You Got This!

Understanding Your Relationship With Time

Your time is literally all you have in this world. You can’t guarantee health, you can’t guarantee happiness, you can’t even guarantee existing — but while you do have life on this earth, time is what you have. Let’s talk about some tools for identifying what you can (and can’t!) change about your day, and take a little bit of time to reexamine your relationship with time.

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Thank you. Hello, everyone. My name is Carol, and I'm here to talk to you about time -- specifically, your time, and your relationship with it. The reason I'm doing this is because your time is literally you have in this world. You can't guarantee health, happiness, or guarantee even existing, but while you do exist, time is what you have. Most of us have a complex relationship with time.

Despite most of us treating time as discrete interchangeable qualities, it's elastic in our experiences -- sometimes going by too fast or absolute, often feeling there's not enough of it at all and a fair encapsulation of this is most of us probably have 3,000 weeks of time left, that doesn't feel like a lot.

That meeting you were in yesterday probably felt like it lasted forever. So, a more accurate title for this talk is probably going to be investigating our relationship with time. Let's dive in. Let's tackle the biggest aspect of the relationship first. Not morbid, Kevin. It is a sobering fact for you all. We are all going to die which is not morbid, that's just a fact. We can talk about that more if we want.

This biggest aspect of our relationship first is that there is not enough time. We often feel there isn't enough time for everything that I want to do. And we all have long lists of things that we want to do, and things that we need to do, and I want to acknowledge that. What I want also to point out, though, is that this list doesn't ever actually get shorter. There will always be more demands on your time, the same way that your inbox will get refilled, no matter times you hit inbox zero. Getting more done in half an hour how doesn't always mean that you will have more half an hour of free time later, because kind of like a gas, the things that you could be doing, things that you should be doing expand to fit the time that you have.

Accepting this fact is step zero of this entire talk. How can you make time work for you? I have two things for investigating this relationship. The first one is in whatever you're looking at, whether it is a half hour, a day, a week, a project, or some other open-ended process, figure out what your desired end state is, and stay orientated to it. In other words, find your North Star. The second part of that is once you've identified your North Star, tread a path that is faithful to yourself. So, North Star is what do you want at the end of this? Maybe a nicer way that I like to think about it is how do you want to feel at the end of this? Do you want to feel competent, bad ass, accomplished, relieved? I'm going to take a personal example of how to put this into practice, but this holds into any kind of journey that you're taking through time, which is basically everything we are doing, whether an errand, a task, a chore, or proper access.

The example I'm going to use is when you suddenly realise you have something to do and much less time than you think. Like maybe when you agreed to give a conference talk in September a few months ago and waved it off because that's in fall, it's ages away! And boy was it a surprise when I turned around and it was a week into September! Common advice, trying to get started on anything is to break it down into tasks. This is great if you're stuck, if you don't know how to get started. If it feels too insurmountable to get started, or if in this case often you feel a time crunch.

So just a little bit of background on me that I didn't cover. By day, I'm a programme manager for a developer advocacy team so I spend a lot of time talking to our advocates about how good talks take time, only practice makes perfect, set milestones so it doesn't creep up on you, but this is a lot easier said than done.

So kind of when this talk crept up on me, I went back to my basics and pulled up my conference talk checklist that I share with people, barrelled right in, and I was like abstract, outline, slides, dry run, team rehearsal, be ready on the 15th. My thinking there, as with most checklists we consult, is that as long as I check all of these things off, I will be okay on September 15th. But, when I actually started writing this talk, the talk that I thought I was originally going to give, that was about inbox zero and why that is a myth, didn't make any sense any more with what I wanted to impart, so on the day I was supposed to have checked off my dry run, I was still sitting at my computer like nearly seven o'clock, I had had six meetings that day, I had ten pages of just brain dump thoughts ranging from when humans started measuring time, which depends on your definition of time, all the way through to what percentage of people feel like they don't have enough time which ranges anywhere from 50 to 65% depending on which study you use.

I was not happy at this moment with my relationship with time. Mainly because I've lost sight of my North Star. Instead of being focused on my goal, what I wanted at the end of this, I had gotten fixated on the task that I needed to check off. So if you step back, like I did here, and reminded myself what is my actual ultimate goal for this project? It is to be prepared to give a talk on the 15th. So how can I make the time that I have right now work for me? So if we look at my situation, I'm still I have more than a week. What I really need to feel today is that some idea of what I'm going to talk about. I looked at ten pages of my notes, and I probably thought I have three to five ideas buried in this. Let's go have dinner. Not only identify your North Star but constantly reorient to it and remember what it is. It is easy to get pulled in different directions on things what seem important but think about how you want to feel at the end of the day. So you know, we have my ten pages of notes. What am I going to do and turn them into a talk. Let's see how even we can chart a path to our North Star being ready and chart a path that is faithful to yourself. And I will explain how that means.

