It's About Time! Keeping More of What's Yours

It's September again. Back to school night. Music lessons. Soccer practice. Church committees. Work meetings in the evening and out of town travel. Too many commitments, I feel overwhelmed and the school year is just starting. But thanks to a friend, my problem with too little time is getting better. If you have concerns about time, some of my experiences might be of interest. Recently I was pulling my few remaining hairs out trying to do the impossible -- get more than 168 hours out of a week. As I complained to a friend about everything I had to do and hardly having time to breathe or go to the bathroom, he laughed and told me about a movie he'd seen. "Do what Michael Keaton did in Multiplicity", he joked. " He went to a geneticist and got cloned so there would be four of him. He had plenty of time then.""Come on", I said as my frustration peaked, "this is serious. I'm going crazy trying to do all this stuff."My friend got quiet and asked in a more serious tone: "Sounds like you've got a time problem? I was overwhelmed too until I stopped giving all my time away." "Get real", I shot back. " I don't give my time away. I have to do all of this. What am I supposed to do -- ignore my kids?"After we bantered back and forth like this for a few more minutes, he finally said: "You've got more choices about time than you want to admit. Do you really want it to be different?"Stupid question, I thought. Of course I did. Just always felt impossible, no matter how much I planned or what daytimer I used.My friend told me about something he called "time debting". "Think of time the same way you think of money in your wallet," he explained. "You have a limited amount each week to spend. When it's gone, it's gone. If you treated your money the way you treat time, you'd end up bankrupt.""I don't get it," I shot back. "I'm not talking about money. There's just not enough time to do what I need to do for my family and job.""I remember believing that, too. Constantly racing to the next appointment. Congratulating myself on what a dedicated parent and employee I was and getting more miserable and overwhelmed each week. The summer wasn't much better and forget holidays. I felt guilty about never doing enough for my kids and cheated out of my own life. Had to be this way, I told myself.""So what happened?""Same thing that's happening with you. I was complaining hopelessly to a friend. She told me about time debting and how she and others were applying the same approach to getting control of time that people with spending problems apply to getting and staying out of debt. She discovered she didn't need to be a victim of time. She had choices.""Come on -- it's not that simple. I'm not dumb. If it were that easy, I'd change.""You're right," my friend allowed. "It's not easy but it is fairly simple.Here's what has worked for me and my friend and a lot of others. I've seen these tips help students, single parents, couples, and retired people."He handed me a piece of paper -- Tips for overcoming time debting. It suggested the following: 1) Admit you may have a problem with time and are open to making different choices. 2) Take a look at where your time goes by doing a time wheel. Draw a circle on a piece of paper. Take your 168 hour week and add up where your time goes -- how many hours to sleep? work? parenting? school? church? volunteer duties? household chores and shopping? fun? time with spouse or friends? rest? Name the categories that apply best to you. 3) Assign per cent's to each major category and complete a time wheel dividing up major categories into pie shapes. Do for several weeks if you're schedule changes a lot to get an accurate picture. 4) Think about how you would rather spend your time, the life you dream about. Ask yourself two questions about your time: What do you want? How important is the activity really? Will anyone die if you don't do it? 5) Do a new time wheel with a vision of how you want to spend your time. 6) Check your progress periodically. Be patient and accept there's an adjustment for you and those you live and work with. Your boss, children, spouse, friends, may not like all your choices. You may feel awkward and guilty saying no more often. That's OK. Balance will come as you practice. 7) When doubt overcomes you and you're tempted to go back to the old way of always saying yes, take a time out and rest. Reread this article or call a supportive friend.As I finished reading, I shook my head. "I can't do that. It's too much." "You don't have to," my friend replied. "Trouble is if you keep doing what you're doing, if you're like me, you're going to be more and more unhappy. Eventually trying some of these changes will be easier than doing what you do now."I knew he was right. I went to sleep that night thinking about our conversation. His words haunted me for the next week. Finally I called him back and said: "Look I don't want to but I'm going to try that stuff on the sheet.""Good for you," he encouraged. "If it doesn't work, you can always stop. Let me know if I can help you with your time wheel or if you want to talk some of this over. It may be easier for you if you don't try to do this alone."A few months later life is still hectic and at times overwhelming. But I feel a lot more in charge of my time. I resent what I'm doing less often. I'm more clear about how to set limits on activities at work and for the children. Each month as I practice these few suggestions I find I have more choices than I ever imagined. And I enjoy a lot more of what I do with the 168 hours I'm given each week.Sidebar OneThe following books offer more tips for getting control of time: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey (p.146-182) First Things First, Stephen R. Covey ( p.75-118) Money, Emotions and the Recovery Process, Mary Raphel ( p. 29-32 & p. 52-64)For information about Debtors Anonymous and its application to time problems, check your local phone directory for Debtors Anonymous or write to the national office at Debtors Anonymous, PO Box 400, Grand Central Station, New York, NY 10163-0400.

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