It’s (Not) About Time

Three things made me curious in the last couple of weeks about our concept of time. The first source of my curiosity came up during conversations with participants in a Practicing Wholeness Circle (PWC), and with colleagues interested in using PWC’s in their own environments or with clients. Several of those conversations focused on the constraints inherent in getting people engaged in a process that is designed to unfold in a series of twelve, once-a-month, 2-hour, face-to-face or online conversations. Over and over again, the constraint identified was time, i.e., the lack of time for participation. 

In one of those conversations, a young man with a challenging job and two young children at home, told me that even though he experienced the value in his own life, “it seems there really is no good time,” to participate in something like a PWC. His regret evoked a great sense of empathy in me. He wrote in an email, “What I really need is to get away, physically away – out of my office and out of my home, into another space where I can focus and not worry, because my time is committed and I know that everything else can wait for a little bit. I struggle just knowing that such a thing is so rare in my life these days.” I let him know that I certainly understood his predicament, having once been simultaneously a full-time mother of three, a full-time college administrator, and a part-time graduate student. 

The second source of my curiosity was a series of six Harvard Business Review articles titled “Time Poor and Unhappy.” The gist of the first research-rich article, “Time for Happiness,” is that the reason we are suffering from “time poverty,” rather than “time affluence” is that we continually and consistently choose the pursuit of wealth over the pursuit of time. The advice given by the authors for reclaiming more time in our lives made me do a bit more research on my own. What I found was a wealth of reasons why we claim that we never have enough time to do the things we want/need to do. Among them are the fact that we use our lack of time as an excuse for our lack of desire, we fear the unknown losses associated with valuing time over money, and many of our work cultures value “busy-ness” as a way to look important.

Advice for gaining more time also abounds. Set priorities! Make better choices! Stop wasting time/procrastinating! Get organized! Structure your day better! Just say “NO!” Delegate! Hire out chores and tasks! Manage your energy instead of your time! Really?

The interesting fact is that we all have the same amount of time. A Psychology Today article points out that:

Every year of our lives, we use up an average of 8,766 hours. Every ten years, 87,660 hours. If our lives extend only to age 50, we’ll still have 438,300 hours to achieve whatever goals we’ve set for ourselves. If we make it to 60, we’ve got a total of 525,960 hours at our disposal–to handle priorities, fulfill obligations, meet interesting people, pursue personal interests, travel to exotic lands, contribute to the lives of others, etc. Should we last till 70, we’ll have no fewer than 613,620 hours to work with. Age 80 will bring our temporal supply up to 701,280 hours–surely a sufficient amount of time to enable us to realize our most cherished hopes and dreams.

This all made me wonder if there’s really not enough time or if it has something to do with our personal relationship with time. For that, I turned to the third source of my curiosity, a story told by the enormously prolific American writer, Ursula K. Le Guin, who passed away a year ago at the age of 89. I’m sure my interest in discovering what she had to say in an essay titled, “In Your Spare Time,” is due to my own advancing age, but I think she offers an intriguing juxtaposition of mindset that might benefit us all as we consider our relationship with time. 

In the essay, Le Guin tells the story of trying to respond to a Harvard questionnaire sent to the class of 1951, in which they asked, “In your spare time, what do you do?,” offering an array of twenty-some options. After observing that all of her own time was “occupied with living,” rather than “spare,” she finds herself wondering, “What is Harvard thinking of? I am going to be eighty-one next week. I have no time to spare.”

I’m just wondering. What if, rather than thinking that we have not a spare moment for what matters most, we thought that we had not a moment to spare. I would love to hear your thoughts at

Learn more about Practicing Wholeness Circles here:

Read the Harvard Business Review article here:

Read the Psychology Today article here:

Read about Le Guin’s essay at the amazing Brain Pickings site here: 

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