Saving Time by Saving Ourselves
by Celia Straus
Busy women, myself included, find themselves balancing career demands or the demands of a newborn with other personal and family responsibilities by approaching life as one long "to do" list. Excluding an occasional emergency, we're even capable of maintaining relationships with those we love during these hectic "to do list" periods of our lives by keeping them "on task" as well.
However, while this time-saving approach may keep us organized and even accommodate our need for "30 minutes to unwind" or "prioritized family time," we are still basically checking bits of life off, item by item in order to move on to the next thing. The weakness of this strategy, besides being somewhat joyless, is that people, particularly the people we care about, will persist in being themselves instead of a check mark. Suddenly our "to do" list strategy is slowed down or comes to a roaring halt. This happens so frequently when I'm with my husband or a child, that I've had to find alternative strategies that avoid the issue of time altogether, but, in fact, keep us both engaged, productive and connected. And we all know that if our closest relationships are disconnected our ability to set priorities, delegate and practice self care is diminished.
Be in the Present: Instead of being in the present, our minds are usually swinging in great arcs from the past (did I do that right?) to the future (now I need to get this done). By gently shifting both our focuses to right here, right now, time becomes a non-issue. This doesn't mean we lollygag around " wasting time" in a 24/7 world. It simply means we are aware of what is happening around us at the moment. We connect over what appear to be the insignificant details of the moment but place us on common ground, the only ground in which relationships thrive.
For me, ongoing budgetary, child rearing or other issues between my husband (which we all have with our significant others) evaporate if we both put our total attention on say, preparing a dinner that is healthy and tasty. For my daughter, resentment of my continual sense of urgency ("You're so stressed out, Mom. Just chill; we won't be late") and "nosey" questions disappears when we both stop to notice the freshly fallen snow on the ivy tree while stuffing her backpack and sports gear, my briefcase and tote bag into the car at 7:30 am. For my neighbor, who just had a baby, trying to be efficient on three months of sleep deprivation becomes a non-issue when she is breast-feeding and simply unfolds into joy and peacefulness of the moment. Being in the present is like meditation. It rejuvenates your mind, body and spirit. Being in the present with someone you love rejuvenates the relationship.
Take Advantage of Spontaneous Opportunities: Life is going to throw us curve balls no matter how perfectly we fulfill all our roles or how efficiently we jam every obligation into our day. When I'm with someone I care about, I avoid reacting to a situation I cannot control, such as being caught in a traffic jam or waiting for an extra hour in the doctor's office by making mindless calls on my cell phone or mentally adding to my "to do list." Instead I try to welcome the experience of simply being with that person without choosing an agenda. I am trusting that by making no effort to fill the time, those infinitely important but often elusive intangibles that cannot be planned or prioritized for such as laughter, mutual awareness, nostalgia, closeness, respect, comfort and love may happen. If we are with a baby or toddler, spontaneity takes less effort (if we are aware of its possibilities) since these little ones just naturally take advantage of whatever life offers them. It is these experiences that determine the quality of our relationships, and, surprisingly, the ones we often remember long after they occur. Moreover, when I'm with someone I love and life offers us a spontaneous opportunity that we can choose to embrace or not, I try not to automatically discount it if it means throwing my balanced life off for a couple of hours. Assuming no one is going to be traumatized by the choice, the most constructive use of our time, when we pass by a movie theater and realize that there is no line for a movie that we've both wanted to see may be to go in and see it.
Pay Full Attention: Although I pride myself on my ability to multi-task, this skill is not always conducive to good time management or relationship building. Sometimes the best way to accomplish both is to do something with the whole self. To engage with full attention as though nothing else in the world matters is to forget time and self entirely. What a relief! If I am paying full attention to what I am doing, I stop regretting the past and worrying about the future and concentrate fully on the reality of life now. If I am eating a salad, I put my whole attention on every bite. If I am walking the dog, I try to "get out of my thoughts" and focus on the reality of the park, my dog's playful demeanor and the smell of wood burning in someone's fireplace. Surprisingly, focusing your whole attention on something is neither time-consuming nor unproductive. Instead of putting off living until things stop being so hectic or I can establish better boundaries to what I can accomplish, I accept the fact that life is always firing point blank at me, and all the timesaving strategies in the world won't stop it.
Copyright 2004, Celia Straus