Time is Elastic

Author: Dr. Michelle Steiner, Assistant Vice President for Student Success

I recently watched a Ted Talk called “How to gain control of your free time”, probably because I was
trying to gain control of my time in general. I find myself spinning, sometimes, as I think of all the things
I have to do and all the things that I really want to accomplish; then I find myself at the end of the
day/week, lamenting all the things I wanted to do that I didn’t get done – there just wasn’t enough
time!

After watching that Ted Talk, though, I realize that there’s plenty of time. More than enough time. The
woman in the Ted Talk makes mention of a time diary project where she asked very busy women to
keep track of their time for a week, and then she interviewed them afterward. One woman in this
project went out one night and came home to find that her water heater had broken, and it literally took
7 hours of her week to get it fixed, with all the calling around to find plumbers, a cleaning crew, booking
appointments, etc. How did such a busy woman find 7 HOURS?! I thought about my own schedule as a
busy woman and thought to myself – nope. There are no 7 hours that I can find in my schedule for
something other than what I usually do. And then I thought to myself, but what if my son got sick and I
needed to take 7 hours to be at the hospital with him? You had best believe that I’d find 7 hours. I’d find
20 if I needed to. And then I thought, well, if I can find that kind of time for “unfortunate” things that
may happen, maybe there’s time for “fortunate” things too.

The point of the above story and my musings was to show that time stretches to allow for the things we
want to put into it. When we prioritize, we find that time is elastic. Time will accommodate what we
choose to prioritize.

I’ve found that the trick is that you need to recognize your priorities, and then put it into your schedule
as “fixed time”. On Sundays I make a list of things I need and want to do – and then I look at the
upcoming week, and put blocks of time into my google calendar that specifically say what those blocks
are for. As an example, this week I was looking forward to reviewing a workshop that I had put together
for a group of people on the topic of time management (go figure!), and so I put 2 blocks of time in my
calendar, called (not surprisingly) “Workshop Review.” It was a priority for me, and in my super busy
weekly schedule, I found that time stretched such that I could block off a few hours. Boom. Just like that.

Half the battle is in fact recognizing what your priorities are, or perhaps, allowing yourself the space to
give voice to your priorities. When you find yourself saying, “I don’t have time to start my History
paper,” instead say to yourself – “How I spend my time is my choice. This paper is a priority. I am going
to schedule 2 blocks of time to work on my History paper next week.” And then open your calendar and
create that fixed time in your schedule. Next time you want to take a walk and then find yourself saying,
“wait, I can’t. I don’t have time,” instead say to yourself – “How I spend my time is my choice. I am
prioritizing a walk.” And then get up and walk.

Will this mental reframing of how you view and navigate time happen easily for you? Maybe not. You’ll
try it. It might not work the first time. Try it again. Keep trying it. Forgive yourself when you fix a block of
time and then don’t use it the way that you detailed it in your calendar. But hold yourself accountable
too – you chose to not do what you said you were going to do because you chose not to consider it a
priority. Then find another block of time for that priority that you didn’t do, and make it fixed in your
schedule. Think about prioritizing as a priority! And with that, I’m going for a walk.

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