Marking Time

Is it just me, or has time felt different in the last ten weeks? Do you feel that time has sped up, giving you a decreased ability to accomplish the things you need to get done, or does time feel slowed down to you, making each day feel longer and harder to fill with constructive tasks? Do your protracted days feel full of dead space that is buffered by countless hours of Netflix? I have been doing some thinking about time and schedules and orderliness and routine lately and thought I would share some of that with you this week.

Time is measured in several different ways by us and for us. First of all of course is our natural, biological circadian rhythm. According to the National Sleep Foundation at sleepfoundation.org, your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It’s also known as your sleep/wake cycle. A few important things about this cycle. It’s pretty regular, but it can be altered or disrupted if you are a night owl or a morning person, or if you are caught up on your sleep or sleep deprived. Light and dark tend to coincide with this cycle but shift work or other alterations in usual patterns of activity also can make things interesting. Lastly, your circadian rhythm may change as you age. You may not have the same sleep cycle as your partner, children or parents.

How has this affected all of us during this pandemic? We tend to get into a pattern that involves going to bed at about the same time every day, getting up at the same time (albeit prompted by that dreaded alarm that always goes off earlier then we like), having a relatively fixed commute time, and eating meals at the same time. We mark time during our days by these fixed events and behaviors and we can almost set our clocks (internal and external) by them. Now that many of us are working from home, or might have even lost our regular jobs, these temporal signposts have been disrupted. We might get up an hour later. We might have more time for lunch at home. We have a shorter commute, or no commute at all. Light and dark might not be the biological bookends that they were before, in that we get up and go to bed at different times that before the pandemic. Our internal clocks, our circadian rhythm, has been slightly altered just enough to make us feel odd, tired, irritable and out of sorts.

What about our self-imposed schedules, our calendars, alarms, reminders and other ways that we mark time during our days and nights that helps us make sense of our world and our place in it? These have always been the ways that we choose to structure our days. For example, my wife is a very analog person who has a calendar in the laundry room, another in her art room, several ongoing Post It note lists for groceries, phone calls and projects that live between the bathroom, bedroom, kitchen and art room. I choose to structure most of my life digitally, with a to do program called Things, a digital family calendar for our stuff and Outlook for work related time, and reminders that are pre-programmed for months and years to pop up and tell me what to do when it’s time to do it. Both of these methods of marking time work very well, depending on the person and their needs. Even in the time of this pandemic, these ways of controlling our day and the time allotted to various events and projects maintains a fair amount of integrity.

That being said, even these physical manifestations of our time have been altered by COVID-19. How? She is going to the store less. I am ordering things online as I always have loved to do but finding that I need fewer things now that I am home the majority of my time. Seeing and visiting our families has become an entry to FaceTime on the weekend to catch up. My routine management team meeting with my coworkers is now done on Skype for Business, instead of around a table. Church is at ten AM, but we now go there via Facebook Live. The events on our calendars are exactly the same, but the way the events happen is vastly different.

How about the big external ways that we mark time or have it marked for us? I’m thinking about birthdays, graduations, holidays, sports seasons and events, changes in the seasons, and other major delineations of time that we experience collectively and socially. What has happened to these during the pandemic? We know that we have not been able to travel to visit with parents, siblings, children and grandchildren. The joy of a hug and blowing out the candles on a birthday cake has been tempered by the possibility of being an asymptomatic carrier of the coronavirus and inadvertently infecting a loved one. Easter came and went with virtual celebrations, family Zoom calls and personal egg hunts. As I write this, a NASCAR race will be held at the speedway in Darlington, SC, but no spectators will fill the stands to watch it. Seniors are graduating without public fanfare. Baseball will play a shortened season starting in July, without fans. The celebration of summer will start as it always does on Memorial Day, but pools will not open and beaches may still be closed.

We count on our internal clocks, our personal calendars and the changing of seasons to guide our behaviors, set our moods and keep us connected as we celebrate the moments of our lives. We mourn the loss of these tangible ways to measure time. It is not the same today, and it may not be the same next week or next month or even next year. Will we get back to the security of a routine, a calendar filled with events and being able to celebrate life’s many milestones?

You can bet on it. Mark it on your calendar.

Gregorian Calendar

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Sometimes things just get so hectic I can’t believe it. Ever have those days/weeks/months? I’m sure you have. 

I’m smack dab in the middle of one of those stretches of work, travel, visits, and obligations that feels like I got tethered to the back of a 747 and was asked to run fast enough to keep up as the plane barrels down the runway for takeoff. You know you can’t just stand still, but you also know that things are going to speed up beyond your control pretty quickly. 

As I’ve told you before, I’m a purist. I use the applications and programs that come standard with my Apple kit unless I find something better. For that reason, I use Calendar on the iMac and the corresponding app on the iPhone. I have nine separate calendars within the program. These help me to keep track of personal time, actions that need to be taken on a specific date and at a specific time, Facebook events that I have been invited to, meetings I must attend, my professional schedule including telepsychiatry and clinic work schedules, arts events I have tickets to and of course, the 2013 football schedule for the UGA Dawgs. 

All of these calendars sync with my iPhone. Make a change on the phone and it shows up on the iMac at home, and vice versa. Cool. All are color coded. I can look down at my calendar and instantly know if I have to work that day or if I have a meeting later in the day just by scanning colors. 

I also have alarms and reminders enabled via Mac OS-X and iOS 6, so this adds another layer of help to keep me on track. Things will pop up, ding and boing when I’m supposed to be somewhere, write something, or take action on a project. These alarms may come a week before an event, or thirty minutes before a meeting. 

On the iMac, I keep the weekly calendar open, and I have it set to show the entire twenty hour hours of each day. I can get a better sense of what my day or week looks like if I can see color-coded events spread over the entire time period. This lets me know just how busy I will be that week, but it also let me quickly and easily see where there are gaps that might serve as times to meet someone for coffee or plan a dinner with my daughter. 

Still and all, there are periods like this when all I can do is trust that my carefully crafted system will get me where I need to be on time. I trust that I have set alarms, put up reminders and blocked off enough time to accomplish what needs to be done today. I check the calendar one last time at home, grab my iPhone, and head out the door. Then, all I can do is show up and do what I’m told at the appointed hour and hope I make it until midnight, ready to slide into the next day. 

The good thing?

In eight days, there’s a green entry starting at 4:30 PM that says “Trip to Monticello”. It stretches out for three days. The green color tells me that this time will be set aside for personal travel, activities, fun and recharging.

Now that’s the kind of personal obligation I won’t have any problem meeting.