We seem to have very little time suddenly. Days are more stuffed than the upstairs hamper I avert my gaze from, whistling as I pass, as if it can see me, as if it’s sitting there in judgment with socks spilling out of it. Modern life is ridiculous when it comes to the concept of time—having enough of it, spending it well, incessant discussion of achieving BALANCE. Workdays “conclude” hours after they should. Our kids are next in line to be not-enough-timers, as they’re living amateur versions of our schedules already.
We are too busy. Or at least we are too busy telling everyone how busy we are. Who has time for actual Time Management? For the implementation of another system? I don’t. Do you? I didn’t think so. You’re busy!
Packed to a button-busting extreme, many days feel like a sprint to the finish line. Not only do I feel unable to recall everything that’s happened since I woke up, I don’t remember my hopeful intentions for the day, which by now seem quaint. I’m sure they included a list of things I was going to finish—or start. The prioritizing of deadlines. Fun tidbits like scheduling a mammogram. Reopening the file of writing that menaces me like the Babadook. (I’d tell you about The Babadook but I don’t have time. Look it up instead of scheduling a mammogram or colonoscopy or whatever bliss is detailed on that prescription you’ve been carrying around for months.)
There were people I was going to respond to about things that felt essential in the shower but less so once the distractions of the day covered my brain like a knit cap. Was it this morning I ate the shard of English muffin my daughter left behind, the one that went down like coral reef? Or was it today that I drank too much coffee and stood at the sink, spray-gunning Cheerios into extinction rather than scooping them out of the drain—tripling the amount of time but delighted by the obliteration. This was done looking out the window into the frozen yard, lamenting the dead bushes I failed to protect from winter because I didn’t have Time to save them. I spent a minute considering the metaphor and then made mental plans to see my friend, an acupuncturist, to cure all my problems with her needles.
Then a text came in about something pressing and I didn’t return to thoughts of curative needles all day.
I don’t think we move far from our baseline time-management style. Whatever our natural method of getting things done at any moment seems a good predictor of how we’ll go on getting things done. I was appalled as a kid watching my brother’s nearly comical procrastinations. Just knowing all the homework he’d have to cram into buzzer-beating all-nighters set my nervous system ablaze. In horror, I’d watch him gather up crumpled stacks of work and microwaved, food-like items and begin the tasks he could have handled over a period of weeks. It was a live freak show at our kitchen table, with black beans and melted cheese.
I felt very superior with my checklists and early-bird worming. In the end, though, with no time-management strategies whatsoever, indeed with the opposite of time management, he trounced me in the grades department, attended better schools, got a more noble, important job, has more money, routinely savages me in board games with Latin root crap, is a more charitable person, and is objectively far more accomplished than I’ll ever be. I have, for my trouble, nicely lettered checklists, though. So. The point is, neither of us has changed much. I’m guessing you haven’t either.
Since I don’t believe in time-management “tips” that will demonstrably improve your life, think of these as ways to navigate your bad feelings about not having enough time.
1. Give up on some things. Today, you are either finishing the project that gets you paid or you’re making the homemade what-have-you. Today, you can’t do both. You don’t even have to! Celebrate this.
2. If you choose to get paid, you can send the laundry out, and the fat, reeking hamper will no longer bully you. Everything will come back folded as if by very small robots with very small, pincer hands. You should not waste a SECOND feeling guilty about spending money on this rare luxury—a classic time suck.
3. When you’re too busy, other people annoy you. That feels bad. Pick a population to not be irritated by. Try not to be annoyed by your kids so often. I know they’re annoying. I know your kids! I’m annoyed by mine almost constantly! But your annoyance with them is what leads to over-scheduling them and making them too busy. Soon enough, if all goes well and they become independent people, they will leave you and live interesting lives very separate from your own. And suddenly you’ll be blessed enough to miss them because they are off doing great things in exotic places and you’ll wonder why you caved in to annoyance and as a result wanted them out of the house so often, which is now a quiet, empty place with a hamper only a third full.
4. It’s okay to do that thing tomorrow.
5. Except for planning your vacation. Do that now. Even just thinking about it will relax you. And then you will be nicer to everyone and spend less time apologizing for being cranky/unpleasant.
6. I know you’re not going to listen, but I think you’ll look back on your life and regret spending time posting those strenuously curated, carefully selected moments with the bright exclamations about these moments for which the same 44 or 68 or 206 or 601 people will ‘Like’ in a transactional manner. I cannot overstate how much less busy you’ll feel if you stop curating/posting/looking and liking. I’m wasting my own time by even suggesting this because you are not going to stop. Not ever.
7. Believe me when I say you are doing a good job. You’re doing the best you can. You work pretty hard most of the time. Try to work less and do a bit of nothing more often.
These might be the worst tips you’ve ever gotten. If you follow them, you might fail spectacularly at life. This is not one size fits all. But I can assure you of at least one thing: The last four minutes of your life have been well and righteously spent.