Abby Covert

Abby Covert is an independent information architect living and working in New York City. She specializes in delivering a collaborative information architecture process and teaching those that she works with along the way.

She speaks and writes under the pseudonym Abby the IA, focusing on sharing information architecture content with those working within the design and technology communities. She is the author of "How to Make Sense of Any Mess" a book about information architecture for everybody.

She teaches information architecture at The School of Visual Arts and General Assembly NYC. She is the current president of the Information Architecture Institute, a global non-profit membership organization focused on empowering IA leadership, currently serving members in 73 countries.

Published Thoughts

Regarding Should & But

In my thinking and writing about time for this series, I have unexpectedly had to ponder a concept that is much larger, hairier and more impactful than time itself.

You: “But Abby, what could possibly be a larger, hairier and even more impactful concept than time?”

Abby: “Judgement.”

We judge each other and we judge ourselves. We envision perfectionist ideals of what we are supposed to be doing with our time to be on the right side of good. We create lists of shoulds and should-nots that seem unbreakable yet remain seemingly unattainable. We perceive that society and those around us are judging us against these lists as we make choices about what we make time for.

You should read more. You should be eating a healthy meal. You should be on time. You should not spend so much time watching TV. You should take a day off. You should expose your children to more culture. You should weed the garden. You should take the car in for a tune up. You should go to the grocery store. You should go to the gym.

Sound familiar?

The judgement inherent in thinking about time has smacked me in the face over and over. I have even personally admitted (quite publicly to a live audience with data) my own thoughts about how I should watch less Netflix.

The more I think about this pile of shoulds, the more I believe that the first step for many of us is letting go of the judgement we carry around in the language that we use when talking about our use of time.

I should _ but __.

I propose a moratorium on the use of the words “should” and “but.”

When you say something like “I should read more but I never seem to find the time” you are writing off your ability to change. You are telling yourself that you can’t do something when in reality you are choosing not to do it. This also means you have chosen to do something else instead.

That thing that you chose instead may be an obligation or circumstance that is hard to change. In fact, your whole life might be overtaken by things like that.

How many times has the word “should” entered your mind this week alone? How many “buts” have you used to avoid changing something over the course of your life? These words haunt us and change our ability to accomplish things.

Too many people get lost in the shoulds and buts and as a result don’t even try to accomplish the things that they want to. Too many people who have a calendar full of shoulds feel like they are living someone else’s life or that their dreams are unreachable.

The power of could & if

Write a list of things you think you should do. Assign a but to each. Now try replacing every “should” with “could” and every “but” with “if”.

  • “I should read more but I get so tired at bedtime” becomes “I could read more if I made time for it when I wasn’t so tired.”

  • “I should write more but I am scared of the blinking cursor telling me I am no good at this” becomes “I could write more if I dealt with the insecurity of the subject I am writing about”

  • “I should make healthy meals at home but I never have the ingredients in the house when I’m tired and hungry after work” becomes “I could make healthy meals if I created a meal plan and grocery list to shop once a week”

  • There is power in the language that we use, even when talking with ourselves. When we use the word “should” we are applying judgement. When we use the word “but” we are giving ourselves an excuse. When we use the word “could” we are assigning possibility. When we use the word “if” we are admitting our responsibility in accomplishing whatever it is.

    That “if” might be a tactical habit to implement, or it might be a monumental psychological or circumstantial adjustment. Whatever it is, it is a reality you must face if you want to accomplish something.

    You might write these statements and think “I will never be able to do that” -- this is a perfectly acceptable and important result of this exercise. This means you have to work on letting go of the judgment of not accomplishing something you think you should. Carrying around the judgement of a goal you will never accomplish (or don’t really want to accomplish but think you should) weighs you down and changes your ability to do other things in your life.

    Letting go of certain career aspirations might be the key to you actually leading a healthier life. Letting go of being a perfect parent with perfect kids might be the key to having a life outside your parental responsibilities.

    Time can shield us from our fears.

    There is no better material for shielding us from our fears than time. If you fear being unhealthy, you can put time towards your health. If you fear being uncultured, you can put time towards immersion in cultural stimuli. If you fear being a bad parent, you can put time towards your kids.

    Whatever you fear, there are ways to use time to shield you from making that fear into your reality. While time can be used to shield us from our fear it can also be used to invoke our fears into reality. If you don’t put time towards your health, your fear of being unhealthy will likely be realized. If you don’t make time for cultural activities, your fear of being uncultured will be realized.  If you don’t make time for your kids, your fear of being a bad parent will be realized.

    There is no pause button on time. We use every second to either feed the fears we have or shield ourselves from them. The way you spend the seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months and years of your life represents the truth of who you are. The only person who knows this truth is you.

    Take your truth seriously and for goodness’ sake stop shoulding all over yourself.


    This is the sixth and final piece in my year long series about time. If you have enjoyed reading about this topic, sign up for my mailing list to stay in the loop about my next book called "How to Make Time"

Time Defines Us.

This article is the result of 102 minutes of my life according to the stopwatch on my iPhone. These minutes have helped to define who I am. I am the discarded and accepted ideas that this piece contains or once contained. I am the corrected typos, and the time lost to indecision as to what I should say next. I am the ebbs and flows between anxiety and confidence that I am starting to understand are part of being a writer.

For 102 minutes, my keyboard and I have been colluding to turn something swirling around in my head into something that can swirl around in yours. I chose to spend this time this way because I hoped I would be better for having given these ideas my attention and focus. I chose to spend this time this way because I hoped you, dear reader, would get something out of having spent the time reading what I have to say.

How we choose to use our time moment by moment defines who we are and who we will become. I find this truth both interesting and terrifying.

I am a planner by nature. I like to think through what will happen and when. I like to make mental flow charts with all the errors and edges accounted for. This predilection for planning has always seemingly disagreed with advice I have been given around focusing on the present moment. I spent years under the impression that you could either be presentist or planner, but not both.

I started to believe that advice around staying in the present moment was meaningless to anyone who wanted to get anything done. For most of my life getting things done meant looking forward and learning from the patterns of the past. The present moments flew by without me much noticing. Everything was a longer con than one moment could impact.

But I was wrong to put the present moment into that small a box. I have finally come around to understand that whatever we do with the present moment is who we are. I have finally come to understand that we are always changing, always morphing, always a slightly different person than one moment earlier.

I have spent the last ten months tracking my time, reflecting deeply on what I do, when, how much and why. I have had the opportunity to discuss time with friends, family and strangers as a result of this work and I am still somewhat shell shocked by what I have come to realize both about myself and about those around me.

I have come to understand that many people see time as a hardship, a burden and a chore to dwell on, to wait on, to wade through, to manage and to resent.

I feel like I have been let in on a little secret: Time is truth. But with this quickly came the realization that many people don’t want to talk about time because they don’t want to face their truth.

I have talked to people who want to keep telling themselves stories about how time is in their way, never on their side. I have met people who truly believe that their life happens in the overflow of what time allows.

I have found that many people want to talk about concepts like life hacks, time management, efficiency, work/life balance and productivity in a vacuum of an unreachable perfect life and then they want to return to riding on time’s back toward wherever it decides to take them next.

I have also learned that there are good and fundamentally human reasons for all this avoidance and anxiety when it comes to time.

Time is a scary concept. No matter what age you are or what you choose to do with your life, time is something you can’t escape. We know from a young age that time is of limited supply, and yet we never know how little or how much we have left. No matter how hard we try to predict what will happen, when it will happen or how, time often has other plans we are not privy to until in the present moment.

I believe there are at least two modes for dealing with the uncertainty of our time.

Mode 1: Surf the Uncertainty

The first mode is to give in and ride uncertainty like a wave towards the whatever. People who are set to this mode believe that they were dealt a hand and now they are playing it out. People set to this mode put off change for another day, which will surely be an easier day than today. They stay in jobs they hate, they continue to spend time and heart on people who are bad for them, they keep behaving in ways they know are harmful or counter to who they wish they were. They seem to be waiting for change to be doled out, and are often left disappointed that today was not the day the world changed them.

I believe that people set to this mode are so because they believe that what they have is all they can ever have. For those in this mode, fate is written and their days are numbered.

Mode 2: Become the Uncertainty

Have you ever met someone who seems to have the confidence to be ok with whatever awful thing is happening in their life? They have just been diagnosed with cancer, and still seem to have smile on their face. They have just lost a loved one and yet they keep going towards their goals. They get laid off and manage to see it as a blessing in disguise.

These people are not unburdened by the dramas that uncertainty has dropped on their laps. They are not repressing their reality. Instead they are embracing the uncertainty, and they are becoming it.

People with their hearts and minds set to the second mode are willing to move heaven and earth to live the life they hope for. They are willing to keep trying even when trying feels like more effort than it is worth given the current climate. Sometimes they get what they want, sometimes they fail and resolve themselves to try again. They inflict uncertainty onto themselves because they see it as a superpower.

I have been lucky to be brought up by and surrounded by people primarily set to this second mode. I have also had the opportunity to watch people I care about flip the mode switch, taking a stab in the dark at their hopes after years of riding the wave of uncertainty.

This mode isn’t one we set once. We spend our lives vacillating between these two modes. This mode gets reset each day as our eyes flutter open and can flip with every breath or step that we take.

If you feel uncertain, welcome to the club. We all feel that way. If you feel like you are riding the uncertainty instead of becoming it, flip the switch just for a moment and be what happens next.

Time is not all ours.

Without people, time does not exist. Time is an invention of humans, so as much as it seems inseparable from the world we live in, it is actually only inseparable from humanity.

I have now spent the last 8 months observing and documenting my own use (and abuse) of time, and I keep running up against something over and over: the impact that other people have on our time.

We like to think that by carefully setting up our minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years that our time is all ours. One could even argue that we only give time to other people when we choose to, and therefore all of it is in fact ours. But I am finding this to not be the case.

Because shit happens.

People are late meeting us for lunch. People walk slowly, blocking the sidewalk you need to get where you are going. People make plans with us only to break them at the last minute. People drop by, stop by, call, text, email, tweet on their own timescale, interrupting us from whatever we had planned.

Sometimes these are beautiful happenstances, like running into an old friend on the street and deciding to skip your next stop in favor of catching up over coffee. Other times these are annoying distractions, like someone quitting their job suddenly leaving you holding the bag. And then there are the scary distractions, like having to drop everything to take a child or partner to the emergency room.

No matter how much or how carefully we plan our time, it is just not all quite ours to do with as we please. Thinking about time as something we can wrangle entirely will surely lead to the feeling like it is being ripped out from under you at least a few times a month.

Over the last 8 months I have collected the following 8 heuristics for keeping as much time within our own control as humanly possible.

Turn off needless notifications. Seriously do it now, I will wait.

There is nothing more obnoxious and distracting than a phone that won’t stop buzzing telling you everything from “you have a new follower” to “your favorite brand is having a sale on hoozie-whatzits.” I am now 8 months into not having ANY notifications on my phone or computer enabled and I can tell you that it is a gorgeous, wonderful and quiet world I have built for myself.

Don’t believe this matters? Ask the Journal of Experimental Psychology “Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance.”

You are most likely NOT on call for saving lives or anything else. And if you are, leave on those notifications during those times. The rest of them can be turned off. There is no reason for all the urgency we have forced on our psyches. I cannot quite quantify the time that this simple 5 minute task has saved me over these 8 months, but I can say that I will never go back to allowing software to steal as much time and focus as I was allowing it to before. I can also warn you that the withdrawal is real. So don’t be surprised when you experience phantom buzzing or the onset of mild depression from the realization that the world will not stop without you constantly being notified of changes to it.

Don’t take your device to bed with you.

I used to be a person who browsed first thing in the morning, and last thing at night. I stopped this behavior about 6 months ago after realizing how much it affected my schedule. I could get stuck in a rabbit hole of social media before I had even left my bed. The next thing I knew I was rushing to get my morning stuff in before the real start to my day. Same thing with nighttime. I could fall into a hole that would make my bedtime push out by an hour or more. Between that and the pretty well proven fact that the blue light emitted by our phones can negatively affect sleep patterns, I say there is NO reason for a device to be in your bed. Number 1 objection I expect here: “But I use it for my alarm” — to which I say simply: GET AN ALARM CLOCK.

Start & stop checking the internet at a certain time each day.

Some of the worst night’s sleep I have had this year have been based on checking the internet just that one more time right before bed. It is like a bomb waiting to go off. Opening the inbox or your social media streams just one last time might be the trigger that explodes right in your face. Things that could wait, and often should wait until the light of day can keep you up all night or give you nightmares. Or on the positive side, you can get so excited about something you see in there that it is hard to sleep. So set a time to stop checking the internet and stick to it.

Same advice on the other end. The worst way to start your day is checking the internet. It’s like leaving your whole mood for the day up to that same ticking time bomb. In my experience, setting an internet start and stop time makes checking the internet more like an experience you can look forward to and prepare mentally for. I can say my life is better for this small change. I can also report that no one has died waiting for my responses a few extra hours.

Don’t be late, be early.

Being early is something I was always told was good practice for job interviews, but I have applied this to my whole life for years now. I hate being late, it makes me feel stressed out and guilty. By planning to be early, I am almost never late. Because shit does happen. But if you have that extra few minutes of flex time, you can calmly know you have room to maneuver through whatever comes at you. Also, no one will ever be mad at you for being early. You will never miss something because you are early. You cannot say the same about being late.

Don’t agree to meet up with people who are always late.

If we have an appointment to meet up and you are more than 10 minutes late one time, I will totally give you one more chance. After that, if you are late we are never meeting up again. Everyone is a little late once in a while. But in my experience only perpetually late people are more than 10 minutes late twice in a row.

Being late should be renamed “time stealing” — when someone texts or emails to say “Sorry, I am going to be 10 minutes late” they should have to say “I am going to steal 10 minutes of your time” — it is rude and selfish to be late when it is preventable. It is also incredibly insulting to the person or people you are making wait. I have been particularly shocked by how many people are late to appointments where I am being asked to do them a favor or give them advice. This behavior is the surest way to be ignored in my inbox forever more.

If you have a good friend, colleague or partner who is always late, tell them how it makes you feel and how it makes them look to other people. It is shocking how oblivious people can be to this small personality tick of selfishness. Lateness is often a sign of deeper issues, so help them through whatever is leading to that perpetual lateness.

Estimate tasks, especially the ones you are avoiding.

In my opinion, estimation of time is a skill set that people don’t apply to their life often enough. I have had the fortune to work primarily in consulting settings and have gotten pretty good at estimating how long things will take as a result. But this is a life skill, not just a work skill.

Because mole hills often resemble mountains before time has been applied. People often put off hard, complex, emotional or monotonous tasks for fear that they will “take forever” when in reality most tasks do not take forever. It seems that anxiety is often a productivity killer, more so than the task itself. Anxiety eats time AND leaves you with the same to-do list day after day.

In my experience, the easiest way to get over this anxiety hurdle is to start with a baseline reading. Set a timer for yourself and say: I will spend the next 15, 30 or 60 minutes on this task to see where I can get in that time. By doing this, you can estimate how much time something will actually take and better plan for it in your schedule. I have found that usually when I actually dive in and tackle the task at hand, it takes far less time than my anxiety led me to believe. Once you know how long it will take, put it on your calendar and stick to it, like you would a meeting or appointment. If you find yourself still pushing it off, break it down into sub-tasks and try again.

Don’t multi task

Multi tasking is the most sure fire way for everything to take longer and feel harder than it actually is. It is amazing how quickly time can pass when we are bouncing between things and paying attention to more than one thing at a time. If you don’t believe me, google it. You’ll find a treasure trove of resources railing against multi tasking.

There are many ways to avoid multi tasking. One is turning off your internet while you work on other computer tasks. Another trick is leaving your devices in another room while you tackle analog tasks. Timers are also helpful for digital or analog tasks. Set a timer for 30-60 minutes and at the end of that time, allow yourself a few minutes to wander through the internet or whatever other distraction tasks are on your mind.

Your work will be better and take less time to do, I swear. Also if you are one of those people sitting in a restaurant or cafe with a friend or partner, multi tasking by checking your device while they try to talk to you, know that you are lucky to still have that friend or partner, and they may realize at some point that they deserve better. Put the device down, look them in the eye. Try it, you may find you actually like each other more for it.

Create routines to anchor habits you want to put into your life

This is advice I heard for at least two decades before I actually took it. I left it for last incase you need two decades to put it into practice.

I used to be a person who left everything about my personal life and self care up to the moment and day at hand. Everyday was like a snowflake, which I thought was good for me. I was wrong. There is a remarkable improvement that happened to me when I started adding routine to my life. All of a sudden I was the person I had always thought I could never be.

Once I strung all the little habits together, I was shocked how little time I actually needed to fit basic self improvement tasks into my schedule daily. The trick is the sequence, without an established order the task list seems impossible to fit in. Also the time between things deciding what to do next and avoiding the harder stuff becomes a total time killer.

The other trick is adding one habit at a time. So start with something you actually do everyday, like getting out of bed. We all do that right? Then add one thing. My first addition was drinking a glass of hot lemon water. Then I added 15 minutes of yoga. Then I added writing morning pages. Then I added breakfast (seriously I was 32 before I found the joy of eating breakfast consistently.) Then I added meditation. And suddenly (actually, many months later) I am the woman I always thought only existed on Pinterest boards and lifestyle blogs.

Routines can be set daily (like the ones I mention above) but they can also be helpful to think about setting weekly or monthly. Play with your repetitive tasks and see how much you can get them to adhere to a set routine. I have finally started grocery shopping at the same time every week and it alone has saved me hours and hours of wavering and worrying about when I would get to the store.

I always thought routines would be boring, but I have found the opposite. Routines leave you with the time you need to be spontaneous.

One other note on routines: Stop shoulding all over yourself. If you want to implement something into your routine, do it. If you just think you should, then prepare to struggle. Changes to something as personal as routine require us to truly want them in order to stick.

I hope that the above advice have been helpful to read. Just remember, none of this advice will keep shit from happening. Instead my hope is that these practices will give you a head start in not taking such a hard hit when it does.

Now go steal back as much time as you can and spend it with the people and hobbies that you love.

Time Slips Away

Time doesn’t care. Time doesn’t wait. Time keeps speeding along, not caring if our hopes, dreams and curiosities are left without time to pursue them. Time whizzes by carrying on its back changes to our minds, our bodies, our environments and our relationships.

Mondays skip straight to Fridays, nine am turns to five pm in the blink of an eye, emails you feel like you just received have a timestamp of ten days ago, the best friend you couldn’t live a day without speaking to becomes the person you play phone tag with monthly, the hobby you swore you would get into never quite makes the cut. Seconds, then minutes, then hours, then days, then months, then years, then decades slip away.

There are many things time is seemingly keeping us from. It may be a daily routine or a goal that can only be accomplished with the aide of time at scale.

We often use “lack of time” or “running out of time” as excuses for the things we can’t quite manage to accomplish. It is far too easy to feel as if time has been stolen from us or like we are the prisoners and the clock and calendar are our jailers pushing us from thing to thing we “have” to do — never leaving enough left over to support the things we merely “want” to do.

Without time we can’t accomplish anything. With unlimited time, imagine the possibilities of what we could accomplish. We exist in between these two truths. We know we have limited time, meaning we know our accomplishments are limited by time. Yet we lack a full view as to just how much time we will actually have. And so the ride of life is uncertain, and tends to fall to the moment by moment desires and obligations we identify as we progress.

I believe that time is a material at our disposal, like paper and pen or bricks and mortar. We use time to turn our ideas into realities. We use time to build the world we share with each other. We use time to turn dreams into accomplishments.

How much time do you have?

Did you know that if you “work” for 9 hrs and “sleep” for another 9 hours you would still have 6 hours left in each day. Take away 2 hours for meals and chores and you still have 4 whole hours at your disposal. And that is assuming that you are actually working 9 hours (which most people don’t) and sleeping 9 hours (which most people don’t.)

If you take two days a week off, you get an additional 18 hrs a week where you are not working. All added up, that comes out to approximately 30 to 48 hrs per week that we have at our disposal. Yet, it feels to many people like time is the single thing none of us has on our side.

As you might recall from my first post here on the Pastry Box, I am on an epic quest to understand how I use (and lose) time this year. I have spent the last 6 months tracking every one of my waking hours in half hour increments which are color coded by activity type.

The activities I track are:

  • In Transit
  • Self Care
  • Eating/Cooking
  • Sleeping
  • Housework & Errands
  • Internet Consumption
  • Reading
  • TV & Movies
  • Social
  • Work
  • Volunteering
  • Vacation

I additionally write notes in each color coded square so I know what I was specifically doing.

At this point I have determined that I spend approximately 32% of my time on “work” both billable and nonbillable. I don’t know about you, but this number shocked me. I thought for sure I was spending much more time than that on what I consider to be work. In fact, it can feel in a busy week like I do nothing but work. But alas, spreadsheets have more trouble hiding the truth then our egos do.

68% of my time is actually mine. At the point of writing this, that 68% was up to 1671 hours. And that’s just half of my year. That means by the end of this year I will have accrued and spent over 3000 hours of my waking life NOT working. But what the heck do I do with it?

Once I knew how much time was on the line, I was compelled to start asking questions like: Is this a good use of my time?

These free hours we have at our disposal daily are often treated as the time in between time. Some call it “down time”, “off time”, ‘free time” — whatever your turn of phrase or sentiment, it is all the same. This is the time many people feel obligated to not plan. To leave free. Because reasons, because sanity, because adulthood is supposed to be stress filled and loaded with concern…don’t even get me started on the time-sucking nature and bureaucracy of adulthood.

These times in between time are those beautifully mundane moments when you do things like prepare or consume meals, commute, play with/bond with/clean up after partners, pets, or children, run errands, take care of your spaces and belongings or pursue hobbies. These can be the moments when we read things that change our minds or our lives. These can be the moments when we try something new that then becomes a part of who we are. These can be the moments that are perhaps the most deeply us.

But these moments can also be lost to boredom, fear, twiddling thumbs, laziness, procrastination or anxiety. Whatever you use these moments for, they make up a massive percentage of our lives.

I have become mildly obsessed with the idea of taking this time back. Of giving it a name, collecting it and putting it in a jar for examination. I want to learn how to make time the way I have been brought up to think about making money or impact.

At this point some of you may be thinking, this sounds like a nightmare. If I put all my waking hours towards actual tasks, I will surely die young of stress or just burn out.

Let me be clear, I am not advocating that you plan each moment of your life. Nor am I saying that there shouldn’t be a place in your life for doing the sweet art of nothing at all.

What I am saying is that I believe firmly that people don’t think too often or too hard about the time they have been given and what the impact of not thinking about it concretely does to their ability to reach self actualization.

Without conscious thought, time can feel like it is being ripped up from underneath us. But with conscious thought, I am hopeful that we can wield time as a tool we have within our command, and one that remains under our control.

How much time do you have?

If you filled in a grid, like this one, what hidden time troves would you unearth? Or perhaps you will find instead that all your hours are already accounted for, but the sum of them is not telling the story of the person you want to be or even are already.

Maybe you spend too long commuting, or staying late out of obligation. Maybe you have a destructive relationship that is a time succubus. Maybe you spend your weekend cleaning your house which is larger than you need. Time may seem simple, but it is a powerfully complex material when examined in the context of our real life. Answering questions about how you use your time allows us to ask much deeper questions about the directionality of our life.

What are you spending your time between times doing? How many hours do you allow to slip away every week to things that are more destructive than supportive to the person you want to be? How many minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years are between the person you are today and that person you wish to become?

And the last, hardest, most mind-f*cking question: Do you even want to know the answers to these questions?

Before you do the life-logging yourself to find out I will warn you of two things:

The Bad News: Once you know your number, you can’t un-hear it and it may haunt you.

The Good News: Once you know your number, it starts to be possible to say things like:

  • I want to do 30 min of ________ everyday.
  • I want to ________ once a week.
  • I want to ________ 5 hrs a week.

Because you suddenly have a bank of hours you are pulling from for what you want and taking from for things that may not seem so worthy in the harsh light of your new enlightenment.

Without this bank of time, we have to carry around the things we never have time for. These are the things that slip away. But these are also the things that are most likely to change us for the better. These are the things most likely to nourish our future self.

How to become your future self, one moment at a time:

  • Find out how many hours you have per week that go unallocated. Sit with that number. Consider it carefully. I highly recommend tracking your time for a week to see where the leaks are.
  • Make a list of things you truly want to do with your life. Don’t decide when you want to do them, just declare that you want to accomplish them.
  • Post that list somewhere in your living space and look at it everyday.
  • Start allocating a few hours on your calendar to accomplish things that get you closer to that list. Start small, even an hour saved from the slippage will get you closer to whatever the goal.
  • Set a date with yourself to revisit the list once a month. Add things to the list, check things off the list, remove things from the list that go stale or just aren’t you anymore.
  • Between check-ins, say no to anything that gets in the way of the list and say yes to anything that gives you joy, even if it isn’t on the list.

I hope your journey toward finding out your number is an invitation to follow your north star, and doesn’t seem like a permanent sentence for the same old. Remember that the first step is admitting it, the second is to change it.

Stay strong, time travelers.

Time is confining.

I was attempting to do a handstand when she called and said he had died. I know it sounds odd but I haven’t attempted a handstand since that morning for superstition’s sake. It will be 7 weeks to the day when I publish these words.

My aunt told me that in his final days he admitted to her that he was “not doing this right.”

When she asked what he meant, he replied “Dying. I don’t know how to die, because I’ve never done it before.” This is the most him statement I had heard in 32 years of knowing him.

When I decided in late 2014 that 2015 would be the year that I would deeply explore time in my writing, I was unaware that I would be doing my exploration without his guidance. I also didn’t know that this particular essay would be my first of those solo expeditions, which I now understand there will be many more of.

I had no idea when I wrote the second essay idea for this series: “Time is confining.” — that months later it would be the writing prompt that would force me to do something I have been avoiding. Dealing with losing my mentor, my friend, my grandfather in the only way I know how. With words. So here I am at my keyboard, crying whilst typing.

As I am certain is always the case in dealing with death (confirmed via many a Google search) — it is normal to feel like your cloak of invincibility has just been stolen away after you lose someone close to you. It’s like we are all walking around pretending we aren’t dying and suddenly the newsfeed of our brain is taken over by the terrorists of grief.

“Time is ticking.”

“I could die tomorrow”

“How long we have here is completely unknown.”

“Everyone I love will die one day”

*hyperventilates into paper bag*

When people pass away, it is often said that they remain in the hearts of their loved ones. I hadn’t really ever known what that meant before now. To be honest I think I assumed it was more of a Hallmark-ism reserved for awkward exchanges where no one knows what to say.

But instead, I have found this concept to be quite real. Even in writing this, I have felt his influence and heard his words. Because his words, his outlooks, his kind yet thorough way of looking at the complexity around him is now a part of me.

So, what would he say about “time” if I were able to call him right now for advice?

He would tell me to:

  • Do all of the things.
  • Never let fear dictate your plans, always assume you’ll be there to see things through.
  • Eliminate time wasters from your life. Help others do that same.
  • Don’t turn mole hills into mountains.
  • Conversely, don’t turn mountains into mole hills.
  • Call out the inefficiencies you see, even if it gets you fired (p.s it will probably get you promoted.)
  • Live a life serving people who you love and respect deeply and you will die happy.
  • I may never be able to fill the hole that is now in my heart but I will never forget what he taught me.

    I was fortunate to have spent time with him going through his work portfolio and comparing it to my own. It still amazes me that he was practicing information architecture in the sixties, seventies and eighties, via process diagrams, flip-charts and punchcards. I guess I went into the family business.

    Rest in Peace Pinkie. Know that you are loved always.

