Tranquility by Tuesday Can Change How You Feel about Your Time

How many times have you read a book and thought or proclaimed to a friend that it “changed your life”? While it can be exciting at first to see new possibilities open up in your mind after reading a book, the true test is whether it helped you change your life in meaningful ways. Time management guru, Laura Vanderkam, is a writer, speaker, and podcast host whom I have followed for nearly a decade. Having had time to see the difference, I can honestly say her work changed my life.

When I first encountered Vanderkam’s work, I was in the throes of young motherhood with an out-of-control litigation case load. I felt like I was doing everything wrong. I had no energy and I assumed somebody out there must have some answers. When I read I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time on a friend’s recommendation, I suppose I was looking for hacks and tricks to make things easier. What I got, instead, was far more valuable: reassurance that my messy life was normal and a reminder to be practical instead of perfectionist about my time.

Over the course of years, the mindset shift to dispense with all or nothing thinking made a huge impact on my life. Gradually, I began incorporating more of what I wanted in my life (writing, exercising, time with friends, etc.) and I let go of the doubts, worries, and guilt that got in the way.

Instead of assuming that I didn’t have time for the things I wanted or couldn’t commit to a new habit, at some point I decided to let myself try. Fortunately for me, meditation was one of the first habits I established. Because it gave me a quick way to recharge, mental space for insights and ideas, and awareness, other good things soon followed. I quickly got more active in my community, started writing more, and established a regular fitness routine.

Now, I find myself with a law practice, a family, an established blog, and a newly published book. Though I am doing more, I don’t feel as time strapped as I did all those years ago. The major difference is that I got more intentional about the use of my time. That is, I decided some of my time—even the tiny bits of it—was time I deserved to spend on me.

Of course, Laura Vanderkam is not the only person to credit for this awakening. Friends, family, therapists and coaches have all helped me understand and craft this for myself. But I just listened to Vanderkam’s latest book, right as my own first book was coming out, and it hit me that I had unwittingly put into place so many of her time recommendations.

In Tranquility by Tuesday: 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What Matters Vanderkam shares more than a set of 9 steps to manage your time. Instead, this book is about managing how you feel about your time. It’s not a tome that tells you how to manage a to-do list or claims you can simply delegate the tasks you despise. Rather, it recognizes that you may be busy for good reason. In light of that, though, it offers strategies that can help you experience your life as rich and full instead of just overscheduled.

I can’t say that I have put all 9 steps into practice but many of them have been essential to helping me open my mind and my schedule for more of what I want. In particular, fifteen minutes of Friday planning has helped me envision the coming week and prioritize personal and work goals. Likewise, moving early in the day has helped me manage stress and start my days off with energy. Finally, the biggest shift came when I started to prioritize what Vanderkam brilliantly calls “effortful fun.”

Though that sounds like an oxymoron, it makes senses. It means fun that takes a little more effort than standard relaxation. I had never heard the term before I read Tranquility by Tuesday but I can tell you that allowing myself to pick effortful fun more often in my life is one of the most important changes I have made.

When people ask me how I manage so many things, I think they assume that my writing is work. It certainly is, but it’s also a kind of fun I can’t get from watching Netflix, playing a game, or even going to a concert. When I recognized this, I let myself write more and more until it became a habit. Though it takes energy and effort, consistent writing gives me back so much more.

This is the shift that Vanderkam’s work can help you make. She has five kids, two podcasts, numerous books, and a well-updated blog. Even so, I reached out to her to ask for a quote for the blog and she responded within an hour with this gem for all the lawyers and professionals who read the blog:

I think that one of the biggest misconceptions with demanding jobs is that there isn’t any time for other things. There may not be much, but “not as much as I want” is a very different story from “none.” The first story invites us to study our schedules, and see where this time may be, and how we can make the most of what we have, and scale this up over time. The second story is just defeatist. So the first, which is more truthful, is a better option.

I also think it’s important to look at life in terms of weeks. Individual days might be long. But often, over a week, there is space for the things outside work that make us feel like whole people. There are 168 hours in a week. If you work 60 hours a week, and sleep 8 hours per night (56 hours per week) that leaves 52 hours for other things. Again, it is not an infinite amount of time, and you might need to be creative to seize it. But there is likely time for some exercise, reading or hobbies, and quality engagement with family. Think of it as a quest to find this time, rather than dwell on how little there is. 

