Time is elastic

In 2016, I gave a TED talk on “How to take control of your free time.” In it, I recounted a story of a woman whose water heater broke during the week she was tracking her time.

The aftermath of this disaster consumed seven hours of what was already an incredibly busy week. Seven hours is an interesting number, because it is the equivalent of “finding an extra hour in the day!” — a promise I have read on a great many magazine covers. And yet, if we had sat down at the beginning of the week, and tried to find seven hours for something like training for a triathlon or setting up a new mentoring program, I imagine we all would have struggled.

So what happened? Basically, time is elastic. When we decide that we need to do something, we find the time to do it. Other stuff either doesn’t happen, or it takes less time, or it gets punted forward. Much other stuff turns out to be more malleable than we might have imagined. And so, of course, the key to time management is treating the things we *want* to do with the urgency of the things we *need* to do. We make time for them first, and let everything else take the hit.

Easier said than done, to be sure. But I keep trying. This week, for instance, has turned out to have more time-consuming stuff in it, mostly personally though some professionally, than I planned. Such is life. I also had planned to take Thursday afternoon “off” for some little adventures from my winter fun list (visiting a greenhouse, seeing wintry scenes at an art museum). When I lost big chunks of focused time on Wednesday with the delivery window fiascos, Thursday was an obvious back up spot.

But I decided that time is elastic. I would probably feel behind one way or the other, whether I did my adventures or not. Better to have the adventures in this time I’d allotted and trust I’d figure something out.

So I did. Nothing life changing. A 30-minute stroll through the Brandywine museum looking at Andrew Wyeth paintings. About 90 minutes at Longwood looking at orchids and wintry meadows. Home in time to log another hour of work before dinner. But Thursday felt a little more memorable than it would if I’d stayed at my desk. I’m sure everything will fit one way or another.

Photo: Scarlet-plume from the Longwood greenhouse

7 thoughts on “Time is elastic

  1. Thanks for the nudge to do what we “want” to do with the urgency of what we “need” to do. So happy you managed to go for the little adventures on Thursday instead of pushing them forward.

  2. Agree on this. If you prioritize something, you’ll get it done one way or another, because you put your focus and effort there.

  3. This makes me think of my Orlando teaching days. The day John Glenn returned to space, we raced outside to watch from our middle school’s front lawn. I know whatever I was teaching at the moment felt urgent and important. But what was remembered that day? John Glenn’s liftoff, for sure.

  4. “the key to time management is treating the things we *want* to do with the urgency of the things we *need* to do”

    YES. There is so much psychology that could be unpacked from this….
    I used to subscribe pretty seriously to the jar metaphor: where you fit the large rocks (i.e. highest priority) items into the jar first, then everything else will fit.
    The problem with this metaphor–as it took me years to figure out–is that no ones tells you that things you want to do are *also* important, and should also be large rocks sometimes. For years, I only prioritized needs, obligations, and OPPs (Other People’s Priorities)–because prioritizing my wants over OPPs was “selfish.” I relegated my wants into the sand that goes into the jar last….except I could never fit the sand in.
    Well, I’m older, and wiser. Of course I need to respect my responsibilities and obligations, and *certain* OPPs, but I’ve come to realize that my *wants* are also important.

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