Grappling with the Slippery Eel of Time
I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately. Since I left a traditional work system, my relationship with and concept of time has drastically evolved. While I loosely adhere to a Monday through Friday work week, I’m consistently drawn to living in a very unstructured and unscheduled manner.
This bohemian lifestyle has its pros: I’m free to follow my interests and mood to guide me through the day, a very liberating experience indeed. But there’s also some cons: the measures of time I’d previously relied on, namely hours and days, have begun to slip away and this has been fairly disorienting.
My break with conventional time is largely a result of regular meditation and yoga practice. These practices are responsible for a marked increase in mindfulness and embodiment. In other words, they’ve helped me tune into my mind and body sensors. This has allowed me to make decisions that are more intrinsically motivated.
I still have meetings and commitments that requires me to keep an eye on the clock, but lately I’m living life more on Kristen Time and less on Gregorian Time. So, I thought I’d share some tips and tricks for how I’ve pieced together living on my own time.
⏰ An amateur’s guide to reinventing time on your terms
☞ Fabricate units of time that make sense for your unique routines, habits, and rituals
I used to schedule myself and plan out my days, weeks, and months in advance. Now, I let things evolve more naturally. I focus less on the calendar events (meetings and deadlines) and more on the ebb-and-flow of everything between.
This is a process-oriented style of living and creates a more flexible schedule. If you’re in back-to-back Zoom calls all day, I’m not sure how this would hold up. But if your day-to-day has more room to roam: you create your working hours and schedule your meetings as you’d like, this may work for you.
I have a really simple approach for creating personalized measures of time based on identifying the building blocks of my day. I’m talking about the day-to-day routines, rituals, and habits that I swear by:
- Yoga time - could be the morning right after I wake up, but also could be the middle of the day because I’ve got excess energy, or could be in the evening for a wind-down. It’s not a clock-based measure, but a felt sense.
- Exercise time - walking or cycling. Most often I’ll exercise in the afternoons, but sometimes in the mornings and evenings. If I’ve got extra energy to burn, I might squeeze in an a.m. session to set me up for the day. Or maybe I’m feeling tired, and postpone til later. Or perhaps it’s the middle of the day, and I’m going crazy with QA testing software for my job, never a better time for a break.
- Cooking and eating time - all over the board with this one! I’ve found myself meal prepping while I talk on the phone, cooking meals for myself later in the day or week. And then I have prepared food on tap when I want to re-fuel. Sometimes I eat a lot in one sitting, sometimes I don’t. Again, I let my body tell me what’s best for me in the moment.
The key for me is not to force these activities to occur at set times - but to allow them to emerge on any given day when they feel right. There are some things set in stone, for example, I always start the day with yoga and meditation, just not at a set time. There’s less friction for me when I let these rituals arise naturally, versus scheduling them.
☞ Formalize a journaling ritual to help track your habits, behaviors, and moods
To better understand my routines, one of the best habits I’ve formed is journaling and reflecting back on prior journal entries. I’ve been journaling for as long as I can remember, but recently picked up a new, minimalist journaling technique called Journal Smarter. Truth be told, I can't recall how I first came across this approach but it's super fun and easy, and only takes a few minutes each night. You basically just create a box for each day and jot down what you feel is important at the day’s end.
Instead of explaining it all here, I'll point to my blog where I've been sharing my daily journal entries rolled up into weekly write-ups. I've found this to be really nice way to track my habits and life over time - quick daily entries, and then weekly reflections on the week that has passed.
I highly recommend it if you're looking for an easy way to journal or track habits. It’s also a really helpful practice to pair with creating new units of time for yourself—you’ll get new perspective on your routines.
☞ For the mid- to longer-term time scales: create a countdown to something you’re looking forward to
There’s a joy in having something to look forward to, a way to counteract the Groundhog Day feeling. Even when you’re making up your own measures of time, if you’re participating in the same routines every day, they’re going to get stale! Introducing new experiences and building the anticipation to those experiences is one of my favorite time-telling techniques.
It’s not about literally counting the days, it’s about marking the calendar and reminding yourself periodically that you’ve got a frame break coming. Something that will introduce enough change into your life that you’ll get a fresh perspective, and infusion of energy.
Part of the countdown practice is not to get overly invested in the upcoming events, the trick is to stay grounded in your day-to-day, present in the moment. It’s like finding little sparkles when you remember, randomly, “oh yea! I have a vacation coming up soon, adventure awaits!”
Here’s a couple current countdown examples for me:
The Tour de France. For a while, I was counting down until the Tour de France started - the most famous, intense, and celebrated cycling event of the year. I was telling time in weeks, and then days, til the Tour kicked off. This was a fun way to tell time and a nice way to orient to something happening outside of my little world.
The Tour began on August 29, and will continue for a total of 3 weeks. I’ve now entered Tour time. The Tour also doesn't care about traditional time. Every day is race day. So, that's not helping with the time disorientation, but I'll happily luxuriate in the competition for a few weeks. And just like with my other time measures, I watch the Tour when it feels right: may be morning, afternoon, or evening.
Vacation! Currently, I’m looking forward to a vacation! This is a most excellent way to tell time, a countdown until I don't have to consider time at all, because ultimately, that's what vacation is, right??
Dave and I are just traveling down the California coast a bit to a tiny town between Santa Cruz and Monterey. We’re staying at a cozy AirBnB, nothing fancy. While we’ve really been itching to travel further afield, we aren't too keen on travel during covid-times. But we’re making the most of California, we'll be less than a mile walk down a rural road from a beach that allegedly is known for its sand dollars! And we'll have plenty of quality road-biking to check out, too. I also plan to read, write, yoga, meditate. And: NO WORK!
☞ It’s all a work-in-progress
All of this is still new to me, living more on my terms and learning what’s best for me. I know that my relationship to time will continue to evolve. And I’m not oblivious to the fact that my workload is currently at the lowest it’s ever been. I anticipate that I’ll be busier in the future and with that will come new insights in how to manage my time without feeling too suffocated.
I’d love to hear from you about how you’ve navigated your own time management. What have things been like since covid? What’s the best way to stay sane andproductive on terms that work for you? How have you struck a healthy balance between your work and your life?