving.  We forgo the popular TV version of football, and engage in an all-ages friendly game in a park.  All that running around and piling on top of each other gets us laughing and enjoying the day, as well as good and hungry for a feast.  So, get those Saturday afternoon hours back by getting your heart pumping.  Like anything else, after a few weekends, you’ll be so in the team spirit, you won’t even miss the lazy-boy.

plenty of time to notice the depth of silence

plenty of time to notice the depth of silence

16. Cut to the chase.

One of the most obvious places we can be mindful of our (and others’) time  is in how we communicate with each other.  Monitor your talking.  Notice how many words you are using,  what kind of details you provide, how engaged you are in what you are saying, and how engaged your listener truly is.  Notice how often the topic sways to one that feels like filler.  Notice if what you say when you open your mouth might constitute as mindless chatter or if it is a feelings-centered message from the heart.

I’ve learned this one the hard way many times — having shown up at a gathering of friends only to dissect TV shows for 2 hours or gossip about coworkers.  Sure, it’s mildly fun in the moment, but inevitably I leave feeling like I need to make one-on-one time with each person at the gathering to get the real connection I seek from my relationships.   I often use the expression, “capture the essence” or “bottom-line this” when I want to get to the heart of the matter with my clients, knowing we share an understanding about the connecting and transformational power of simple, straightforward, heart-centered speech.  We can capture the essence of what we want to communicate in any conversation and get spontaneity, conciseness, and the true message without all the extras.

plenty of time for heart-centered communication

plenty of time for heart-centered communication

There’s an old Quaker saying that challenges me in just the right way about this topic, “Do not speak unless you can improve upon the silence.” It reminds me just how powerful our mere presence can be without saying much at all — a concept that’s obvious when we spend time with someone very young or very old.  Time feels much more expansive when we know we are communicating what’s in our hearts, versus what’s swimming around in our heads.  So, as you begin to monitor your communication, ask yourself this, “if this was the last time I ever saw this person, would I be saying or asking this?…..What would I want to communicate?”

plenty of time to write in a journal

plenty of time to write in a journal

17. Journal

Long-hand writing as a time-saver — am I crazy? Actually, no.  Journaling comes up a lot in my coaching work as many clients see the  value of recording feelings, dreams, and the effect of the passage of time with a particular project or issue.  When I begin working with new clients I often listen to a laundry list of ways in which they have never been “good” journal-keepers.  (These are, invariably, the same clients who want to write for a living.)  Regular journaling is the habit no one ever feels like starting, and I understand why.  It can appear as a huge waste of time — time we don’t think we have.

In truth, working out how we feel about things on paper is not only incredibly cathartic, it also is a great tool for time management.   How? 1. The journal acts as a completely objective listener – writing in it can help us discern and ultimately articulate how we feel about things so that we can truly move forward in life versus lingering in our old habits and stories.  This can also help us “bottom line” things (see Tip #16) when we speak to others.   2.  Hindsight is 20/20, especially when we have an accurate record of what happened in the past. The journal can be a great teacher — keeping our old processes, thoughts, and feelings available to us — so we don’t have to learn the same hard lessons over and over again.

…And the final, radical idea for having the time of your life…

18.  Get yourself to an organized place, and then maintain.

plenty of time to commune with nature

plenty of time to commune with nature

Most of us feel we have the best control over our time when we can set ourselves up for organization and efficiency and then stick with it. The bottom line is, tasks seem to take less time when we do them habitually — whether we are offering up a prayer, flossing our teeth, or balancing our checkbook.  What comes to mind for me is the old 30-day rule that my mom either read somewhere or conjured up to creatively coerce my brother and me to make our beds in the morning.  “If you do something for 30 days, you’ll always do it.” This very simple habit-forming construct has saved me endless hours of wasted time looking for my keys or having to stop and do a whole sink-full of dishes (okay, still working on that one).  In short, we don’t have to put out nearly as many fires when we proactively develop the kinds of habits that keep our minds, homes, and hearts clear.  Maintaining a few small disciplines –even things as simple as keeping our resume updated or hanging our coat up when we walk in the door — positions us to spontaneously seize those really great opportunities that show up unexpectedly and make life the wonderful, wild ride that it always is.

