Podcast 128: Time scorpions

This is podcast 128 and it’s about finding the hidden ways your time is being spent. These are things that are hiding in plain sight but we don’t notice them because they’re always there, or we discount how much time they take, or they are so habitual that we truly can’t see them. But it’s not about rooting them out. It’s about noticing them.

A few years ago in a podcast called “How much time do you really have?” I mentioned the concept of time sharks. I read about it in Lee Silber’s book about organizing for creative folks. It’s an older book, but still great. I recommend it!

The time sharks exercise is to count up the hours in a day you spend doing things. All the time working, sleeping, commuting, eating, cleaning, etc. It’s a great idea. People are usually unpleasantly surprised to find out how little free time they really have.

Sharks are big. They’re easy to count. In fact, they’re pretty hard to miss. However, there are other, smaller, ways we spend time that are easy to miss, but they’re worth searching for because they add up. They are small, yet they deserve to be noticed. Let’s call them time scorpions.

Besides being small, time scorpions occur occasionally, not regularly. As I’ve said before, doing something every day is one of the easiest ways to create a habit. The tasks that occur on an irregular schedule are harder to become habit. That makes them time scorpions. You don’t include them in your bathroom time budget, so it’s easy to forget that you do need SOME time for them.

One time scorpion I’ve started noticing in my life is cutting my fingernails. After I cut them, I usually file them a bit to get the rough edges off. It only takes a few minutes but I count it because it’s not part of my regular bathroom routine.

Nail cutting occurs occasionally. There’s no set schedule. It’s not once a week or once a month. It’s when I look down at them and realize they need cutting. That time has to come from somewhere.

The bathroom category, on the other hand, is a time shark. It includes regular tasks like showering, shaving, and brushing your teeth. Those are things you do every time you’re in the bathroom for your daily routine. You probably have a pretty clear idea of how long this bathroom routine takes every day. Time scorpions are wild cards.

Sometimes I get up and cut my nails on the spot. This is another characteristic of time scorpions, that they’re free-floating tasks not attached to a time of day. Time sharks are single tasks or a continuous sequence of related tasks that generally occur at the same time each day. They don’t randomly interrupt other things you’re doing like scorpions do.

Here are some other scorpions I’ve noticed: cleaning the cat box, taking out the trash and putting gas in the car. I do all those things dependent on the need to do them, not on a regular timetable.

Now here’s the part where I’m supposed to tell you how to eliminate those scorpions or do them more efficiently, but I’m going to take a left turn.

I was happy to notice the scorpions because I want to be aware of how I spend my time. As I’ve said before, there’s no way to improve the way you spend your time unless you know where it’s going to begin with.

When I say “improve” I don’t mean get more done in less time. That’s never been my thing, just as it’s never been my thing to organize stuff before deciding whether it should even be kept.

Here’s the reason to hunt down those scorpions. It’s not to kill them. It’s to refine your attention to where time is going. It’s noticing that you’re standing in the bathroom cutting your fingernails. It’s realizing that this activity takes place over a certain amount of time.

It’s understanding that life is a series of moment that keeps moving forward no matter what you’re doing. Sure, you might look back and feel like you’ve wasted a lot of time. But right now, there’s time happening. In the five minutes since this podcast started, things have happened in your life. Good, bad, happy, sad, neutral, even boring.

These are the moments of your life and they’re valuable just for that reason. They deserve your attention. Isn’t it better to come to the end of a day and know that you worked, walked the dog, cut your nails, talked to a friend and did some laundry, rather than not having any idea where your day went?

What you can do right now: Be in the moment. Whatever you’re doing right now, really own it. Notice that time is passing and that’s perfectly okay.