It’s a common dilemma. There never seems to be enough time. In my twenties and well into my thirties this was a frequent complaint of mine. “I just don’t have enough time”! Or “I will when I find the time.” As if time was playing hide and seek with me and I just needed to keep looking for it.
I was obsessed with time. Always wearing a watch, always checking to see where those precious hands were pointing. And scared to waste a mere minute on something trivial or, God forbid, fun. Scheduled to the minute with no breathing room, time was my nemesis.
My relationship with time began to change when I had my first child. Time began to change right in front of my eyes. It became more treasured and precious. But it also changed consistency and become more malleable.
It appeared I could change my perception of time, stretching it out. I couldn’t do the impossible, and add more minutes into my day, but I could slow down the time I had been given.
Unconsciously at first, I began to make small changes that seemed to give me the time I thought was missing. I felt like a child in a candy-shop at first, like I’d uncovered special sci-fi secrets that bent time against its will.
These three changes have stuck with me over the years and are tools I always lean on if I find myself out of time.
Having children meant more to do. More laundry, more mess, more everything. And at first pass, it’s tempting to buy into the illusion that multitasking will help save time. Washing the dishes, while baking the cookies. Hang the washing and pull those weeds that have popped up.
But what I found (aside from burnt cookies), was that rather than helping, multitasking just made me feel chaotic and even more pressed for time.
Instead, what I found was that by doing just one thing at once, and finishing it before starting the next thing, I felt calmer and more relaxed. And it made me feel like I had been gifted a few more minutes!
I have been a chronic over-scheduler my whole life. And when I thought about why I was doing this (and consequently running late, or feeling robbed of time), I realized it was often because I was underestimating how long tasks or appointments would take.
So I started to overestimate. Hair appointment? Three hours. I have very thick hair! Grocery shopping? At least an hour in a small town where I know every third person.
And this overestimating did two things. It automatically reduced the length of my daily to-do’s. With each task taking an average of 30 minutes more, I simply didn’t have space for so many.
And second, it made me feel as though I had the luxury of more time. Sometimes we forget that it’s only ever ourselves in charge of how we spend our time.
I also found myself noticing more. Rather than rushing through each task on autopilot, I found that if I paid closer attention to what I was doing, time seemed to go a little slower.
From little tasks, like watering a plant, to bigger ones like making a meal, I paid deeper attention to the mini-tasks inside each job. I took closer notice of what the plant looked like, and I paid attention to the texture and smell of each vegetable I cut.
This deep noticing, a mindful activity, gave time a sluggish feel. I began to feel a sense of happy meandering instead of thoughtless rushing.
And I began to feel as though I had found more time.
Change your perception. Change your life.
Neuroscientist David Eagleman has called time a ‘rubbery thing’, stating; “It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.”
Research by Eagleman and others in this field has shown that mindfulness meditation increases the perceived duration of a task. Essentially slowing down the feeling of time.
When we focus our attention on the here and now we can change the way our brain stores information via attentional processes.
For me, this change in perception is life-changing. The freedom that comes with no longer feeling so rushed, busy and out of time is priceless.
Of course, there are still times when I slip back into autopilot, but now that I know the secret to slowing my time, it doesn’t take long to pull out my tools again.
And it’s no longer a secret. Extra time is available to anyone willing to turn off autopilot and try something a little different.
You don’t need to hunt for lost time anymore. Just pay deeper attention to the time you have. It works. I promise.
By Emma Scheib