When Congresswoman Maxine Waters asserted her right to a limited amount of time during a hearing recently, it resonated with millions of us.
“Reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time.”
When I saw the video clip, I screamed.
LET! HIM! KNOW!
As Treasury Secretary Mnuchin tried to fill the room with hot air and avoid her question repeatedly, Waters interrupted with authority over and over again, “Reclaiming my time.”
This was proper rule of conduct within this political context, by the way. But since she so eloquently illustrated what so many of us feel, I am proposing that Reclaiming My Time be our rallying cry.
We all have felt resentment and the desire to assert ourselves when folks step on our time, on the precious hours we have at our disposal. We all want to reclaim our time. It’s so precious. It’s running out.
I’ve got some good news for y’all. Time is a social construct.
I realize that sounds flippant, but for real – the clock was only created a few hundred years ago. It’s a tool for organizing and coordinating. If we want to synchronize our behavior or relationships, meet someone for lunch, have a meeting, the clock comes in handy.
But when we see this time as some external entity that controls us, some taskmaster that is unforgiving, that’s when stress comes in. The fear of missing a deadline, being late for work, or forgetting an important meeting can put us straight into fight or flight mode.
Realizing that this awful taskmaster is one of our own making is strangely liberating.
I’m not saying that you can live your life without any input from the external clock, but what I am saying is that you can start to change a few small things that will flip your perspective on time and how it plays out in your life.
Recognize where you have choices
We can all start to notice what our “pacers” are. Chronemics scholars refer to pacers as the time-related conventions that mark and give structure to our lives: the quarterly sales report, the daily deadline, the weekly soccer game, bath time for the kids.
These pacers aren’t inherently negative. They literally set the pace of our life. They can push us to speed up or slow down depending on what we need to accomplish on any given day. But they can also push us to ignore our needs, burn out, and break down.
Inquiring and being self-aware of the pacers that you’ve been trained (or trained yourself) to obey is useful, because then we get to decide if they’re doing us any favors. We sometimes forget that we have a say in the matter. Without the idea of choice, we feel helpless, we go through life obeying these pacers without questioning whether they are really serving us, our family, or our career.
Ditch the victim mentality
Deadlines. We all have them. Have you ever stopped to think about that word? Dead line. Most word scholars say that a deadline marked the border around a military prison and if prisoners were found outside that line, they were shot dead.
Even if we don’t think that deeply about the word, it still means when we talk about work, it’s something tied to death. What does this introduce into our interpretation of the pre-deadline period? Gloom and doom. Death is coming. What are some other ways that we can talk about our work that can subtly shift the perspective of this pacer that we’ve put in place?
Instead of focusing on the deadline, on the external taskmaster we’ve created, we can focus on the priorities.
What’s your why? Why are you obeying this deadline?
“I’m working on this [awesome project X] and a good deal of my time is going to that priority right now.” sounds a lot different than, “I have this deadline looming over me and I need to get back to work, I don’t have time to…”
Starting to reframe our language removes the victim mentality we can have in relation to time.
When I ask friends or family members, “How’s it going?” so many times I hear, “I’m busy, OMG so busy. I’m exhausted, life is so busy.”
I’m guilty of this too.
When I find myself answering this way, it gives me information about how I’m feeling internally and how I’m perceiving my life (busy, getting away from me, passing me by). This puts the locus of control outside of myself and makes it seem like life is happening to me instead of me filling my life with abundant chances for work, play, travel, and relationships (which make me busy, by the way).
When someone asks me how I’m doing, I’ve started trying to take a pause before I spit out, “busy” and actually give a thoughtful answer that honors my choice in the matter.
If you feel like your answer isn’t honoring your choice in the matter, if the things you’ve “busied” yourself with aren’t in line with your priorities or your best self, perhaps it’s time to examine those pacers you’ve created and make some changes.
Examine your attitude around hustle and time value
Hustle hard. Every day I’m hustlin’. Rise and grind.
I see this stuff everywhere on Instagram, internet memes, t-shirts. It’s startup culture in a tagline. For the sake of transparency, I’ll admit it: the scratch pad I’m using right now for to-do lists has every day I’m hustlin’ on it in gold ink. I can’t resist the TJMaxx notebook sale section. I’m only human.
