Command Your Time

1267744_timeIt’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.

37 replies
  1. Lynn Crow
    Lynn Crow says:

    How is it that I needed to read that this very minute?? I just out of the blue thought, I wonder if Martha Beck has a FB page….
    Thank You So Much…
    I am learning to rework my life without guilt and I am guessing you understand HOW HARD that is….
    I am a sandwich generation, taking care of my kids and my father until just this week. My father had to go to rehab for a broken shoulder and steady declining health. He has been living here for 7 years. Now I am trying to forge a different relationship with my Dad without feeling guilty.

  2. Onalee Martha Marsh
    Onalee Martha Marsh says:

    Thank you for helping me! I’ve finally taken the time to read my October issue of Oprah. “Your job is to maximize your own happiness, kindness and health.” I’m trying to figure out how to do that, Martha. I took a big stand today to maximize my own happiness. Your advice was timely and on target for me. I’ve sworn off poison and am poised to surround myself only with people who enrich my soul. I can’t wait to share your advice with a friend in need.

    • Jo-Neal Boic
      Jo-Neal Boic says:

      Thank you so much for this! Some how you knew exactly what I needed this morning!
      I have been reading your books and articles for years now and I so appreciate them all!
      Some day I’d like to participate in a workshop.
      Thanks for all that you do and all that you are.

  3. Arpita
    Arpita says:

    I just discovered you, and I guess there is a time for everything. It is not a coincidence I believed that I found you, then your website and then this article just now. I have been torn between creating a scheduling that I can follow for myself with great discipline and industry…and I have been toying with the idea of not having a scheduling. And rightfully, Time is mocking my stupid ruminations and flying away. 🙂 Thank you. This is food for thought and perhaps I must focus on one-day at a time, making time for what is most important to me and in that order too. You are wonderful. Thank you again.

  4. leaestrella
    leaestrella says:

    Martha I love you and your humor!
    Gracias! Is there anyway to take the coaching certification in person?
    Also I really desire and want some great help in setting up a business structure that supports me and my business and allows me to have time to be the artist that I am!
    Love and gratitude! Lea

  5. Birgit Platschka
    Birgit Platschka says:

    Hi, I loved this article. For some reason we ( me ) tend to think that unless we use every minute of each day to its last second, we are doing something wrong… or are not part of the ” successful ” crowd.
    But isn’t success just like you mentioned; living a life !
    Last year my cousin told me that she heard that wearing a wristwatch was bad for your ‘ spiritual body ‘. Oh well, I tried it and haven’t looked back. For some reason I always am on time, know the time and most importantly have time for life’s joys.
    Thank you for reminding me of this.
    Regards, Birgit

  6. maryann thompson
    maryann thompson says:






  7. Helga
    Helga says:

    WOW! Today I gave my resignation at work, after much thought and trepidation. At lunch time I sat down at the computer and the last paragraph of this message was what I read on Facebook.

  8. Vicki
    Vicki says:

    Byron Katie says that whenever we feel any kind of stress, such as racing to get things done, we are believing a thought that is not true for us.

  9. Julie
    Julie says:

    Holy wow – you are so right on. You ‘ve touched on an issue I’ve been grapling with for a long time. Following our hearts seems to matter more than ever right now. Trying to accomplish goals that are not aligned with the heart is like running an engine with no oil. Thank you!

  10. Myriam Azpurua
    Myriam Azpurua says:

    Martha, I liked your article, it’s very clearly expressed. It surely is a wise decission, to bring heart, mind and body to center. It’s our daily job, to be in contact with ourserselves, respect ourserelves and whenever a conflict arises, to take time to take conscious and harmonious decissions. Napoleon used to say something like: “slowly because I’m in a hurry.” We are the masters of our lives and therefore of our time, we just need to be conscious of it and its relation to our life’s spam.

    Warm regards from Venezuela,

  11. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    Weird stuff! Like Michael Buble’s song. “I just haven’t met you yet” … First your Neuroscientists – I was driving past a hospital in Toronto just last night looking at a staff member outside smoking and had a big discussion about how stressful the health industry appears to be. Talking about how many people working in it seem to have poor habits and are so overworked they are unable to carry out their main purpose to help and heal. I wondered out loud if Naturopaths feel the same way (not so much)…

    ..and then minutes before I found your blog I cancelled a meeting this afternoon, because I just didn’t feel like it and the expected battle and thought Monday just felt better,,, So. Not sure what this all about? I didn’t know about you until 2 weeks ago when your book jumped out at me from my local library shelf.. and since then lots has been changing.. THANK YOU

  12. Laura at
    Laura at says:

    This story is so true for me! In trying to be so efficient, and get the most done, I cut deadlines so close that I am late more than I’d like. And even if I’m not late, the travel time to the destination is stress-filled. So it’s a double whammy — late and stressed. When I actually pad the time and plan to get there 15 minutes early, it changes everything. I hardly honk at slow drivers at all; I contentedly listen to an audiobook or music; and if I actually do get there early, I can sit and read or catch up on a phone call before going in. Why I don’t do this all the time I do not know.

