What you have to do sometimes is just say no to obligations


September 25, 1994|By Susan Hipsley | Susan Hipsley,Special to The Sun

Most of us cram 10 hours worth of activities into a five-hour time frame -- four or five times a day, every day. "We have become human doings instead of human beings," says Stephan Rechtschaffen, co-founder and director of the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, N.Y.

But is it really possible to slow down and still compete successfully in our fast-paced world? Can we take time to do things that truly make us happy and not feel deep guilt or high anxiety as a result?

Yes, but it's like skydiving for the first time.

"It takes guts to just let go," says Pam Hait, co-author of "The Tao of Time" (Henry Holt, 1990). Ms. Hait and co-author Diana Hunt, who has her doctorate in time management, are talking about letting go of a need to control time and to always be available.

Won't family, friends, colleagues be angry if you just say no, however nicely? "It takes a little bit of courage to stand up for yourself, but I've found that people admire you for it in the long run," she says. "I would never advocate stopping everything and doing only what makes you happy. Life isn't like that. We have responsibilities."

But she does offer this advice: "Fit one thing into your schedule, nTC even if it's only once a week, that you really want to do. Women especially are always trying to do everything we think we're supposed to do. But it's usually other people's agendas. We have to say no sometimes. Make our own choices."

A short, personal time-out is refreshing and produces positive energy, says Ms. Hait. The result of what some people call wasting time is that later we're even more productive and creative, and feel less harassed.

It also is possible, she says, to find respite and joy by simply "living in the now. We spend an awful lot of time living in the past and future. A lot of our frustration and energy drain come from worrying about something that might happen or did happen. Let go."

Ms. Hait suggests spin-doctoring our perception of time. "Consider time as a limitless flow of limitless energy and not as some giant ruler. See it as a positive rather than a negative."

Mr. Rechtschaffen says not only do we need to live in the present, but that we also need to be present in our lives in order to avoid feeling anxious, guilty or fearful when we slow down.

"People need to come into full awareness of the present, to honor the mundane parts of life. We're engaged in mundane activities 85 percent of our lives, doing dishes, driving the car. We look at these things from a negative perspective as things that must be done so we can go do more 'important' things. But why be upset that we have to do the dishes again? The fact is, we have to do them the rest of our lives. We may as well just relax and appreciate it."

He suggests using the time spent on activities that don't require much mental energy to reflect, to key into the rhythms of the natural world, to notice others, to get in touch with what's going on around you.

He calls this toggling back and forth between focusing on excessive productivity and an awareness of the world around us "time shifting," and says it's a skill that must be developed if we want to feel comfortable in our irretrievably sped-up society.


Have you developed a time-saving technique you think could help others? We'd like to hear about it. We will share reader tips and offer some solutions to your professional, home or leisure time-management problems. Please leave your name, city of residence and daytime phone number when you call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, (410) 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6220 after you hear the greeting.

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