You see we kind of talked about how checklists can be helpful and unhelpful. I want to say they're great as a guide. They break things down into manageable stages, and kind of an easy thing to do when charting any path that is unfamiliar to you is to look at how other people have done it. These kinds of checklist consist take over your focus by getting you fixated on things that might not be faithful to how you like to interact with time. Like a particularly pernicious way you see this in those 30 things you need to have done before 30 or top ten mistakes you're probably making when doing X. These are kind of built to trigger that worry that you're somehow behind or been "wasting your time".

So the thing that I would ask you to remember here is this is your time. Why would you spend it unhappily? How can you take the checklists or ideas and make them versions of what you enjoy or don't dread so much that you never do them? Because somebody else has gotten it done this way doesn't mean that's the way you have to go about it as well, but what is the happiest way you can get to your North Star? So let's revisit what we're now calling on guide. I had everything on the left here already. How to write the abstract to get accepted, I had the outline as well, content, probably too much content, to be honest, but I was really hitting a wall at step four -- slides.

And one might conclude accurately that is because I hate making slides. I'm a writer not a designer, and I've stated that very easily and simply that my skills lie in writing, but I figured that out through experience and through looking back and contemplating how I like to use my time. How can you figure this out? This can be hard, one way that you can do it when you step back and take a bird's eye view is to look back on a day or week. What did it feel like it took forever to do? When did time fly by in a pleasant way? What felt like a time sink where you spent so much time on it and never made progress.

There is no reason to shoehorn tasks that are not true to yourself -- if this is practical versus reflective, you can look at your to-do list for the week, whether it is your job or daily life, and take note of why it keeps getting moved to the next day, and happily I'm going to do that first. If you split chores or household tasks with somebody, what do you get done first or wait until someone asks you to do.

To come back to the talk example, I had a preordained checklist of how to get to my North Star of how to be prepared. According to the list, I should having my slides now and should be practising. The key word here is "should". What if I replace it with "like". That I would like to have an idea of what I'm talking about.

The next step is I would like to know what the big takeaways are where I pause to let something sink in, the one idea that I hope people can take away from my talk, and I love brain-dumping and researching all the tangents that come up along the way, moving the pieces around, and I had a bird's eye view of was coming out -- putting off making my slides! -- and there was no reason to have this checked off.

In this particular case there is no external force like a conference organiser asking for my slides, so for me it was better to spend my time writing, and rewriting, and rewriting, because that was the truest happiest way for me to get to my end goal. I didn't start making the slide deck until I had my talk practically fully written out in full text. Here's the secret here: this was not planned. I didn't try this way of doing it literally until I was writing this talk because I was like if I'm going to use this example, I had better both talk the walk and walk the walk, and real meta practical operation here.

The mind blowing thing here is my slides took way less time than they normally do because I was following my own checklist when doing them and did them last. If I had tried to do what I should have done, I would have actually compromised my ultimate end goal and compromised my own time. I would have spent five times as long on it and ended up with a talk that was nowhere near as coherent, because it ... really it doesn't matter how you get to the North Star, as long as the path is faithful to yourself.

Just sort of the last thing that I want to ask you to think about is -- as I go over time by a couple of minutes, is that we started off this talk talking about your relationship with time. And the key word there is "relationship". You know, we still -- we've spoken a lot how to spend your time qualitatively, but if you're looking to have a relationship with time, the same way you'll have a relationship with anybody else or anything else, you wouldn't spend all your time trying to do things. You would also spend some time being together.

So I want to add it is okay just to exist in your relationship with time as well. I can already feel that like some of us kind of cringe at this, because many of us are grown up and taught that the act of doing nothing of being unproductive is so terrible that is literally a cardinal sin and it wasn't until recently that I started questioning why that was so bad. Just think about what does it bring up in you when you consider the idea of spending time being "unproductive"? Why does just existing feel like you're wasting your time? How much any of us might be measuring our worth based on productivity when you're definitely not defined by what you get done.

And so just as my parting words, just be gently curious about the learned beliefs that you hold on how time should be spent, and don't think this slide loaded, but it's okay! Consider existing and drifting every once in a while. I hope these ten minutes have been a meaningful way for you to spend some time together in conversation or Q&A. I want to put out there that I'm truly happy to chat about anything from time management to television, so, feel free to chime in and share any thoughts that you have on time. Cat shark! Maybe it did load! I don't know. I am done.