Life beyond the ceaseless ticking

IMG_0145-1Time has been slow the last few days. P (nanny) had a family emergency that brought her to South Carolina on Thursday. Then we all got snowed in. I have tried to just go with the rhythm that a toddler dictates. I aim for one morning activity that gets us out of the house if possible, lunch, then nap. When the little one goes down for a nap, I immediately hop on the treadmill. That is my cue. It is starting to be a habit, and I am getting into this interval running thing. The day I am writing this (Sunday) I did 6 sprints, the last two at 9.2 mph. Then I spend time thinking and writing. I have had some good insights. Nap is never as long as I want, but I do feel I am making some progress. We try to do something between 3:30-4:30 p.m. Some days it has been picking up kids at activities. Others it is playing in the snow. Once I have gotten to 4:30, I start to feel like I have made it through another day. Saturday I sat and drank a beer and read a magazine in the nursery while the 1-year-old played pretty happily from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Then comes dinner, baths, bed. The kids are generally out of my hands around 8:30-ish, leaving 2 hours to read or write before my 10:30 p.m. bedtime. The good thing about going to bed at 10:30 is I am getting a lot of sleep. For 3 days in a row I was not woken before 6:30.

Key learning: lots of sleep leads to trippy dreams. My brain is like a participant in National Novel Writing Month, who writes out what she has, realizes she is only at 30,000 words, and just has to keep going to 50k. Why not throw an elevator to Mars in there? I mean, why not?

I know the exact length of my sleeping, and all these other things, because I have been tracking my time continuously since April. I intend to keep going for at least a year (8784 hours — the existence of Feb 29 will account for the extra 24). As I slide in toward my goal, it raises the obvious question of why. What is the point?

On some level time-tracking has made me very aware of the hours. That does not necessarily sound like a good thing. Much of life already feels like a march dictated by ceaseless ticking. Why would I wish to be more mindful of passing time?

The answer is that I am hoping to reach a different stage in my relationship with the clock. I think the first step of time management is becoming a good steward of hours. I want to consciously avoid time-wasters that are neither meaningful nor enjoyable to me or the people I care about. I want to develop a good sense of how long things take so am not late and rushing and I make progress on long-term projects. I want to make sure I have space for good things in my life.

This is a necessary first step, just as learning to read music and figuring out the basics of an instrument and playing scales are necessary first steps for musicians. But they are only first steps. Beyond that there is much possibility for creativity — good things that seem almost effortless.

I saw a musical example of that this Sunday morning at church where the organist, sitting for the day at the piano since we only had 40 of us in the pews, improvised an offertory. The hymn from the moment for children (which we had not sung, as there were no kids) made an appearance. So did a little etude of some sort that I had heard before. Perhaps I learned it years ago on the piano. All this eventually gave way, as it does, to the Doxology. Meanwhile, he was looking down the aisle the whole time, seeing where the ushers were. Part of his brain was thinking of the keys, of course. But he could look away. His well-trained hands knew what to do.

Any given instrument has just a certain number of notes. But a master can combine them in unexpected and intriguing ways. First comes the intense study. Over time, though, the technique is ingrained and the mind is freed to focus on creating something beautiful.

I think it is the same with time. We have only certain numbers of seconds in minutes, hours is days. Yet some people take these basic limitations and do amazing things with them. I see this when I study people like the working homeschooling parents I just wrote about for Fast Company. The hours are moved about creatively. In one view of time these things are incompatible. In other, the pieces all fit. I see this as I study people who work reasonable hours in unreasonable fields — how they are often careful to spend time on the planning, connecting, and platform-building parts of work in addition to the core production. I have enjoyed studying creative types who have managed to scale up their personal brands, leveraging their work so each hour counts more. People who know time is elastic will willingly take risks to live the lives they want. Yes, coaching that basketball team takes time and commitment, and yes, you are busy at work, but work can expand to fill all available space. If you choose to make those Monday night practices a priority, most likely they will happen. And some people know how to slow time down by deepening their experience of it. It is watching a toddler’s face as he feels the snowflakes on his nose. He is not sure what to make of it. He is happy, he is sad, he is puzzled, he is mesmerized. It is the range of human emotion, in one cold moment on a driveway.

8 thoughts on “Life beyond the ceaseless ticking

      1. this is my problem. Its so hard to not be thinking 1 (2, 3, 4) steps ahead to the next thing I need to do. If I can stay in the moment it really does expand to contain so much more.

  1. Great post. I managed to track my time the entire week and am continuing. I like getting a feel for how my week goes. Combining this with Gretchen Rubin’s four tendencies has been the most helpful. The more I know myself that better I can fit the pieces together.

  2. Random question: with a midday run, how do you handle showering/changing/etc? I usually work out in the morning so I only need to get ready once, but my work schedule just changed and I’m thinking about shifting to midday.

    1. @Heather- since I work at home, I let myself be a little dirty. I change out of my running clothes, but generally don’t shower a second time. If I were going somewhere that night I might. When I worked in one office with a gym I’d just build in showering time – very quick, like a 3 minute rinse-off. My hair looked worse the second half of the day.

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