This culture of hustle as badge of honor is (in my opinion) one of the more insidious parts of the “American dream” we get sold. It tells us that if we are REALLY a dedicated employee, boss, entrepreneur, mother, then we will never give up.
We can’t stop won’t stop. We will ignore our needs and our boundaries and PRODUCE at all costs.
This undermines our humanity. We are not machines. We are humans with flesh and blood and needs. For a while I served as a mentor at a clubhouse for college age entrepreneurs. When it came time for these incredibly bright, successful students to intercept job offers, my advice was always to keep a sharp eye out for this, especially at tech companies, where the hustle culture is prevalent.
Does this company have endless “perks” in place of a competitive salary? Do they cater 3 meals a day? Will they offer to send someone to your house to wait for your plumber so you don’t have to? Is the office filled with amenities like showers, beds, and lockers? Wake up! This is a signal that you are going to be giving up having a life in exchange for “hustling hard” (producing for them, instead of living your life).
While I do understand the rush of putting in long hours to build an empire and working on something you believe in (hello! first year business owner here!), I think it’s important that we examine our relationship to this “hustle hard” mentality and maintain a healthy relationship with it.
Are you burying your needs and your humanity to be a productive and valuable employee or volunteer or partner? Then it might be time for a change and some self-study.
Saying no doesn’t make you a jerk
We say yes. A lot. We take on more and more responsibility, unpaid labor, emotional labor, and more. Especially as women.
Next thing we know we are looking months into the future without a free weekend or night after work because we’ve made so many commitments. Then when we get a request for something we REALLY want to do – we literally don’t have room for it in our lives. Not cool.
Saying no is hard sometimes because we WANT to say yes. We want to help people. But we need to understand that the word “no” is bound up in our relationship to time and why we feel that we don’t have enough of it.
Saying no makes space in your life for the things you want to say yes to.
Once I realized that saying no means saying yes to something else – something more fulfilling, exciting, urgent, important, worthy – I started to love the word no.
If you say yes to someone else, you’re saying no to yourself and your priorities.
Sometimes saying yes is absolutely the right thing. But sometimes it’s to your detriment. Learning to say no to something that doesn’t do you any favors or line up with your priorities means you get to say yes to something affirming and awesome. Something that makes your heart leap and that small, still voice inside you sigh with relief.
On the other hand, saying yes to something that doesn’t resonate with your values and priorities leaves you feeling resentful, overworked, stressed, and with an empty tank for the things that really do matter to you right now.
Some ways to figure out if the right answer is yes or no
What are you resentful of? Do you have things that you dread doing? Things you said yes to out of obligation or a sense of duty? I can always tell I’ve said yes to the wrong thing when I feel it in my body.
In my body this looks like: my shoulders move up toward my ears, my neck feels tight, I clench my jaw and furrow my brow, my stomach tightens.
When someone asks you to do something, pay attention to the sensations in your body. Literally, trust your gut reaction here. Do you feel excited by it? Do you want to say, “heck yeah!” If not, say no.
What’s the matching no? Logic dictates that if you say yes to something, there’s an equivalent no.
If you say yes to taking an extra shift at work, you’re saying no to cooking dinner and spending time in the bath with a book. If you say yes to going to the club with your friends, you’re saying no to the early morning exercise class.
Is the matching no worth saying yes?
Maxine Waters isn’t afraid to say no. Let’s be inspired to reclaim our time.
Want to spend a weekend learning to reclaim your time?
Join me for Time Weavers: a retreat for women who want to redefine their relationship with time and lay claim to their optimal rhythm
I have talked to so many women lately who share this struggle with us, this fight over time, this battle to claim our own rhythm and to feel like life hasn’t left us behind.
I created a retreat especially for us, the time-poor, the ones who have too much to do and not enough hours in the day.
How would it feel to actually know you’re reclaiming your time. Your own rhythm. Trusting yourself in your own right timing.
At Time Weavers, we’re going to discover that and learn practical ways to implement it in real life. Your time is your own. It’s time to take it back.
I’ve got 2 spots left. This retreat is $895 all inclusive in gorgeous central California, September 21-24.