I’ve been asked to speak about time management to a local writers’ group … and let’s just say the time management required to produce this talk on time is going to challenge whatever skills I do possess. The fall season is upon us, and as the engines rev back up to max, I am remembering why early morning exercise is so important to my survival as a functional human being. That probably sounds like a tangent, but trust me, those precious early hours lay the foundation of my days — the focus on a straightforward challenge clears my head and reminds me that I am strong, disciplined, dependable, capable, and other adjectives that inspire me, and keep me on track and focused on the important stuff.
I need reminders all the time.
Sometimes I need literal reminders, for example, in the form of a scribbled sheet of paper propped beside my computer on which every single deadline for the next two months is written in decreasing size (I underestimated how many deadlines await). These deadlines tend to relate to ambition, to the exterior worlds in which I aim to stay engaged, educated, funded, and connected as a teacher, writer and coach.But sometimes I need different kinds of reminders. Metaphorical reminders. Metaphysical reminders. Seemingly tangential reminders. Reminders that don’t belong on calendars or to-do lists, but that are even more important; reminders of habits and behaviours that make me a whole person with reserves of loving-kindness, with enough to give. I get these reminders from my kids, sometimes, from their requests, their priorities, their needs. Slow down. Play the piano together. Walk the dogs to meet us after school. Watch a soccer game. Listen to a book being read in French. Be here, now.
I also get these reminders from the quiet space of exercise. You are stronger than you think. You can do this. Be kind to yourself. Be generous. Take joy in this body that is capable of doing this, today. On a challenging long run this weekend, I received a very specific reminder. You are not afraid that you can’t do this, you are afraid that you can, and that it will be hard. You can do this and it will be hard.
Finally, I’m reminded of how easy it is to pair activities, a form of efficiency that keeps me focused and happy — especially effective when one activity is less-than-riveting. (Pairing is not the same as multi-tasking, which I don’t recommend at all: in pairing activities, I’m not juggling two equally onerous tasks at once, I’m doing something while waiting for something else, i.e. while leftovers heat in the microwave for lunch, I run to the basement and throw in a load of laundry.)
Yesterday I had ten minutes to wait outside violin lessons; I brought along a cheap drugstore notebook and sketched out a Lynda Barry journal-page (see photo, above). Later that evening, at soccer practice, I brought the same notebook and wrote, by hand, a new scene for the novel I’m currently redrafting. These were not merely productive moments, they were also very happy ones. Ridiculously happy ones! In those moments, I felt like I’d ducked into a secret hideaway, or climbed to a hidden treehouse, in which I was free to play. (I’m going to teach my students the Lynda Barry journalling method in tonight’s class. It’s a great tool and easy to use.)
So, yeah, be here, now!
Do stuff while you’re waiting around. Don’t kill time, keep it alive.
This might be the core of my time-management talk (yet to be written … it’s on that list): No matter how busy you are, clear space within the clutter to daydream, to dream, to create, to play, to rest your head. Prioritize these things. Seriously.