It’s springtime in the forest of Central California where I live, and everything seems to be happening at once. Wildflowers have blossomed in every field, like blue and yellow and pink paint poured over the green landscape. The wild turkeys are mating up a storm—bird porn wherever you look. My calendar seems to be experiencing the same riotous growth as everything else. My schedule is so packed with joyful and astonishing treats that there is barely an unscheduled moment left. Frankly, it’s terrifying.
I have always had a troubled relationship with time. I don’t like the way it passes, taking every material form along with it. I don’t like the way it pushes me, requiring that I put aside one joyful or necessary action to perform another. I don’t like the way it tires my body, and I fully resent the fact that it means I will not be a concert pianist, a circus acrobat, a wild animal tracker, and a neuroscientist during this lifetime.
Speaking of neuroscientists, I’ve been prepping for a workshop with 15 medical doctors who are frustrated with the way medicine is constructed by our culture. Led by the inimitable Lissa Rankin, MD, these brilliant physicians are coming here to begin forming new ideas about how they can run their lives and careers. As I read the entry forms for this corps of doctors, I am astonished and appalled by the brutal way their training has taught them to deal with their time. All of them crush more activity into an hour than most people do all day. But what gets crushed includes activities such as being present with the person who is dying, or eating a nutritious meal leisurely, or assuming an easy, relaxed pace as they open a human body and tinker with the mechanisms inside. How ironic those our culture considers healers of the body are forced to drive themselves without enough sleep, food, or play to keep their own bodies healthy. As we say in my coaching system, how can you give what you cannot live?
But whether or not you are a medical doctor, the tyranny of time very likely dominates your life. Our clocks, our calendars, our associations drive us like overburdened pack mules from one hurried task to another. Right now, if I let myself worry about the amount of work I think I must do this very day, I will topple off the tightrope of inner peace and into a full-on panic. I suspect the same may be true of you—if not today, then soon. One of the most essential tasks for living a life of purpose and joy is to command your time, rather than let it command you.
This will require that you steel yourself for enormous disapproval. Yesterday, I was torn between the conflicting demands of a friend who needed support and an appointment at an unknown destination. I left myself just enough time to get to the interview, but since it was at an unfamiliar location and I have the navigational skills of a cashew, I was late. The interviewer at the studio was not amused. He was testy and frustrated, as I would have been in his place. As I apologized, I realized I was facing a choice: beat myself up for misusing my time, or hold fast to my decision to be present for my friend and allow the interviewer his anger without changing my commitment to scheduling myself in the way that feels most soulful and authentic to me.
For a while I chose door #1. I got out my patented self-flagellation whip (no, it’s not real, you perv, it’s a metaphor) and told myself that somehow, next time, I would have to be less emotional, more professional, in my scheduling choices. Just as everyone has always predicted, I went straight to hell. Fortunately, I left right away. By the time I got home, I had reconnected myself to what is true for me at the deepest level. That is that no professional obligation is remotely as significant as one moment that bonds two human hearts and lives. I turned on a Bob Marley song and bellowed along at the top of my voice—”Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing’s gonna be all right”—and it was.
This little story sums up all the steps to taking command of your own time. One: Set your schedule according to your deepest priorities. Two: When others object to this scheduling, respectfully decline to give a crap. Three: When you receive negative feedback for your scheduling choices, allow any feelings you may have; then sing and dance to Bob Marley until the bad feelings go away. (You may substitute Bach or ABBA or Usher for Bob Marley, although I would suggest that you avoid Enya as this could put you into an irreversible trance.)
This process is not for the faint of heart. It scares the willies out of me. But when I do it, something miraculous occurs. Time—which physicists know to be elastic—begins to bend and stretch for me. Tasks I thought would occupy hours get done in minutes. Helpers show up out of nowhere to help things go more quickly. And the things I do become so interesting that the timekeeper in my head stops altogether. Running your life by your heart, rather than your schedule, is the only method I know that is efficient enough to help us get everything done that we need to do.
I’ll tell you what it’s time to do right now. It’s time to set your schedule in order so that you don’t look back on the day of your death and wonder why you never really lived. It’s time to ignore the opinions of those who think your life should be all about their cause, their rules, their agenda, and not your soul’s desire. It’s time to stop flagellating and start dancing. If you wish to argue about this, I must respectfully decline. I simply do not have the time.