I often muse about the pros and cons of modern technologies. One of the more interesting and completely subtle innovations is the vast availability of time-keeping devices. On my desk at work, my computer has a clock. So does the telephone, my mp3 player, my work cell, and my personal cell. They sit, all within arm’s reach, and taunt me with how slowly the day is crawling by. Yet, when I get home and the timekeepers are fewer and far between, time seems to evaporate. Time is a very strange thing to wrap one’s head about and for us very busy people, we fear it—or at least the perceived lack of it.
The very first day you started, I asked you to make sure you have a timer and stopwatch. Why? Because we don’t have time. We don’t have time to sweep the floors, to load the dishwasher, to fold the laundry, to get everything ready for tomorrow, and most definitely to do something for ourselves. You do. And our timer/stopwatch is going to make sure of that.
The first half is the timer. The timer limits you. I understand that when you first start you can’t understand how a limit improves your cluttery messy house. The timer effectively prevents burnout. Think of how many times you’ve started clearing the dinner table to find yourself hours later wiping sweat from your brow as you just cleared the dinner table, swept under the dinner table, found it to be messy still so got the mop bucket ready, realized the table wasn’t completely clear so you gave that a careful wipedown, swept the things that inevitably fell off the table, mopped the dining floor to turn around and see the living room floor now looks shabby, swept the living room, noticed the coffee table was really cluttered, straightened it out, proceeded to mop the floor, and then collapsed on a couch. Meanwhile, you got so wrapped up in this project you didn’t hear the dryer buzz, you didn’t pack the kids’ lunches, you really need a shower and its midnight. Suddenly, you don’t have any time—to fold the clothes and put them away, to pack the lunches, or to even shower because you have to be awake at 5:30 in the morning to get everyone ready for school and work. The timer tells you—some rudely, some cheerily– it’s time to stop the current task and move on.
The timer is also going to show you how much time you really have. The first time I set upon a pile with the timer at three minutes, I purposely chose something relatively small. And then, I did it as fast as possible because I was just sure that timer was going to go off while I was smack dab in the middle of it. Well, I finished. I even went and put things away and threw the trash bag away the whole time listening for the timer. It beeped when I opened the trash can. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe I’d done so much in such little time. Even now, I’m still constantly surprised by my timer.
The stopwatch is the other way to demystify the concept of time. Time yourself doing anything at all—except maybe sex, I don’t think that’d go over well. Especially time those tasks you despise doing. Make bets with your family members or friends how long something really takes. Challenge yourself and others to beat your best time. I suggest keeping a stopwatch log and enter all the activities you time yourself doing, when you timed yourself, and how long it took. Time is a very bizarre experience that is too easily dismissed as being in short supply. Here are some ideas to get you started on all sorts of things you can time:
- Wrestle the trash bag out of the trash can, take it outside, put in a fresh bag, and wash your hands
- Make your bed (kids can do this too)
- Call your mother
- Unload the dishwasher
- Walk to your room and take your shoes off in the closet instead of at the door
- Take a hot bath
- Paint your nails
- Make lunch for tomorrow
- Read a chapter or a magazine article
- Drive to your favorite store
- Do groceries
- Browse the internet
- Watch TV
- Wash pots and pans from dinner
Bringing the concept of time into focus is a very powerful thing. You might not feel completely in control of your time, but you will at least start to feel some sort of understanding of its flow and at the very least, you will start to understand there are indeed aspects of time you can control. You will absolutely start to think twice before saying “I don’t have time” no matter what it is and will find yourself making more conscious decisions on what you do spend your time on.
Kids Note: If you have children of homework age who give you a hard time about it, you might want to try tackling that struggle with the stopwatch and timer. Time how long it takes to complete each assignment. Allow your child to work in timed segments with timed breaks. You might come up with a good system that reduces this common struggle. This same concept applies to chores as well or any other task your child grumbles about.