As part of a half-day resilience session I ran earlier this month for an Auckland based marketing team, we worked on creating what I call your Ideal Week – the way your week would look if you were able to include all the things that you really want to do for yourself as well as your commitments at work, with family and so on.
An ideal week might include working from home one morning a week or finishing early on certain days to pick up the kids from school. It could mean getting to a pilates class every Tuesday or playing squash on a Thursday. It’s creating a week that helps you include self-care in an ongoing way so that it becomes the norm, rather than the occasional exception.
The most common thing people say about creating their ideal week?
I don’t have time for that …
Wow, if I had a dollar for every time someone said that about the language class they want to take, getting to their kid’s sports games or starting a small meditation practice, I’d be donating a bunch of coin to my favourite causes.
It’s not about how much time you have, my friend. We all have 24 hours a day to work with. That’s 168 hours every week, and thousands of hours per year. It’s the same amount of time Albert Einstein had, Bill Gates had before, during and after he built Microsoft, and the same number of hours allotted to Oprah Winfrey. When it comes to time, we’re all on a level playing field. They did and do good with their time.
So, if it’s not about the number of hours, what is it about?
Following the resilience session and our work on the ‘Ideal Week’, one of the team sent out a link to a TED Talk by Laura Vanderkam on gaining control of your free time. It perfectly cemented for me this key understanding that it’s not about having enough time, it’s about what we prioritise with the time we have.
The plumbing emergency
Laura makes an excellent case for the idea that “we don’t build the lives we want by saving time, but that when we build the lives we want, time saves itself.” She describes a woman she was studying as part of research around time and schedules. The woman comes home on a Wednesday night to find the hot water cylinder has burst and there is water everywhere. A nightmare. She deals with the initial clean up, then plumbers, then the cleaners, and by the end of the week she has spent seven hours of her week on the disaster.
Do you have seven hours this week to deal with a plumbing emergency?
Are you sure?
Because if you needed to, you’d find the time.
So perhaps there really are two hours in your week to study Mandarin, or mentor that teenager or start writing that book you’ve been talking to yourself about for the last 18 months.
We don’t build the lives we want by saving time, but when we build the lives we want, time saves itself.
When we have to find seven hours, we do.
The rest of the time we are simply finding hours for other things. We might say that pilates class is important to us, but if it really were, we’d have made the time. Our actions say more about our values and priorities than our words.
Laura explains how elastic time is – it will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it. She says the trick is to “treat your priorities like a broken water heater.”
She points out that ‘I don’t have time’ really means this is not important enough for me to allocate time (and/or money) for it. I see this all the time, and not just with my clients. We all say we want certain things in our life we can’t fit in. We complain we haven’t got time to exercise or to read a certain book or take that class.
And yes, the reality is that if you run a business or have three kids or work two jobs or work and study at the same time … or any combination of those, heaven forbid … then you have a full life. It might mean you have fewer disposable hours (beyond sleep time and work hours) to play with than a single person or someone without kids – although they may have other commitments that keep them busy too. In any case, it doesn’t mean there is no time.
Laura Vanderkam has four young children herself, so she’s not kidding about this.
The moment we say we haven’t got time, we take our hands off the steering wheel. We’re saying we have no control over it, no control over how time is spent, and we lose our power.
Really, it’s that dramatic.
Laura says we have the power to fill our lives with the things that deserve to be there. And I believe her.
We can build the lives we want in the time we’ve got.
I can’t afford it. Really?
This phenomenon is not limited to how we relate to time. We can run the same paradigm with money, thinking we don’t have enough for the things we want to do.
What if we we’re really just choosing other things over what we say is important?
This has been a powerful learning for me personally. I mean, isn’t it funny how if we do have a plumbing emergency or unexpected root canal we usually somehow find not just the time to sort it out, but the money for it?
I recommend listening to Laura’s message through that filter too – what if she was talking about money instead of time?
This reminds me of a young woman who booked coaching with me – we’re talking about ten years ago now, but it really stuck with me. She’d booked and planned a series of coaching sessions, but a few days before her first appointment she emailed me to say that she would love to go ahead but wasn’t able to because she couldn’t afford it. She went on to say she was saving up for a holiday in a couple of months.
In her mind she didn’t have money for coaching. In reality she was choosing her holiday instead. There’s nothing that says that’s wrong, but we are cheating ourselves out of honesty and sovereignty when we blame it on the time or money and don’t see that we are making a choice. We’re more powerful when we can see that we are doing the choosing.
I think we especially tend to do this around our own self-care and wellness. In doing so we’re saying there are other things we’re spending our money on right now that we’re prioritising over that massage, mindfulness course, etc. Just as we have 24 hours of time in a day, we have a certain number of dollars per month available to us – what are we making important? How much control are we taking?
What if what truly matters to you got put into your diary or your budget first this month? What would that help you do?