My local gas station puts up motivational or religious thoughts on their marquee, right below the prices. This week’s offering said, “Dear God, please help me pay attention only to what is important.” While I usually read the messages and quickly forget them, this one stuck with me. This is a good reminder on so many levels, but it stuck with me because lately I’ve been thinking about how many people say, “I don’t have time,” when what they really mean is, “Something isn’t important enough to me to make time for it.”
It’s easier to say that you don’t have time to do the things you want and need to do. That lets you off the hook. It’s not your fault that you’ve simply run out of time, right? More often, though, the honest answer is that you have the time, you just don’t judge whatever you want to do to be more important than the other things you’re doing. You’re not making the hard choices about what to do with your time and are instead just drifting along. Saying you don’t have time is a cop out and it needs to stop.
As NanoWriMo winds to a close, I’m hearing more and more about how people just didn’t have the time this year to meet their goals. In addition to “regular life,” which always gets in the way of writing, there was the crazy election. No matter which side people were on, it served as a huge distraction. More TV watching, more ranting on social media, more celebrating or commiserating with friends and family (or, apparently, picking fights). So there were more complaints this year than normal about how how little time there was to devote to Nano.
We have so little time here on Earth. To waste it without choosing how to spend it is criminal.
And it isn’t just Nano, it isn’t just the election, and it isn’t just writing. This, “I don’t have time,” business goes on all year, every year, and includes everything from writing to chores to spending time with the kids. I used to sympathize. (And there are some situations in which I still do, but they are few and far between.)
When the, “I don’t have time,” whining begins, my response is this: You have hours to sit in front of the TV, trawl social media, and fiddle with your cell phone. You spend hours doing other things. Time is passing whether you’re using it wisely or not. It’s not that you don’t have time, it’s that you judge TV watching or whatever else to be more important than writing, catching up on chores, playing with the kids, or whatever else is on your “want to/should do” lists. Worse, sometimes you’re not even consciously judging something to be more important, you’re simply failing to make any choice at all and just letting time waste away. We have so little time here on Earth. To waste it without choosing how to spend it is criminal.
Many of us have more time than we think we have, if we’re really honest with ourselves about what constitutes wasted time and what’s important. For a long time, I struggled to find time to devote to my writing projects. I finally had to determine that my writing was more important to me than some other things. Once I made that decision, time miraculously appeared.
I decided that writing was more important to me than TV, mindless internet surfing, sleeping in on Saturdays, and even some household chores. Making the extra time required conscious thought on my part. Now, whenever I sit down to watch TV, I ask myself which is more important: The show, or my writing career. Writing almost always wins. Whenever I find myself mindlessly clicking links on websites, I ask myself which is more important: The newest stupid viral video, or writing. Again, writing wins. Can the dusting wait one more day while I finish a chapter? Of course it can. Suddenly all kinds of time became available once I stopped wasting so much of it. I never thought of myself as a big time-waster, but it was eye opening how much time I was spending on things that weren’t important to me.
I now use the following criteria to judge whether or not what I’m doing constitutes wasted time: Wasted time is time spent doing something that isn’t important to me, isn’t absolutely necessary at the time, or fails to move me forward. If the answer is that I’m wasting time and I have a choice, I don’t do the activity.
Of course, sometimes, writing isn’t the most important thing. Sometimes I really want to spend time with family, engage in a hobby, or I really need to do some home maintenance. Neglecting writing for those things isn’t wrong, but I am making a conscious judgment that those things are, at the time, more important or necessary than writing. I’m not simply filling my time with mindless stuff that I later regret. Your criteria for may be different, but find out what represents wasted time to you and then work to eliminate it.
Paying attention only to what is important requires conscious thought, at least until you get the hang of it. You have to constantly evaluate everything you do to see if it represents wasted time and attention. But that’s good because you need to get used to making the hard choices about your time and not just letting yourself drift through life doing what’s easy and comfortable. Once you start doing this, it’s amazing how much time you can magically free up for fun and necessary projects.
I feel better now that I know I’m not wasting my time. Not only psychologically, but physically, as well. I thought I’d be more tired from keeping so active, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. The more I do each day that is important to me, the better I feel. I’m energized because I know I’m doing things to help me reach my goals so that at the end of my life I won’t have any regrets. I won’t say, “I had the time and I squandered it.”
(Photos courtesy of geralt)