According to neuroscience, your brain manufactures the way you experience time. Not only does your brain’s wiring play a central role in this, but whatever you imagine your time to be—scarce or abundant, speeding or dragging, standing still or running out—that is what you ultimately create.
Most of us, however, ignore this creative capacity and treat time as if it were outside our control. By doing so, we often create self-defeating experiences, making our time behave in undesirable ways. This is why most time management strategies fail: None of the interventions address the curious, yet real, phenomenon of our brain’s ability to stretch, shrink, speed up or slow down this malleable thing called time.
Learn the alchemy of time
While alchemy’s medieval practitioners’ attempts to convert lead into gold turned out to be ineffective, practicing the alchemy of time turns out to be a wonderfully effective way to convert time scarcity into enough time now, change urgency into a state of ease and transmute impatience into equanimity.
Convert time scarcity into enough time now
For years, I would look at some task or opportunity or momentary delight, and say to myself, “I don’t have time for that right now.” I operated under the assumption that there would always be more time later. Then one day, I asked myself, “When is later? It’s always right now!” This was the beginning of my awakening to the power of the now moment to convert time scarcity into enough time now.
Shrink to fit is one of my favorite methods for this alchemical conversion. You already know that work has an amazing ability to expand and overflow if you don’t give it boundaries, right? Shrink to fit plays on exactly that principle, but in reverse. Instead of giving tasks free rein and working doggedly until they’re finished, by using shrink to fit, I set a limit on how much effort I expend. To put the secret of shrink to fit into action:
- Identify, in advance, what would be a good enough effort in order for you to achieve your finished product.
- Estimate how much time you would need to complete the task.
- Work intensely, with concentration, in order to finish in the time allotted.
With practice, you’ll find that you can shrink work to fit the time you allot, and successfully convert time scarcity into enough time now.
Transforming urgency into ease
For years, I labored under the delusion that ease was a synonym for laziness. My misperception was rooted in my addiction to doing, and I was distinctly hostile toward anything that smacked of rest or play. After going through a period of depression and burnout, my point of view on ease changed dramatically; no longer was my pace dictated by my to-do lists, or by urgency, and I became free to operate from the knowledge that time is whatever I think and say it is.
To alchemically transform urgency into ease, I advocate choosing stillness over busyness. However, because digital distractions can cause us to veer away from a state of stillness, I suggest you consider a fast from your devices every now and then. If you’re used to walking with headphones, go without them. If you’re used to having music during your yoga practice, turn it off. If you’re fond of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Candy Crush, delete the apps from your smartphone (don’t worry, you can always put them back later).
As you grow in your ability to remain still, you’ll be rewarded in unexpected ways. Your intuition, for example, will speak up when you need its guidance. Your creativity will reward you with more ideas. Your energy will improve, and your sense of contentment will also likely increase.
Transmute impatience into equanimity
Equanimity is a state of being balanced and centered, yet responsive. With equanimity, it’s possible to engage life with a more even, yet lively presence. Urgency and wastefulness, impatience and boredom can all be set aside. Instead, we can become available to the potential of delight inherent in every moment.
Because interruptions are ubiquitous, and often unwelcome, I suggest saying thank you whenever you’re interrupted. I realize that asking you to practice gratitude in the face of something that is unwanted and undesirable is a very counterintuitive request, but hear me out.
The power of gratitude is found when you welcome everything—not just what you expect, what you want or what you wish for, but everything—with the same warmth of appreciation. Gratitude, as a way of being, acknowledges that there are gifts inherent in each passing moment, even when those gifts might not be readily visible or immediately experienced. Thus, being able to welcome each moment with gratitude, no matter what the moment holds, is an important step toward releasing impatience in favor of equanimity.
Adapted from the author’s soon-to-be-released Sexy + Soul-full: A Woman’s Guide to Productivity (St. Michael’s Press, 2015).