Time Management -- Finding Time Where There is None

Found Time is that gift you really didn’t want to receive, and may in fact be angry about having.  Found Time is what happens when something goes wrong, leaving you unable to pursue your original plans, feeling frustrated and disappointed about what you are now unable to do, and grousing about the opportunities that have slipped from your grasp.  Maybe your car died or there was an hours-long traffic delay when you really needed to be somewhere.  Maybe you looked forward to your vacation trip for months and it rained the whole time you were there.  Maybe you had some great activity planned for the weekend which fell through because a needed piece of equipment broke.  Or maybe, like me during one memorable week, an unexpected illness changed everything.

Found Time is the time you now have as a result of losing what you really wanted to be doing instead.  If you stay with your disappointment, Found Time feels instead like Wasted Time, or worse, Lost Opportunity.  What it ultimately ends up being is entirely in your control.  Depending on your level of disappointment, the mental gymnastics required to get yourself into a positive frame can be quite challenging.  If you choose to do it, however, you can replace the loss of what you expected with the unexpected surprise of what is now available to you instead.  Your mood can go from angry and frustrated to peaceful and focused.

Although Found Time generally happens because of mundane glitches, we go through the same stages of adjustment as people do when they grieve, albeit in superficial and compressed form.  There is the initial shock:  “This can’t be; I wasn’t expecting this.”  This is rapidly followed by anger:  “But I have plans!”  Then comes the bargaining:  “There’s got to be a way around this.”  And finally, the depression:  “There is no way around this; my plans are gone and I can’t get them back.” 

Negative mood states are associated with all of the first four stages of adjusting.  It’s easy to stay stuck in those mood states until the time of loss has passed and you get on with your life, probably when your next set of plans comes up and you are able to get back some sense of control.  If you stay with your bad feelings until your next set of plans is able to kick into action, you will indeed have experienced Wasted Time because it is hours/days/etc. of your life that ticked by with nothing good to show for it.

This is where the last stage of adjustment – acceptance – comes in, and where you have the potential to experience the positive development of Found Time.  Once you accept what has happened and that your original plans are now history, you have time available that you didn’t expect.  In a life where time is finite, this is an incredible find.

In my particular case, I was stuck at home for a full week, not horribly ill, but unable to work or do much in the world due to serious laryngitis.  Would I wish for this?  NO!  Did I go through the first four ugly stages of adjustment?  Oh, yeah.  But think about the opportunity here.  I was stuck at home, but functional in most respects.  Like everyone, I have a hundred little things around the house that I always want to do, but never have time for, because I’m either working, playing, or tending to items of higher priority.  Because that is the case, these items never, ever get done.  For years, they don’t get done.  Suddenly, there I was with days ahead in which these items were my only viable option if I wanted to remain at all productive.  I would never make them important enough otherwise, though they would continue to nag at me, but there I was with a gift-wrapped opportunity to take care of lots of loose ends.  Eliminating loose ends reduces stress, provides great satisfaction, and results in a smoother-running system at home.

My choice, like yours, was to decide whether I’d rather be miserable or feel good.  Honestly, I did the miserable thing for a few days and hated it, but then the party was on (though it was a really quiet party).  For the rest of the week, I took care of dozens of little nagging tasks and my life has been better organized ever since because of the way I chose to spend the remainder of my enforced solitude.

The next time you’re caught in traffic, no matter how very badly you wanted to get where you were going, you have a choice.  You can fuss, fume, swear and stress your way through two hours of sitting on the Parkway, or you can realize you never, ever have time to just listen to your favorite music for two whole hours, and take advantage of the new opportunity you now have.  Guess what, you’ll be there for the next two hours anyway – how are you going to choose to spend it?  The sooner you push your way through those first four ugly stages of adjustment, the sooner you get back to getting quality from your time, even if it’s not the form of quality you would have preferred.

Vacation got rained out, and you’re stuck thousands of miles from home with no good options?  This one’s hard because you have so much time and money invested, but again, the reality is you’re there, it’s raining, and this week of your life will pass one way or another.  Which way do you want it to be?  If you can find your way to acceptance, you will find you now have opportunities for introspection and stillness that our over-heated world (and perhaps your over-scheduled vacation) would never otherwise offer you.

The one thing in this life we can’t manufacture any more of is time.  It is the most precious, dynamic resource of our lives, and the measure of our very existence.  With a consistent eye on living with quality and priority, you can assure that you find something of value in almost any disappointment.  Granted, it can be really challenging to do that, but you will be happier and more satisfied for having made the effort.  Besides, what are your other choices?

Copyright © 2005, Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW.  All rights reserved.


Related articles:

Time Management Part One: But I Don't Have Time for Time Management!

Time Management Part Two: How to Accomplish More

Time Management Part Three: How to Live More 


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