Time is Life
One trouble area for me has always been my tendency to over-book myself. I like being busy, but it's a fine line between busy-ness and avoidance. Quite often, when I find that I've crammed a ridiculous amount of activities into my schedule, or way too many items onto my to-do list, it means that there's something -- some reality -- I'm trying to avoid. Usually, this underlying reality has nothing to do with the stuff I'm "busy" doing. Usually, I'm choosing to stay busy rather than feel my feelings.
Years ago, I kept myself busy non-stop. I never slowed down. I woke up with adrenaline and cortisol (a.k.a. anxiety) pumping through my system, and I ran on those fumes all day long until I finally passed out and started over again in the morning. Today, after some years of practice slowing down (and with the help of meditation and learned self-care), I only go through a few cycles of "busy-ness" each year. Learning to stay present and enjoy stillness is a process, and it will take me a lifetime to master the skill.
Busy-ness kept me out of my present-day life for many years. I missed out on a lot of important life stuff, trying to fill my time and distract myself from whatever uncomfortable reality I was avoiding. The sad thing about this was that I wasted a lot of time. Time is the most valuable resource that any of us really has. It's much more valuable than money, material objects, status, or anything else that often gets mistaken as having universal, objective value. Time is our most valuable currency, and we can give it away, trade it, sell it -- or squander it. The only thing we can't do with it is put it in a savings account to be used later, when we're running out of it. You can always make more money; you can't always get more time.
For the past couple weeks (after being busy for a couple months), I've been getting back in touch with these two ideas: busy-ness as distraction, and the value of my time. I decided to try something new with my approach to scheduling: I didn't just put dinner plans or social activities on my calendar, I put everything on my calendar. I put the time I wanted to wake up on a regular day; the time I wanted to spend making coffee, meditating, walking the dog, leaving for the office; the time I wanted to spend heading to the gym and heading home from the gym; the time I wanted to spend showering, cooking meals, or getting ready for bed. The time I wanted to spend rehearsing, recording, or doing administrative work for G,NA. I put almost everything I do each day on my calendar, practically down to the minute.
In doing this, I could immediately see why I kept falling into the trap of over-booking myself. I don't realize how much time I already spend each day, doing what I need and want to do to lead a balanced life. I could clearly see that there are nights during the week when I don't have time to do anything more than what is already on my calendar -- and yet I am always trying to schedule one, two, or sometimes three outings on those nights! Or, there are nights when I only have a couple hours free, but in my mind I have the entire evening available. There are days when I don't want to have anything on my calendar, especially so I can focus on creative fun -- and yet I constantly give in to the temptation to schedule things and keep myself busy.
Seeing all of this so clearly on paper was an instant wake-up call, in the same way that putting my finances on paper for the first time immediately forced me to see the reality of what I actually had available to spend.
The next thing I did was go through each day on my calendar and block out the times I'm allowed to schedule things, making sure that this "free time" is only free because I've done everything else I need or want to do that day first. It's sort of like doing a budget, and allowing myself only a certain amount of money for social activities or going out to dinner each week. Once each time slot is booked, I put a note on the top of that day that says "BOOKED." And on the days where I don't have any spare time left, I put "NOT FREE" at the top.
In just one week, this practice immediately lowered my anxiety, created more space in my schedule for everything I wanted to accomplish each day, helped me get back into a regular sleep schedule, and -- most importantly -- made me get frugal about my time. Seeing how very little precious time I have each day, I can be pickier about how I spend my available time. If it's not something that charges my spiritual battery, nurtures the important relationships in my life, gives back to my community, or feeds my art, then it is probably not worth my time. If it's a person who usually takes more than they give and drains me of my energy, then perhaps I need to re-prioritize their place in my life. If it's a project I don't feel passionate about but want to say "yes" to out of guilt or my need to people-please, then I probably need to practice some self-care instead.
Time isn't money. Time is life. I spent many years wasting time(life), letting time(life) fly by without paying any attention, or being so focused on other people's time(lives) that I forgot about my own. I want to enjoy my time(life) while it's happening. I want to spend my time(life) on things that matter to me and keep me connected to the world around me. In the words of Benjamin Franklin:
"Does thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that’s the stuff life is made of."