On taking the shame out of time

August and September are… full.

I saw a meme awhile ago that said, “Being an adult is saying, ‘I think things will slow down in a week or two!’ over and over again until you die.” This is the actual truth. Every now and again one of those slow weeks comes along, but for the most part, it seems like the default state of modern life is fast forward.

This is a great opportunity to open the floodgates of shame. To begin the monologue that I’m either a) letting too many things drop because there’s not enough time for all of them or b) not as tireless as better, stronger people who thrive in full schedules.

We’re not doing that. We’re running a slant on how we think about time.

(I’m just assuming you’re along for the ride with me on this one. Because I’m pretty sure the race against time is ubiquitous.)

Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to remind myself that I choose everything about how I spend time—and I make educated, high-quality choices. This is part of a larger personal campaign to trust my decisions (you can join me in that one, too), but it has dramatically shifted how much guilt I feel about time. A full calendar? I chose all of those things for a good reason. A night that is less productive than I wanted it to be? I chose that on purpose, too, also for a good reason.

When I look at the reasoning behind how I spend time—and what I don’t have time for as a result—I can clearly see that my intentions are good and I’m doing the best I can.

Exhibit A: I should have gotten [fill in the blank] done today.

Narrative of Shame: I’m lazy and need to work harder to be more productive.

Narrative of Reality: I chose to spend time on something that was more worthwhile than whatever else I had planned.

This has been a total game changer. Take this blog post, for example. It would be so easy for me to feel like I should have started writing this a week ago, or at the very least earlier this morning. But I chose to spend time in other ways. I was tired when I got on the train, so I chose to sleep for an hour because I wanted to be as productive as possible for the rest of the day. And then I had work that needed to be started before a busy day filled with meetings, so I chose to work for two hours because I care about being a responsible employee. On the train home, I had work to finish. See aforementioned day of meetings and desire to be a good employee. So I started this post at 8pm and have a two-hour window in which to finish.

Would it be great if I had set aside more time earlier in the week to write this? Of course. And if I want to produce better writing, I need to commit to a better writing schedule. But this week, I chose to go to a Packers preseason game and spend time with friends and cook dinner and run three times (!!!) and do other things with my free time—and I chose all of those things on purpose because I deemed them more valuable than writing. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. But either way, my decision making wasn’t based on laziness. It was based on evaluating what was best and responding accordingly.

Exhibit B: I didn’t respond to your text/email/voicemail/other form of communication in a timely fashion.

Narrative of Shame: I’m a bad friend/daughter/human and I need to get better at responding as soon as possible so I don’t leave people hanging.

Narrative of Reality: I’m choosing to be present for life outside of electronic devices.

My belated replies are almost always sandwiched with “I’m so sorry for the delay!” and “Apologies again.” But you know what? I chose not to respond. I decided to be present for whatever was happening in real life and respond to messages later.

Would it be great if “respond later” didn’t mean three-to-four weeks later? Yes. For sure. Just like with writing, I legitimately do need to get better at that. But I’ve also tried to stop apologizing unnecessarily for late replies because it reinforces the idea that I did something wrong. Plus, it sets an invisible standard for other people to feel bad about their own late replies when they’re probably making good alternate choices, too.

This new way of thinking about time boils down to an obvious-but-helpful equation:

I chose [x] instead of [y] because [z].

As in: I chose to hit publish on this sad first draft of a post instead of taking more time to make it better because I don’t have more time to make it better if I want to meet my goal of posting every Wednesday.

It takes the shame out of time. Because there are processes and behaviors I really do need to change if I want to be a better human, but when I look at them through a lens of shame, I just feel bad. Shame makes me feel like I need to try harder, when really, I’m already trying hard enough. What I probably need to do is work smarter—in the future. For today, I’m doing the best I can.

I bet you are, too.

Note: I will be at the beach with my mom next week, which means Running the Slant will also be on vacation 🙂 See you all in two weeks!

Good Things

Soundtrack for this post: Mother Lion by May Erlewine

This interview with Shauna Niequist made me so excited for her next book. (Also, Shauna, want to be my writing mentor? Cooking buddy? BFF?)

Somehow I missed the boat on Crazy, Stupid Love when it first came out, but man, what a good movie.

The Packers’ Insider Inbox has become a daily football highlight. (Buzz, this recommendation is just for you.)

If you need lunch in NYC (or Boston, apparently!), Dig Inn has a beautiful list of seasonal options to put in a bowl. Two of those options should always be the cashew kale caesar and garlic aioli. Also if you need breakfast at Penn Station, the wheat everything bagel (toasted with scallion cream cheese) from Le Bon Cafe is so good.

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