The one question that stumps me is ‘What do you do?’ At parties or networking events or seminars or just down the pub, it’s one of the first questions people who don’t know me ask. I won’t bore you with a list of all the things I do, that’s reserved for those who proclaimed that ‘I would never amount to anything’. Suffice to say I am an executive psychologist author!
So, when I have finished reeling off my daily activities and the concepts around them, the next comment is usually, ‘How do you find time to do all that?’
I was thinking the other day about the time before I began to write and what I did with it. I remember finding it difficult to fit in my day job, and was constantly rushing around like a headless chicken from on half completed task to the next. So what’s changed?
The two single most important things that gave me more time were stopping smoking and stopping drinking to excess at the weekend. Used to (chain)smoke 30 cigs per day, say 10 minutes for each. 35 hours a week. Plus 24 hours with a hangover. Plus 48 additional hours asleep. That leaves just 61 hours PER WEEK to fit in the day job (40 hours) and everything else I want to do (21 hours).
So I stopped. It wasn’t easy but certainly possible, the biggest obstacle was boredom at first because I had so much time on my hands! So I did a degree with the money and time I saved then a PhD. Now I run a course on how to stop smoking and have written a book about identity construction, but I digress.
The third biggest obstacle to managing my time is negative thinking. Or in my case, negative obsessing. For example, I had long wanted to write a novel, but I was convinced that I couldn’t write it, no one would buy it, I didn’t know how to do it. I began to learn to analyse my thoughts (thanks, psychology training!) and to operate thought dialectics. It sounds clever and complicated, but actually it just means taking time to think about the thought statement and identifying the positive opposite. So my above negative statements were then translated to I can write a novel, someone will buy I and I can learn how to do it. Suddenly it became very exciting.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple! In addition to learning about writing novels and the format of submissions, there is a learning curve regarding the dynamics of the publishing industry. All this takes time. But all the same, I started writing and therefore I was a writer.
My theory is that time is just a concept. Also that it’s elastic. So in any one week you have 168 hours to spend. I need 8 hours sleep per night. That leaves me 112 hours. My day is structured around running a 9 – 5 office, so that takes 40 hours (add travel minus lunch). That’s 72 hours I can spend doing exactly what I want to!
Now, If I spend all my 72 hours looking at the clock and panicking that I don’t have enough time, or spend it staring at the TV, or lying in bed with a hangover feeling sorry for myself, I’m not creating anything. More importantly, I’m not creating any good feelings for myself, just negativity at worst or numbness at best. Where’s the buzz in self inflicted illness through dehydration? I’m not contributing to the world.
In my day job I’m busy doing something that contributes – not through luck but through tough choices that are sometimes difficult to understand. Outside work I have a set of things I would like to do including hobbies, travel, socialising and writing. My relationship with my partner is one where we support each other in what we want to do instead of being possessive over each other’s time.
So, I spend around 15 hours a week writing. Sometimes, it’s more, it really depends on what stage I am at. I spend quite a lot of time reading too. It never ceases to amaze me on finishing a book or a painting that I have actually just created something unique, something that no one else has ever done. Similarly with reading. I get to see the knowledge someone else has, their unique view of the world. Sure, people have written books and art before, but this story or this painting is an original. It belongs to me. It’s worth spending my time on.
Of course, the negative side to this is that some people fool themselves into thinking that they alone are right and their opinion is the only one worth listening to, no point in reading or going to the art gallery. Is it a coincidence that this opinion is usually lubricated by alcohol, expressed through a haze of smoke or from a TV gaze? I call this time envy, a condition brought about by living in a negativity filled past.
In quantum terms, everything that is here is here already, it’s just that particles are manipulated in a different ways to different effect. As a bunch of molecules myself that has sentience, I am the manipulator. Take paper for instance. I can either smoke a cigarette and negatively affect my molecules and those around me, or I can create a story and a book and contribute. Or alcohol. I can get wasted on a Friday night and stretch my time not doing anything into two hungover days, or I can create a piece of art and wash my brushes in alcohol. Don’t even get me started on the dialectics of drugs.
In the above examples, time is elastic. I reach into my past as a point of reference to regret elongated time spent manipulating my objects of addiction and punish myself and my body more by continuing, but reach into the future when I manipulate my positive creative molecules into objects of lasting art and literature.
It’s the present where positive decisions are taken – what do YOU do?