“Without giving up hope—that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be—we will never relax with where we are or who we are.” ~Pema Chödrön
There are twenty-four hours in a day. This is true for you, me, Obama, and Oprah. Yet, I often feel like there are things that I would love to do… if I only had enough time.
I used to spend my days in a frenzy.
At my worst, I woke up at around 4:45 to meditate for an hour, then go to the gym, rush off to my twelve-hour law job worried that I would be late for my first meeting, eat at my desk, cancel coffee dates and dinner dates because something urgent came up, take a cab home at 10:00 or so, go to sleep, and do it all again the next day. There was no space.
On the one hand, you could say that I was making the most of my twenty-four hours. After all, I was getting a lot done! But was I really? Each task that I was doing was focused exclusively on getting it done so I could move onto the next one.
It was all about checking off items on the list, and moving forward to some elusive time or place when I would have… time.
Thankfully, I have now changed my relationship with my precious twenty-four hours. Here is what I do to make the most of the time that I do have:
1. Notice the words “I don’t have enough time.” Change the language.
We’ve established that we all have the same amount of time. So why dwell on the obvious? Instead, be honest with yourself. If there is something that you are not doing, you are choosing not to.
When someone asks you to meet up and you say no, when you forego a workout, when you wish you could get a massage but can’t fit it in, recognize that you’ve made a different choice with your time today.
You could say, “I would love to, but I have another commitment.” Be present with that. Notice how it feels to have made that choice. Perhaps, you will make a different choice next time.
2. Know what your priorities are. Stick to them.
Today, I know clearly what my priorities are. And they are so simple.
Stay healthy—physically, mentally, and spiritually. I make time for about one hour of yoga and meditation daily six days a week.
Spend time with my friends and family. I’ve foregone promotions so I can work reasonable hours, have dinner with my family every day, and spend time with my husband in the evenings. When I make a commitment to meet a friend for coffee or lunch, I stick to it and say no to other things that come up, with very few exceptions.
Be kind and helpful to others; be of service. In the hours that I am at work, I try not to procrastinate or complain. I am present with whatever task or person is presented to me, and do my best to help. I give my full attention to what is happening in the moment, and use my skills and talents to assist to the best of my ability.
By knowing my priorities and sticking to them, I know I am making the best of my twenty-four hours. I am consistently doing things that are important to me, and that I feel are making a contribution in some way.
3. Let go of what others think of you. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Sticking to your priorities will involve a whole lot of saying no. No is a complete sentence. You will get better at it. People will respect you for it.
On Monday, I am starting a new job. I am terrified and I have heard that it is a grueling environment, and people tend to work late at night and on weekends.
I am still planning to work from 8:30-4:30. I have already mentioned this to my new boss, and she agreed. At the same time, I’ve already been copied on e-mails that fly back and forth at 10 pm or 5 am.
The advice I have gotten, that I hope to follow, is to pause before responding to these after-hours e-mails. I will ask myself: Is it really necessary for me to respond right now, or can it wait until the morning? My guess is that 95 percent of the e-mails can wait.
This approach, if I’m able to stick to it, will likely have a few outcomes:
a. A lot of people will be unhappy that I’m not responding right away. They may not like me
b. Eventually, they will accept it.
c. If I do great work in the hours that I am available, they will learn to respect my choice.
Another possible outcome is that it will be a disaster and I will have to leave and go to another job. That is okay too. My choice to use my twenty-hour hours in a way that supports my priorities of health, human connections, and service is well worth it.
4. Stop worrying about your “purpose.”
I tend to spend a lot of my time worrying about what to do with my time. Is this really the best career for me? Should I go back to school? Am I using my best skills? Is there something else I am meant to be doing? Am I fulfilling my potential? Am I living wholeheartedly and making the world a better place?
This is a huge waste of time for me! When it comes down to it, you live your life how you live your days. If you live your days, your moments, your hours well, you will spend your life well.
So stop worrying about your “life,” and bring your attention to what this day brings. Love all of it. Your purpose is not to change the world, but to experience it fully in all its ambiguity.
5. Enjoy the most mundane tasks. Do them with joy.
There are many activities throughout the day that we may call a “waste” of time. Being squished like a sardine in the subway. Brushing your teeth. Standing in line at the grocery store. Doing the dishes… again.
Yet, let’s return to this concept of the twenty-four hours. They are what they are. However we are spending them, they are of equal value. We can’t waste them; we already have them. We are not “wasting” time; we are forgetting to experience it.
One of the most common difficulties people have in starting a meditation practice is that they don’t have enough time. Yet, these moments of “wasted” time are the perfect activities for meditation!
Next time you are in a “time-wasting” activity, bring your attention to your breath. Settle into whatever it is that you are doing. Notice your feet supported by the earth beneath you. Notice your posture, relax the shoulders, open your heart.
Notice your mind wandering to whatever you have to do next, or whatever didn’t yet get done today. Let the thoughts go and return to your breath. Rest in the preciousness of this very moment. You may just find that you have all the time you need.
Paula Vital’s passion for mindful living is expressed in her varied roles as senior government advisor, yoga teacher, mindfulness coach, wife, and mom of two. Paula speaks regularly at corporate events and has been featured at TEDx “ideas worth spreading.” Sign up for Paula’s free course of 3 Minute Meditations: 3 Minutes to Your Greatest Self on her website, www.livethepresent.ca.