In my natural state of being, I am highly impatient: with family members, with friends, and with strangers. No one is exempt. For most of my life, I impatiently charged ahead, often exasperated by how long and inefficiently everyone around me seemed to move through life. Unsurprisingly, this approach has not exactly cultivated a sense of joy or contentment.
Eventually, for the sake of my own sanity and emotional well-being, I developed a simple phrase that I use whenever I notice myself becoming impatient: take your time. For example, I repeat this phrase silently in my head towards other passengers when I am at the airport and everyone around me seems to be moving through security or down the jet way in slow motion. By reminding myself to be patient and let my fellow passengers take their time, I can generate compassion for others in place of impatience and resentment. But what I have failed to do with this take your time practice is to turn the phrase inward and give myself permission to take my time.
Lately, I have felt overwhelmed by the various demands of work, professional organizations, nonprofit board service, and home life. I have noticed that whenever I am spending time on one task, I feel a sense of guilt and anxiety about not spending time at that very moment on one of the 99 other things that I need to do. And so, I try to do everything I can all at once -- a scattershot of 99 balls in the air which, inevitably, crash down on my head.
The reality is, I can only do one thing at a time. And whenever I lose focus on the one thing I am doing -- by worrying about the other 99 tasks on my list -- everything suffers, including my overall sense of competence. And so, I have to remind myself: take your time.
As an attorney who bills by the hour, the concept of taking my time is particularly loaded. My life often feels fragmented into six-minute increments. My time is literally money: both my client’s money and my own source of income. Taking my time can often feel like wasting time, one of my most precious commodities.
Yet taking my time is exactly the antidote I need to counter that familiar sense of overwhelm that arises when I feel that I have too much to do and too little time. The key for overcoming that sense of overwhelm is pure concentration on the one task in front of me -- without guiltily fretting about the other 99 tasks; without intermittently answering emails and phone calls or staring at my calendar hoping to discover some previously unseen miracle of extra time in my day. I simply make the time and the space. By allowing myself the time and attention to focus on just one task at a time, I make genuine progress on that one task. I regain a sense of confidence and competence. And most importantly, that debilitating sense of overwhelm dissipates.
Ironically, I have discovered that taking my time can actually give me space to be more efficient, overall. Taking my time also lets me better appreciate the present moment of where I am and what I am doing, right now. In this way, taking my time truly helps me cultivate a sense of joy in my life, no matter how many airborne balls might need my attention.