Laura Vanderkam

Indeed, lawyers rarely have as much time as we want but most of us have more than none. If you want to learn a few ways to make the most of the time you have, check out Vanderkam’s work and her latest book, Tranquility by Tuesday. I don’t promise that it will change your life, but if it changes your mind on a few things that will be a pretty good start.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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Meditation Is Not a Time Suck; It’s a Time Saver

I never ask anyone to explain themselves to me when it comes to meditation. Even so, I give talks about mindfulness a lot and people tend to volunteer why it can’t/won’t work for them. I never mind this because it’s an opportunity for both of us to learn something. The number one reason that people, especially other lawyers, tell me they can’t meditate is insufficient time.

For lawyers, this is surely a believable excuse. We are a notoriously time poor profession. There are significant financial incentives for using any extra time we have to bill hours or market and network to get the next client in the door. And then we might want to actually, hey, have a life to do things besides bill too. Trust me. I get it. I have no intentions here of telling lawyers that they have more time than they think.

Here’s the thing, though. Meditation is not a time suck. It’s a time-saver.

I’m a lawyer, a community leader, a blogger, and a mom. Do you really think I sit around meditating because I’m just bored? Even if you thought that, do you really think I’d pick the single most boring activity on the planet to fill my time? Of course not.

I don’t meditate because I have nothing better to do. I meditate because I have tons of other better things to do besides overthinking, reacting to every little thing in life with anger and hostility, and rushing so much that I miss those tiny joyous moments that creep into life unexpectedly.

Sure, over the last 10 years, I have probably spent hundreds (if not thousands) of hours meditating. That’s a lot. But what I have not done or done far less is spend hours agonizing over some thing in the future I am worried about that never transpires. Or fretting for days about something awkward I said at a happy hour last week. Or scheming endlessly about the best way to handle a situation.

Instead, now I see when I am stuck in thought mode, regret mode, or perfectionist planning mode and I disrupt the loop. I make a decision to write down a few notes to get the idea out of my brain, talk to a friend, apologize, or just let it go by doing something else. The hours saved alone here is enough ROI for my practice, but the impact on my life by remaining engaged in the world rather than lost in thought is even more significant.

And can we talk about the sleep that I haven’t lost when I am dealing with a stressful situation? Or the fatigue or frustration that didn’t derail my work because I had a quick and reliable way of resting and recharging? Or the physical signs of stress I recognized early on and knew how to care for so I could avoid a disaster?

Look, I don’t write this piece to make you feel bad if you tried meditation and struggled with it because you are busy. The truth is that I have too. I have missed a ton of sessions over the last ten years. I have had to restart and reenergize my meditation habit multiple times. Sometimes it feels like a slog when I do.

I keep coming back to it though, not because I magically find extra minutes, but because I want to be present and content in the minutes I have. So, if time is the thing that sticks in your mind when it comes to meditation, maybe try thinking about time in a new way. Don’t just focus on the few minutes that it will take to meditate. Focus instead on the minutes that meditation might save you and the minutes of your life that meditation might improve.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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Mindfulness Can Help You Stop Rushing and Feel Like You Have More Time

The first book on meditation that I ever read was Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana. The book had lots of practical tips that served me well when I started a meditation practice in earnest, but the text wasn’t quite as plain as it claimed to be. Gunaratana kept talking about how meditation can help you create space between you and your thoughts. I understood this as a concept but I had no clue what it meant in practice. In fact, the idea itself seemed counterintuitive, since my initial experience with meditation felt like being smothered by my thoughts, instead of creating space around them.

Even so, I pressed on because my mind had been running for so long that it felt like a relief even to take a brief pause just to watch the wheels spin. By the time I worked my way up to 10 minutes of meditation a day, I noticed a variety of spaces emerge in my life that I had never set out to find: I stopped rushing so much. In particular, I noticed my tendency to rush regardless of whether I was dealing with real time constraints.

