There will never be more time.
“Time is a created thing. To say I don't have time, is like saying, I don't want to.”
“I haven’t had time to write a letter,” my brother says forcefully. He was expecting me to understand his priorities.
“Time?” I say in disbelief, leaning towards him. “How do you not have time in here? That is all you have is time?”
I sit facing my brother, a tiny plastic table separating us. We are in the visiting room in the institution in which he resides - Sandstone Federal Prison. Families surround us - some drove days to spend their Sunday with incarcerated loved ones. Murals cover the walls. In the 3 years I’ve been visiting him, not one single mural has changed. Time stands still here.
I have mixed emotions about my brother's incarceration. Those feelings have visited in waves since he first entered the system in 2013. The emotion that most surprised me was envy. Envy for the large expanses of time he has had to be with himself. He has spent that time reading hundreds of fictions books for the first time in his life. He has studied new disciplines. He finally became fluent in Spanish. He wrote endless pages about his experience which he mailed to me for safekeeping. My envy was stronger earlier when I worked a high-stress job for a technology company. Then, time was the last thing I felt like I had. I craved the kind of space he seemed to have. One that seemed to include no real responsibilities. The abundant life I had on the outside seemed too full much of the time.
Fast forward 5 years and he no longer has time. On that Sunday visit, earlier this month, he explained his problem with time. There is never enough. His words resembled a conundrum explained by many of my clients. The same problem I come up against every single day as an entrepreneur.
There is never enough time. The actual, real limitation of 24 hours in a day, makes it impossible to do all the things we want or need to do.
But, what struck me most about my conversation with my brother, is what came next.
“If I write a letter, it will take me all night, since I have to do it by hand,” he explained. We talk like this sometimes - my painting him a picture of life with technology and he doing the reverse. He continued, "I have something every night that the guys rely on me to show up for. I play bridge twice a week and I am on a team of four. My team needs me. Not that many people know the intricacies of bridge and we want to keep our team in good standing. Or we have to decide before lunch if we want to play pool because one of us has to skip lunch to reserve the table. I can't ask someone to do that and then decide, nah I don't want to play pool anymore. That would piss people off."
What emerged with his added detail is a different reality. Time is not the issue. Planning and prioritization are the real problems. It is never about time.
How should he prioritize his time? Does he focus on himself, the relationships he has on the "inside" or those that support him from the outside? What response will he get from his community if he lets them down by stepping away from bridge for a night? If he doesn’t show up one night, will they find a player to replace him? Is there quiet time outside of the evenings he can identify to write a letter? Will the friends and family expecting his calls be angry if he adjusts phone time to put pen to paper? What if he misses a critical conversation over bridge?
He is putting off the hard thing - writing a letter about something important and personal. He is putting off the thing that he wants for himself, but that no one else is expecting from him. He is saying yes to the things that others want of him to preserve the relationships that are important to him. He is saying yes to the opportunities immediately in front of him. He is saying no to investing in the future because it is quite literally very far away. Life on the outside that is becoming less familiar as the years' pass.
A funny thing reveals itself every time I visit my brother. Time passes so fast. One would think that 5 hours with one individual - no technology and no distractions - would feel like a lifetime. The reality is quite the opposite. I center my visits back to Minnesota, where I am from, around the trip to see my brother. I make it my priority.
We will never have more time. We will always have more opportunities to slot into the most precious limited resource - time.
Our relationship to time must be active. The commitment of our time must be a conscious decision.
Try to sit in the driver’s seat and see your time allocation as an exercise in prioritization. Understand the reasons why you commit to the things taking up your calendar. Do you feel comfortable with those reasons? If you were to continue making decisions with that same reasoning for the next 10 years - What would be possible? What will you have left behind?