Are you feeling a little overwhelmed today?

Perhaps a little stressed about your to-do list or maybe anxious about your inbox . . . .

It seems with all the time-saving devices we have and tricks we employ we have less time.  So I wondered—what is up with that?

Here is what my contemplation of that question has revealed:

I have saved time.

I think back to when I was in college and I did not have a dishwasher and had to wash all the dishes by hand.  I now have a dishwasher and it saves me time every day.

I know I am dating myself, but I remember when sending an email message was both experimental and a novelty; it was a marvel to send an email and have it arrive in the same day.  (Often it took one or two days.)  In those days, reliable written communication was done via the US Postal Service. Now we have text messages and a variety of other ways to have almost instant written communication.  That saves me time every day.

I used to have to go to the bank to deposit a check and now, through mobile banking, I can deposit from my home office.  That saves me time.

“So what is your point,” you might be asking yourself.  “Yes, things have moved on and we have many modern conveniences that save us time.”  I am still stressed and still do not have enough time.

My point is a question: what are you choosing to do with the time you have saved?  Let’s sit with that question for a moment.  (You can imagine Jeopardy music playing, if it helps.)

When I sat with that question, my truthful answer was: more.

With the time I don’t have to spend on washing the dishes and drying them, I am riding my bike, watching TV, playing Solitaire, organizing pictures, sharing pictures with family, or exploring a new time-saving app.

With the time I’ve saved waiting for email to reach the recipient, I now have a crammed inbox that I feel obligated to read first thing each day.  I have not been diligent about who I choose to allow into my inbox, so I just have more email to read, reply to, file, or delete.  And with instant communication comes the expectation of an instant reply unless you purposely set a different expectation.

With the time I save driving to the bank, I can inform and educate myself by attending one more webinar.

There seem to always be more things to do than I have time for, so choosing where I spend my time is critical.  As my wise friend Rashad pointed out to me one day, the most valuable currency we trade in is not money; it is our time.  You can make more money; you cannot make more time.

I’ve never sold my soul but I have sold my time; that’s kind of what being in a “j-o-b” is.  Looking back, I have to ask: Did I charge enough?

Work is one time commitment, but how do we manage our personal time?  It can be tempting to “pile on” commitments, obligations and projects—especially when they appear to be worthwhile and/or enjoyable.  And it’s easy to do this until we reach the breaking point—except that people are so darned resilient that we can push ourselves past the breaking point without realizing it.  We “short” our sleep, eat fast food instead of whole food, skip the workout, and ask those around to us to “understand” or “forgive” or even lend a hand to help us dig out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves.

So often, when I say, “I don’t have time for that” what I really mean is, “I’m already overwhelmed (or almost overwhelmed) and I can’t add one more thing.”  What if I changed my perspective on “I don’t have time for that”; what if I viewed it as a decision, not as an excuse?  What if I said, “I don’t have time for that because I am proactively keeping my life at the pace I desire?”  What if I made conscious decisions to value my “me-time”—to take care of myself physically, mentally and emotionally—and adjusted my other commitments accordingly?  What if we all did this?

Being a work in progress myself, I experiment in making different choices to see what works—or at least works better—for me.  Recently, I have started a new practice of beginning my day by writing down three things for which I am grateful.  And so that it does not become a box-ticking exercise (I-wrote-down-three-things-got-that-done-now-I-can-get-on-with-ticking-more-boxes-as-I-continue-my-overwhelming-day!  pant, pant), I sit for a few minutes

and contemplate

the variety of ways I am grateful

for each one that I wrote down.

Today, I wrote:

“I am grateful for John.” (If you have read some of my previous blogs, you will know that John is my husband.)

“I am grateful for Danielle.”

“I am grateful for the freedom to pursue my dreams.”