Thank you, readers, for being with me for the time-saving tips of 2009 — it’s been fun!  Stay tuned for a brand new challenge coming in January.  Happy Holidays!

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Let’s-not-be-shy-or-wimpy Idea #2 for Having the Time of Your Life

plenty of time for rough-housing

plenty of time for rough-housing

Last week, as we mused on time management, we took the risk to Learn to Say No.  I don’t know about you — but time is already feeling a lot more abundant in my world.  Which brings us to:

Radical Idea #2 for having the time of our lives.

#2: Realize that Everything is a Choice.

If learning to say No is all about recognizing that voice that says, “should,” then Realizing that everything is a Choice is about catching yourself when you think or say “have to.”

The truth is, there are very very few things we actually have to do. Everything is a choice on some level, whether it is our action or our attitude.  Remember that scene in the 1980s movie Lean on Me where Morgan Freeman, playing the infamous inner-city principal Joe Clark, gets arrested?  He’s sitting in jail and someone comes in and starts telling him all the things he “has to” do.  And Joe Clark simply and firmly says,  I don’t have to do nothin’ but stay black and die!”

He’s right.  “Have to” is everywhere in our collective American speech pattern.  It’s so common it can seem like if we aren’t saying “should” to each other or ourselves, we are saying “have to.”  In fact, “have to” has become a kind of euphemism that bails us out from actually thinking or feeling — a bail-out we’ve grown so accustomed to that we act as though the particulars of our lives are forced upon us. 

The problem with “have to” is it’s terribly disempowering. It can lead us to believe we have very few choices in our lives — as though someone else is in control — when in fact the opposite is true; we have thousands of choices per day.

Seeing that everything is a choice is important because it puts us in touch with our true feelings and needs.

As soon as your brain hears you say (or think) a word like “choose” it will want to know more.  Something like, “I have to go to the dentist,” becomes, “I’m choosing to go to the dentist…because I value my overall health and I know that my dental health is a part of that.”  Notice the difference in tone between those two sentences.  I know, for me, that getting rid of “I have to,” immediately opens me to the possibilities within my choices.

This getting-to-know-yourself process is so crucial for owning your time because as you examine your choices, you will be able to gauge how important something is to you.

Even with things in our lives that feel like imperatives, such as taking care of our kids or going to work, we still have a lot of choice.  We may be choosing one thing to avoid the consequences of other choices.  We don’t have to take care of our kids, but most people choose to for any number of reasons from wanting them to be happy and healthy to wanting to be known as a “good” parent.  Seeing something that feels really fixed in our lives as a choice forges a self-awareness that is rich in truth and present reality.  When we know the truth, so much opportunity opens up, including the option to choose a new viewpoint on an old issue.

Albert Einstein takes credit for many of my favorite quotes, and this is one of them: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Realizing everything is a choice is a practice in self-awareness and accountability.

It’s seeing that the choices we make today result in the outcomes we have today.  Different choices would result in different outcomes.

So, when we see our choices as choices instead of have-to’s, (which imply judgment of sorts, just like their cousin “should”) we can feel the expansiveness of the wide range of options available to us in any moment of our lives.  We do own our own time — it belongs to us.  How will we choose to fill it?

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The Time of Your Life

plenty of time

There are a handful of blogs I visit on a weekly basis, and one of them is by a dynamic woman named Britt Bravo who, besides being a well-known blogger, do-gooder, writer, teacher, coach, and all-around great gal (I think she has even more distinctions I’m not mentioning here), she also happens to be my former roommate — from back in my short-lived San Francisco days.  A week or two ago Britt wrote a post entitled 5 Tips for Finding Time to Cook. The post itself is informative and includes some good ideas, such as keeping your grocery list in your phone so you always have it with you, and organizing dinner parties and meal swaps (a woman after my own heart, indeed).  What really stuck with me, though, is when Britt said this, “If I have time to cook dinner, I know that my day is just the right amount of busy.”

calendarReplaying this provocative sentence in my head has me musing around the concept of time.  Have you noticed that “not enough hours in the day…” seems to be nearly everyone’s mantra these days?  No wonder yoga philosopher Ganga White so eruditely refers to time as the “poverty of our era.” It’s true — I couldn’t tell you the number of times a week I hear some variation on the following sentence, “I just don’t have the time.” (“I’d love to, but I just can’t find the time”…”If I could only carve out the time”…”Great idea, but who has the time?!”)  I hear it so often I’m starting to wonder if there’s some sort of competition going on — who will win the award for being the busiest this month?  Who has the most stressful job?  Who is the most tired among us?  Like the strangely metaphorical American dinner table scene, who has piled the most onto her plate?

Have you ever noticed in a given day how often advertisers want you to believe their product (a high-tech cellphone, the latest feature for your TV, a certain brand of take-out food, a kitchen utensil, a cleaning product, a new computer program) will magically save hours and hours of your precious time?    If it’s not making us thinner, younger, or richer, it’s saving our time, right?  In the meantime, (pun intended) it seems like the people with the most “time-saving” gadgets are the ones most often complaining about not having any of it.  Pamela Kristan, author of The Spirit of Getting Organized: 12 Skills To Find Meaning and Power in Your Stuff says, “The speedy electronic devices that mediate much of our experience leave us wired, overwhelmed, and forever behind.  Awash in a tidal wave of information, we’re painfully aware of everything we could (or should) do; our expectations rise with the flood.”

Is time really the commodity we make it out to be?  I’m starting to wonder if time itself  is the issue here, or rather, is hankering for more time just another way to compound feelings of scarcity — another cultural device that causes us enough stress to make us want to buy things; to consume.  In other words, we aren’t really looking for a special technique or technological improvement to save time; maybe what we are really after is the feeling of time being less precious.november

Sally Kempton, a nationally-known meditation teacher, writes an article in Yoga Journal Magazine that I look forward to reading every month. This month’s article was (surprise!) about Busyness.  She says many great things, one of them being this: “On a fundamental level, being busy nourishes the ego’s need to feel important.” As soon as I read that, I immediately thought of my own tendency from time to time to say things — even to the people closest to me — like, “I’m too busy to talk today.  Can you call me tomorrow?” or “After next Wednesday, (after Thanksgiving…after this deadline…) then I’ll be able to relax and think about this.”  As true as those statements feel in the moment as I’m juggling any number of projects and appointments, when I stand back, I realize the paradoxical nature of what I’m saying.  My head is feeling busy and bothered — my schedule is full of things to do that help me feel needed, important, and productive.  Meanwhile, someone needs me, and I’m too busy.  This is true for so many of us, isn’t it?  And if so, then why are we too busy for the very people we are trying to make time for, including ourselves?  Why don’t we ever feel like we have enough time?

plenty.of.time.for.a.stroll.in.the

plenty of time for a stroll in the park

Wait a second!  Don’t we all have the same amount of time?  Furthermore, don’t we all have the same amount of time as the “renaissance” folk of eras past — the kind of people you read about who had 9 kids, hand-sewed all their clothes, made every meal from scratch, wrote letters as their only form of correspondence, became fluent in 5 languages, and never missed a Sunday church service in all their lives?  These people didn’t have more time — perhaps they simply knew what was important to them.  Maybe they didn’t underestimate themselves.  Could it be they trimmed the fat off their lives and focused on the basics?

The truth of the matter is this: All we have is time and time is all we have…and that’s been true since the beginning of time.  It’s about time we take a hard look at what we are really wanting, yes?  Britt Bravo has figured out what her “right amount of busy” looks like — what it includes and what it doesn’t.  What’s your personal right amount of busy?

Today’s post is the 1st installment of a 4-part series on Time Management.  In the next 3 installments we’ll look at stategies — real, sustainable strategies — that get to the heart of the time issue and implore us to make tangible changes in our own lives that will give us our time back.  But, since Time Management is the most boring title in the history of boring titles, let’s call it this: [At Least] 15 Let’s-Not-Be-Shy-or-Wimpy Ideas for Having the Time of Your Life. I welcome your comments on what’s been said so far, and let’s get brainstorming, shall we?  Installment 2 coming soon….

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