A woman I knew shared this from her then 99-year-old mother: “Time is like a toilet paper roll. The closer you are to the end, the faster it goes.”
There are a lot of theories about why our perception of time changes. One says that it’s about having an ever-growing smattering of touchstones in our lives and that they collapse together all the days between the notable days.
Some years ago, I started experimenting with my relationship with time. First, I started tracking my time meticulously for days at a time. Four-minute bathroom breaks made the list. Social media spirals. Snack breaks. Everything. Meticulously. My clients came to call this The Terrible Horrible Thing for how tedious the capture was and how jarring the data. The payoff was reclaiming the time – and even finding the places where one was using time well but not giving themself credit because there wasn’t a wiz-bang conclusion to the efforts.
Wiz-bangs, after all, are exceedingly rare.
Then I added a paper calendar. For two years, I used it prospectively and retrospectively, scheduling my meetings through pencil jottings and then capturing what happened along the way as the days ticked by. Collaboration made a digital calendar a requirement again but I kept up with my paper calendars, treating them as intensive diaries of how I spend my days.
Each month, I review them, answering the questions tucked in 12 spots in my calendar of choice. Each December, Theresa and I sit down with the my calendar and take a little time note all the highlights of the year – visits, milestones, celebrations, and the joys of the mundane like the start of tomato sandwich season and particularly good movies and shows we watched.
Slightly before my adoption of this paper calendar, a friend gave me a 5-year journal. Each day, this small book contains a few lines for five consecutive years. For five years, my eyes would drift up each page as I made my nightly entry, remembering little delights and challenges of daily life and sometimes being dipped back into particularly tumultuous moments, wondering at those times if I was adding undo punishment by revisiting in this way.
Last year, I became unmoored when I completed that first journal and cracked the spine on a new one filled with blank pages, bereft of the history and all its ups and downs. Part of me missed the built-in review; part of me was relieved to have this fresh starting point.
There’s a little part of me that’s a little sheepish about all of this time capture. “To what end?” that part of me wonders and, “Someone’s going to have to do something with all these calendars and journals when I die and I sincerely hope it includes a fire or recycling bin.”
The point, though, is not to capture the details of my life for posterity but, rather, to more fully notice my life while I’m in it.
Between the calendar and journal, I have, indeed, come to see my life differently. I see how full each week, each month, each year is even as they seem to sometimes whip by me at lightning speed. My nightly question, as I open my 5-year journal of “What do I want to remember about today?” helps me shape the story of my life with intention instead of relying on the happenstance of sticky memories.
Yesterday, during a conversation with a small group of dear friends, I realized and shared that I fear living life as a series of tasks or accomplishments to complete. All of this time tracking is not for that. Instead, for me, it’s about using my brief time as fully as possible…
…to make some sort of impact…
…to experience deep joy and especially the sacredness of the mundane…
…to connect as fully as possible with myself, because everything else I do here starts from there.