As I sat, the morning sunlight illuminating the room, I breathed in, and out, and contemplated.  This was not a timed exercise; I put no pressure on myself to “get finished.”  I relaxed and just . . . thought.  About John.  I thought, “I am grateful for John’s imagination.  He can take me to an amazing place of wonder quickly and easily.”  Like the time someone gave me a package of soap leaves for Christmas.  I had never seen soap leaves before and did not know what they were.  As he tried to explain their purpose, he began to weave a great tale about those soap leaves.  As it became more elaborate—and more hilarious and outrageous—I joined in and, together, we created a fantastic story where the soap leaves ended up being alien soap leaves that had travelled the galaxy!  We laughed so hard through each twist and turn that I could not breathe.  All the story details are long-forgotten, but the memory of it—the memory of that moment and of our shared laughter, lives on in both of us.  It is a delightful memory.

I am grateful for his perspective.  He keeps me from dropping down the rabbit-hole, particularly when I am stuck in my own bias or can’t see the forest for the trees.

I am grateful for his patience.  I can sometimes be stubborn (OK, you can stop that knowing laugh now) and he is patient with me and allows me to come to a better place in my own time and on my own terms.  There is no shouting or pushing, just gentle nudging until I can see my own stubbornness and choose a better way of being.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Still sitting in that same morning sunlight, still breathing in, and out, I cast my thoughts to my second statement—“I am grateful for Danielle.”

Danielle is a dear friend and business partner.  She is funny, direct and so easy to work with.  I especially appreciate her wise counsel built from years of doing and being; it is real life experience.

She also brings a different perspective and helps me navigate the unknown waters I sometimes find myself in as I work to build my business.

When I speak with her on the phone, I know that no matter what is going on in her life or mine, I will always get a sincere “How are you doing?” to start the conversation.  It is not a perfunctory nicety to be done and gotten out of the way.  She really wants to know.

Sometimes, I am so excited or anxious to use all the time we have “getting down to business” that I forget the niceties.  That gentle, sincere—“How are you doing?”—pulls me back and allows me to take a breath. What a gift!  Thank you Danielle!

I contemplate each of the three “I am grateful for . . .” statements and then start my day.

I cannot say my practice is perfect; sometimes I jump into my day without completing this exercise.  I know when I am able to do this practice first, my day starts much more calmly.  I am more aware of the things that are important to me—the things that I want to nourish.  It helps me be more present, throughout the day, with the people and activities that are most important to me, which makes for better outcomes.

Perhaps you’re thinking: that’s all well and good for you, Coach Carol, but I truly don’t have that kind of time in my morning.  The kids need to be ready for school, the pets want to be fed and I still have to get to my job on time.  I hear you.  This is what works for me, and it can be adapted.  The next time you’re standing in line—passing time, waiting—that can be your calm, contemplative, gratitude moment.  Or while brushing your teeth.  You know that traffic light that always takes forEVER?  Same thing.  Life gives us the gift of pauses, which we can see as maddening obstacles on our way to doing the next thing, or as opportunities to take a momentary vacation from doing.

For me, there are so many things I want to do, only so many things that I can do and so many things that there will never be time to do.  I would have to live a thousand lifetimes.  But isn’t that great?!  Isn’t it wonderful to be intrigued and curious and energized by the world and feel that there are no limits to its possibilities and potentials?  I want to ride more, coach more, learn more, laugh more, read more, exchange ideas with John, listen to music, and watch the birds and squirrels in my yard (yesterday I saw a deer!) . . .  Consider the alternative scenario: “Watcha wanna do?”  “I dunno.”  Perhaps being all you can be in life isn’t about how many accomplishments you have—it’s about being alive.

If I stay focused on what is important to me, I make better choices with my time.  I still struggle with making peace with those things I will not have time to do.  That is a topic for another day.  Standing in gratefulness and allowing it to help me be more aware and alive eases my acceptance of not enough time.  In each ordinary moment, I feel I am spending my time wisely.

Don’t settle for doing what you can shoehorn into your busy schedule.  Figure out what’s important to you; figure out what matters, and then pursue it.  Work your busy schedule around those things that truly matter to you.  To paraphrase Steven Covey, put your big rocks in first, then your pebbles—the sand and water will take care of itself.

That’s my plan.

And I’m going to do it right after I clean the house.
And fix these hard drives.
And declutter my office space.
And do the grocery shopping.  And trim the bushes.  And take the car in for an oil change. . . .

I did mention I was a work in progress! 😉

* “No Time” by Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings