If you’re at all like me, you may feel there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done that you want and need to do. Some days I glance at the clock and wonder how the hours have managed to fly by, wanting to magically stretch the day like silly putty until there is enough room in it to finish what I had planned. And yet even if such a thing were possible, I doubt it would satisfy me. Somehow I just know that my stretched day would challenge the limits of my magic silly putty as I fill the available space with a never-ending stream of “to-do”s, “have-to”s, “should”s, “want-to”s and “hope-to”s.

A few weeks ago I was visiting family and watching my now two-year old grand niece, Caitlin, running around at hyper-speed barely stopping in one spot for even a few seconds. She would touch what she was asked not to touch, jump on what she was asked not to jump on, run when she was asked to walk and throw what she was asked to gently carry. In the midst of all her activity (and fun!) she would suddenly stop and put herself in a time-out – a one-person amalgam of child and parent – playing both roles at the speed of light. It was both hysterically funny and incredibly endearing. And it got me thinking!

Time-outs! They’re not just for kids anymore!

That’s my suggestion for a new bumper sticker or fridge magnet. Doesn’t even the thought of a time-out fill you with wistful longings for peace, quiet and rest? How come we are so reluctant to regularly include such moments of reprieve and restoration in our busy lives? I think we are addicted to “doing” in the same way that smokers keep reaching for that next puff – constantly doing keeps us busy and distracted from what is really going on inside. If you are continually busy you have no time to feel whether or not you are happy, sad, frustrated, anxious or any one of a number of emotions whose purpose it is to help you figure out what you need in life to feel fulfilled. In fact, if you are constantly busy, then you may start to feel a certain level of anxiety just by the act of doing nothing.

Time-outs don’t have to be spent sitting on a mountain top contemplating your navel and waiting for the wisdom of the world to drop in like an unexpected plop from a bird flying overhead. Time-outs can be mini-moments or expansive stretches of moments strung together in a tapestry of presence. And that is what a time-out is all about – presence. Presence is that elusive key to balance that requires no “doing” and mucho “being.” So, what does a time-out look like in your hectic schedule? Here are some ideas:

■It’s just you and a cup of tea or coffee in silence looking out at nature before all hell breaks loose in the household and the frantic energy of the day begins.
■It’s you completely lost in a hug whether from a lover, friend, child or furry ball of affection. Close your eyes and sink into the feeling.
■It’s you planning a day with friends at a retreat or spa where you can surrender responsibility and worry and just receive.
■It’s you making time for play – alone or with others – experiencing what it used to be like to allow yourself to be carefree even if only for a minute or two.
■It’s you taking time to meditate, listen to a beautiful piece of music, laugh till your sides hurt or arrange some flowers.

What would you come up with on your list of time-outs? Take a moment and think about what it is that truly restores you – that brings you back to the highest and best of who you are. Now take all that wisdom from your deepest soul-self and give yourself some time-outs that matter. Let yourself off the hook and realize that the hook you are on is mostly made up of other people’s expectations for who you “should” be and what you “should” do. Like a piece of furniture that’s been in the family for years, you may forget that all your expectations of yourself might just be what you inherited along the way. You’ll never know unless you give yourself permission to take that time-out and reflect.

Author's Bio: 

Cathleen O'Connor is an inspirational speaker, writer, and consultant providing workshops and mentoring services to individuals and organizations on new and effective approaches to work and life balance. Her unique five-part approach recognizes five key ingredients necessary for a fulfilling life experience: vital health, meaningful relationships, meaningful work, creative play and spiritual practice.