“Instead of saying ‘I don’t have time’ try saying ‘it’s not a priority,’ and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: ‘I’m not going to edit your resumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.’ ‘I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.’ If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.” -wall.street.journal
In elementary school, my friends and I went through a phase where we would play Double Dutch jump ropes at recess. We would all take turns going into the ropes, seeing how many times we could jump or how long we could last. When it came to be my turn, I remember watching the ropes spin around. and around. and around. and listening to the repetitive clack. clack. clack. that the ropes made as they hit the concrete. As I admired their concise circles and the soothing sound of their constant clacks, I was hesitant to invade upon the rhythm of the ropes. If I did it incorrectly–if I did it at the wrong time–my entrance would disrupt everything. So, I would wait, and watch, and try to pick just the right moment. And then I would go. Sometimes, this worked. But other times, I would go, only to stop briefly a moment later, and then go again. I would hesitate and change my mind, and overthink it. It would be too late. The clacking would quiet and the ropes would lay tangled at my feet. I had chosen the wrong time or I had waited too long and I had ruined the rhythm of the ropes.
When I did successfully enter the ropes, I would do alright. I would jump at the intervals I was supposed to jump at, pleased with the clacking around me. As long as I continued jumping, I would be fine. Some people could exit the ropes without having to stop–I was never able to do this. I could never find a time to exit, and once I had the correct jumping rhythm down, I was terrified of stopping something that I knew was working. I didn’t know how to pin down the right time to leave without getting tangled up, or how to make the decision to leave. I preferred to keep jumping rather than to risk messing up a rhythm I had so far managed to maintain. So I jumped. and jumped. and jumped. I watched the ropes spin around me. Inevitably, something always disrupted the rhythm eventually anyway.
I often think about time, and about timing. About how much of it I have, and how to best spend it, and what it is worth, and when is the best time for what, and in what order. I often think about how I wish my replica of Hermione Granger’s time turner did more than just look cool on my bookshelf.
I keep a very full and very precarious schedule. On any given week, I work a minimum of 60 hours and attend 6 hours of classes. Then, I do my homework, grocery shop, meal prep, clean my apartment, and spend time with friends. Frankly, I am pretty proud of the ways that I am able to utilize my time. On many accounts, I probably work too much. But most of the time, I do feel as though I do a good job of finding room for my friends, which is important to me. I care deeply about the people and the relationships in my life. As long as I am given appropriate notice, I will be at your birthday or go out to dinner with you or go on a road trip or catch up with you when you’re in town. Without any notice, I will edit your paper or your cover letter, listen to your problems, or show up when you’re in crisis. When there is a single moment available, I will fill it with you and I will prioritize you and I will never doubt that this is the best way to spend my time. This is a promise, and you are allowed to tell me when I need to be better.
Despite my scheduling prowess, I do have a hard time prioritizing things that aren’t “real”, or tangible. In theory, I would like to make more time for dating. Despite my busy schedule, I do believe that if I had an actual person who I cared about, I would find a way to make time for them just as I do for my friends. But, making time for the process of getting to that point proves difficult. It’s hard to make time for someone who doesn’t actually exist in your life yet. It’s hard to actually show someone that you’re interested or that you care when you have to check your Outlook calendar and pencil them in three weeks from Tuesday. Trust me, I understand these optics and I know they aren’t great. I’m working on it.
Even less “real” is making time for myself. I know that I should sleep more, spend more time at home, do something that qualifies as relaxing. But I also have a hard time viewing these things as “must get dones”, and they tend to get pushed down the list of priorities and to-do’s. Sure, self-care is important. I understand that in theory. But in practice, self-care doesn’t have a due-date or a start-time the way that homework assignments or work do. It doesn’t have a memory or a shared moment or a person counting on you the way that time with friends does. But, I know it needs to be a priority. I’m working on it.
On the day to day, I struggle with time, but I’m working on it. On a larger scale, I struggle with timing. How do I know when it is the right time to do something, to change something, to stop something, to try something? It is always, always easier for me to just continue to do things, or to add things. Stopping is what is difficult for me. I never figured out how to exit the ropes. I am not sure how to know when it is time to end one chapter and move on to another. I am afraid of doing things in the wrong order, or doing the right things but at the wrong time. I recently read a post on the internet that said the following:
“When people talk about traveling to the past, they worry about radically changing the present by doing something small, but barely anyone in the present really thinks that they can radically change the future by doing something small”
I love the empowerment in this idea. I love the idea that it only takes small actions and regular people to change the future. I love the idea of focusing on changing the future, which we can do, rather than changing the present, for which it is too late. But, I am also terrified of this power. How do I know what the right small thing is at the right time? What if you do the right thing at the wrong time? Or if you waste the right time on the wrong thing? What if you miss your opportunity to change the future? But, then again, what if you’re so afraid of doing it wrong that you don’t even try? Surely that’s more harmful than getting the timing wrong.
In my day to day life, I don’t have a lot of time but I try to spend that I do have in the right ways. I try to be intentional in my priorities and own the decisions I make about how I spend it. Maybe this is the right approach to timing on a larger scale too. Maybe it doesn’t have to be so delicate. Maybe we have to make the time right, because maybe it will never be right until you are ready for it to be. Or maybe it will never be right at all, but you work with the time you are given. Maybe you just do what you can with what you have and hope that it works. And even if it doesn’t, maybe it’s just enough that you’re trying. Maybe one day, I can be as good at timing my choices as I am at choosing my time. I’m working on it. I guess only time will tell (*ba dum tshhh*).