Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Harnessing Time with a Puppy

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time with a blind guy.  He’s been blind since he was five so he’s really good at navigating the world; he can do almost everything a sighted person can, he just has different ways of doing it. 
One thing I’ve noticed about him is how organized he is.  He keeps every single thing in his apartment in its own designated spot:  scissors go in a particular drawer next to the sink, baggies and pens and pencils are kept in another drawer, plastic shopping bags (those ubiquitous bags from Target and Best Buy and every other store in the world) go in a paper bag under the sink, and so forth.  He knows exactly where everything is so he doesn’t have to search around for whatever he needs at any given moment.  Searching is a lot more time-consuming and hit-or-miss for him than it is for most of us because he has to do it with his hands.  But ever since I’ve been hanging around with him I’ve been thinking it would be nice to have all one’s belongings so well organized even if you weren’t blind.  Nice, pleasing, satisfying, restful, because it would eliminate the guesswork, the stress and anxiety and confusion, of not knowing where things are.
            And in the same way, I’ve been thinking, it can only make things better in our lives to eliminate the guesswork about what’s happening with our time.  To know how much time we’ve got on any given day or part of the day and how we’re going to be spending it, to know whether we’re going to have enough time to do all the things we need to or want to do – or not.
            Everybody I know seems to be going through something hectic right now.  It’s like there are hectic vibes in the air.  One of my friends is in the middle of moving to a new house while transferring ownership of her old house.  Another friend is preparing to give a ninety-minute talk she’s never given before on top of all her regular work and busy-life stuff.   I myself got a puppy.   She’s adorable and I adore her but she, like every other puppy in the world, is a little peeing, pooping, biting, playing, pandemonium-creating machine.   I’m sharing her with my friend John, the blind guy, and that takes off some of the pressure – just when I get really overwhelmed she goes to his house -- but there’s a certain amount of hectocity (if that isn’t a word it should be) that goes with transporting her back and forth between us – we have to collect all her toys every time, remember to bring her vitamin paste so she won’t get hypoglycemia, figure out how to get her kennel in the back seat without breaking the car window, etc.
            There too, John’s blindness-necessitated penchant for organization helps; we keep all of her toys, food, and accoutrements in one box that we pass back and forth, for example.  On any given day we know who’s going to have her and when they’re going to hand her over, when she’s going to exercise or has exercised, what we need to get (such as a small pet carrier so we don’t have to transport her in her kennel) to make things easier.  Over and over, I’m struck by how helpful it is to plan, to decide, to know, instead of to leave things to guesswork and hope for the best (or, more likely, fear the worst). 
             And that’s also how and why I harness time.  
            There’s one little thing I do every day to harness my time.  I’ve been doing it for so long now it’s become part of my routine, something I look forward to and miss if I don’t do it.  I might not miss it in the moment when I’m not doing it, but I really, really miss it later when my day is being negatively affected. 
It’s very simple.  Here’s what it is:
Every day, not long after I get up, I sit down and open the little binder- notebook (purchased from Day-Timer) that I keep track of my days in.  My appointment calendar’s in my notebook, and so are some blank sheets of paper (as well as sections for my addresses, my log-in IDs and pin numbers, and a list of books I want to read, but they’re not relevant here).  I look at what appointments I’ve got that day, write them down on today’s blank sheet, then figure out how I’m going to use the time before, after, and between the appointments. 
I don’t just make a list of what I have to do.  I consider how long everything’s probably going to take and I figure out roughly when I’m going to do what (knowing that I have to do this in the spirit of flexibility and positivity instead of rigidity and beating myself up).   That way, at any given time of the day, I know what I’m going to be doing and I know whether I have time to do what I need to do.  I also know that I can and will make space to rest, read, hang out and surf the Internet, or play with my puppy; I write these things down on my plan along with everything else, so when I’m doing them I don’t have to feel guilty, like I’m taking time away from something else. 
Nowadays I feel mindful, present, and purposeful -- instead of rushed, irritable, pressured, and hectic -- pretty much all the time, as long as I’ve done my harnessing time thing that morning.  And if I ever do start to feel hectic I look at my plan and adjust it – maybe I planned too much for the time I had and I can decide to postpone something, or maybe I just need to find out how much time I do have before I should go on to the next thing.
I told my friend who has to prepare for a ninety-minute talk to look at the next two weeks (the talk is two weeks from now) and find some windows of time when she can work on preparing, to write those times down on her calendar, and if she can’t stick to them to find other times.  I told my friend who has to move more or less the same thing.  (I also told her she probably has to put pretty much everything else on hold until she gets to the new house.)  Both of my friends agree that planning is helping them eliminate stress, that consciously harnessing time feels a lot different than leaving everything up to guesswork and feeling terrorized by the enormous loads on their plates.  (Yuck, I hate that expression, as if tasks are food items you’re forced to eat).
There’s one more step in my harnessing time morning routine, and that’s sharing my plan with a friend. Here’s what I’ve said about that already.   Harnessing Time with a Little Help from My Friend.
                                                -- Mary Allen