For example, I used to be in a big hurry every time I went to the grocery store, racing around and grabbing items as if I were on a game show. Rather than prizes, this habit had usually only given me frustration when I had to stand in line or got caught behind someone walking too slowly. Soon after I started meditating, however, a magical voice from nowhere said “What’s your rush?” as I was briskly walking past the gliding doors. At the time, my daughter was just over a year old so time to myself—even running errands—was a rare and precious thing. I slowed down, strolling through the store with ease, gazing with interest at the lovely produce, and even chatting at check out with the clerk. I came home in a good mood, rather than a bad one.

Now, this isn’t to say that my tendency to rush doesn’t come back. It comes back to me all of the time. On one meditation retreat, I realized that I was rushing even in my meditation because I would force myself back to focusing on the breath the second I noticed my thinking. In addition to making me laugh heartily at myself, this also helped me realize that giving myself the time to see what thoughts had emerged would let me have the insights that vipassana (aka “insight meditation”) was supposed to produce.

Not only can rushing make us less aware of our lives, it can also cause us to behave less ethically. This was demonstrated by a famous study of seminary students who were told that they had to give a lecture across campus on, of all things, the Good Samaritan story from the Bible. Some of the students were told that they were late and others that they had plenty of time to get to their talk. The students were set up to pass a victim in need of assistance and, by a wide margin, the students with time to spare stopped more often to help. The conclusion from this is clear: time constraints—even pretend ones—can cause us to forget our higher ideals (and perhaps be totally oblivious to irony too).

This truth of this study is borne out by my life experience. In my small grocery store example, one of the other things that happened was that a petite woman asked me (I’m 5’11’’) to grab a product off a high shelf for her. Do you think she would have felt comfortable doing so if I looked stressed out and grumpy? Probably not. In that case, the absence of rushing on my part freed me up not just to feel better myself but also help someone else. This happened to me in more significant ways as my practice evolved. I was more likely to ask how other people were doing, to check in on friends I hadn’t seen in a while, or to plan ahead so that I had the ability to work fun and meaningful events with friends and family into my schedule. Over time, the reduction in my rushing made me feel less like I had no time, so I realized that, in fact, I had the time to do things I enjoyed, such as writing, or cooking or going to meditation retreats, even while practicing law and raising a family.

Now, if you are a litigator like me, you may think that rushing is somewhat predestined by the aggressive and deadline-ridden nature of our law practice. But, even here, I have found that being mindful of rushing is beneficial too. I try not to delay responding to emails to keep cases moving, but I give myself time if I need to craft a response. I definitely give myself time if the email is at all aggressive and irritating, as emails from lawyers can sometimes be.

I also take the time to be sure clients are on board with case management and that they feel supported and like their voice is being heard in the process. In addition, because I am more aware of how stressful time constraints can be, I am more proactive about managing cases and deadlines with clear communications so that the work gets done with as little human misery as possible. Sometimes there is no way around a hard deadline and you just have to work like hell to get the project done, but that only makes it all the more necessary to develop a habit of paying attention so that you don’t fall into the all too human habit of treating all deadlines that way.

In the years since I started meditating, I have experienced the space that Gunaratana promised in numerous different ways. Though it seemed to have little to do with my copious thoughts, reducing my tendency to rush may have been one of the most important. It provided me with the space that only time can provide to notice how I was living my life, and I was shocked to see that a small adjustment in how I behaved could produce such a significant change in my law practice, personal happiness, and relationships.

If, like me, you are someone who tends to rush, the first step is to notice when it arises. Notice what it feels like in your body when you rush. Notice the thoughts that emerge. Over time, you will see patterns and then the next step is to start to ask yourself whether the perceived time constraints are real. If they are, you can learn to take a deep breath and offer yourself compassion as you face the task. If they are not, take several deep breaths and offer yourself care by slowing down. Then simply repeat these steps over and over again for the rest of your life, congratulating yourself for crises averted and forgiving yourself for any mistakes. We cannot control how much space or time life gives us, but we have some control over how we perceive it. Meditation can help us remember this and that is one way it can make us free.

If you need a quick reminder to help you watch the rushing, check out our quick mini video here:

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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