Here’s to your indefinite continued progress.

Have you ever looked the word “time” up in the dictionary?

I did so recently and was a bit shocked by the lofty and provocative definition I found.

Time (noun): The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.

What this definition doesn’t say, but maybe should is that “time” is a blanket of comfort we invented to be ok with the uncertainty of everything. We have the ability to agree on just one thing: what time it is. Time binds us together across cultures, races and religions. We can’t agree on what day it is, what year it is or how long ago any of this all started, but we can all agree based on where we are on the planet, what time it is. And I think that’s pretty remarkable.

The invention and propagation of time is perhaps one of the most interesting messes to have been wrangled into shared understanding. I find time fascinating and have decided that 2015 is the year I explore time deeply.

The following are the areas I want to explore and write about at The Pastry Box over the next year:

  • Time is predictable (kinda)
  • Time is confining
  • Time slips away
  • Time is not all ours
  • Time defines us

Time is Predictable (…kinda)

As an independent consultant, the hunt for a productive and steady routine has been long and fraught with challenges of collaborator’s time zones and sporadic travel needs. In my first set of experiments I have been tinkering endlessly with the idea of architecting the perfect schedule.

There were certain points I exclaimed that everyday was a total reboot so why try. But I kept drilling down, trying new things and coming to new conclusions about my time. After too many failed attempts to make a perfect schedule and stick to it, I decided to flip the coin on my methods and observe myself, as a researcher might. The next step was finding the right methods for collecting data about how I use my time. My theory is that, like in my professional IA work, the observation of the status quo is an important step to allocate time to.

If I knew how I use my time, I would know better how to make adjustments. The following are the three daily practices that I integrated into my life to help me to better understand my use of time:

  • 1) Journal Daily: I write one page by hand every morning. I record the weather as a ice breaker with my self and then write about whatever is in my head for however long it takes to fill a page. Then if I read this day’s entry from the prior year. Its amazing how often I discover thought loops and patterns through this habit.
  • 2) Sketch-note Calendar: Everyday I sketch-note something that happened on a wall calendar I keep near my desk. This is the most physicalized object of my experiments. It is very hard to ignore and when it is out of date, one can almost bet that I am in a bad mood/dark place.
  • 3) Time Tracking: I have always tracked time for work. But recently I had a thought that turned into a system that has gone from quirky to “are you kidding me” — but it is working for me. I am interested in how I spend all of my time, not just my work time, so I have started logging my time in half hour increments into a color-coded matrix in Google Docs. It is an amazing way to see daily patterns emerging, as well as the effects of travel and work drama on personal wellness.
My Daily Journals.
Sketchnote Wall Calendars
My time tracking system showing how I spent my time in January of this year. In my actual version I can see text in each box citing what I was actually doing, but we just met so you don’t need to know that much about me ;)

Lessons I have learned:

You may not see drama coming, but your past may: There have been many odd moments re reading old journal articles and realizing I have been pushing off something important for over a year. It is harder to hide from yourself if you remain in an active documented conversation.

Judgement is easy; Discipline is hard. It is easy to wake up every day and judge yourself for not being the person you wish you were. But it is hard to have the discipline to move through time making choice after choice that allows you to break through your own loops.

“Um...is this healthy?!”: I have been asked this question by many and I think it is valid. My response is that it seems nothing but healthy for me to spend quality time observing myself in order to understand myself more. Thus far I have only seen positive things come from this experiment. The journaling habit has changed my thought process and how I relate to my past self. The sketch note calendar reminds me how fast time flies and how each day is a precious space to fill with something meaningful. The time tracking exercise keeps me on task but also reflective of moments where I lose time. We all have those moments when the day has flown by and we have no clue what we did. I can’t have a day like that with this system and that has been odd and empowering. But I will admit that being the latest and most dramatic edition to my routine, I am interested to see how long it lasts. I started by saying I would track all of 2015 this way and I do want to see what I would see if I do. In the 6 weeks since I started, it has changed the way I think about what I will do next more than I expected it to.

I thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you will join me for my next installment where I will explore what it means to be confined by time.