  13. david snyder
    david snyder says:

    you should have seen the scowl I recieved when I checked your book out of the Kaysville City Library. BE SILENT AND HEAR THE TICKING OF THE UNIVERSE–the answer to life has nothing to do with the mormon priesthood. I HAVE SEEN–my near death experience made me detest living in my present life. I AM NOT IMPRESSED–that extends to things I have done in life (i.e.had supper with Miss America in Thialand in 1974). We have so much more to look forward to in heaven.

  14. david snyder
    david snyder says:

    your book just jumped out at me at the Kaysville City Library. You were puzzled about your father’s experience being different from you when he says he saw the light. That’s because in his mind it merely reinforced his concept of becoming a god himself.

  15. Mary
    Mary says:

    Scheduling according to our deepest priorities, then taking the flak.
    I really needed to hear this tonight, Martha.
    Thank you!

  16. Heather
    Heather says:

    I never tire of this message…. to me it sounds like, “ON WITH IT – NO HESITATIONS! JUST GET ON WITH YOUR WONDERFUL HEART LED LIFE!”

  17. Kathi
    Kathi says:

    Very timely for me, and you are so funny Martha, you just lighten up these distressing subjects for me. Thanks, and yes MUSIC works every time.

  18. Donna
    Donna says:

    There are things we MUST do. There are things we “should” do. There are things we would like to do. I have always had a tendency to follow my heart, or my soul in the scheduling of my day, but I accused myself of having no self-discipline. Well, the HEll with that! If it feels right, go for it.

  19. Marcia
    Marcia says:

    Here’s the issue for me: it’s great to do what feels right to you, usually. But, I have a friend who is perpetually late for anything we do. She has really good reasons, usually tied in to helping a family member or stray animal, etc. I can’t agree with you on this one, Martha. Time is the same for all of us. Being late is stealing someone else’s time. Also, If you had a 9 to 5 job, would your friend have expected you to leave work to come be there for her? I have finally had to stop agreeing to seeing or meeting up with my late friend, because an hour long lunch would become 2, with me sitting and waiting for 45 minutes. People need to be treated with equal respect. Especially if it’s something you agreed to do.

  20. Cynthia
    Cynthia says:

    Dear Martha,
    Thank you for this “timely” message, it strikes a chord with living in the present moment….and my moments as of late have been taken up by another’s agenda… intention of finding a better way to live has now arrived !! Cheers!!

  21. Caryl
    Caryl says:

    This is one of your very best! Thank you and it has come at the most opportune time!!!!l Love the way you think and your humor!!!!

  22. Lesley
    Lesley says:

    Well, you have every right to decide you can’t see your friend any more because her habits don’t work with your lifestyle and you feel disrespected by her.

    I feel she’ll probably be happier with her family and stray animals, and hopefully friends who share her relaxed view of time. So you do what’s right for you.

    However I cannot bear this trend I’m seeing lately of equating everything to “stealing”. It reduces our lives, cultures and interpersonal relationships to monetary value, which freaks me right out.

  23. Tracie
    Tracie says:

    Interesting! I’m a nurse. I am still struggling with being chastised last week at work after having a very challenging shift with highly needy patients but not making it in person to report on time (though I had written out all needed information and left it on the report binders). I now realize the issue I have is that my values ( the needs of my patients) were different that the the charge’s (the success if her reporting system). I now realize I’m ok with my decision, for me my patients come first! It’s not my “time management skills” that are the issue it’s my values.

  24. Joanna
    Joanna says:

    This is brilliant and funny and absolutely captivating! I would love to know more about the time bending phenomenon. I have a hunch that you might say that I need to let go of my attachment to figuring out how to bend and stretch time and just be present in the moment. But still, would be cool to understand this a little better.

  25. Amber
    Amber says:

    Man, you’re smart Martha. As I worry about leaving work early to pick up some essential nutrient supplies for an arthritic dog I am looking after for a few weeks, who was very stiff this morning, I know I am making the right decision…it’s what matters. Work gets enough of my time!

  26. Heather
    Heather says:

    YES! YES! YES!
    (and as in the famous scene from When Harry Met Sally, "I'll have what she's having.")
    Thanks for always giving me goose bumps and making me laugh at the same time. You-da-best MB! ❤️


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