“I don’t have time.” I wonder how many times I’ve said that — to myself and to others — to explain why my “projects” list remained unchanged for months (okay, years) or why my dreams remained dreams.

More than likely, you know what I mean. Surely I can’t be the only person who has a list of major projects — get the kids’ scrapbooks caught up, organize the basement, download pictures from various memory cards onto the computer and organize them into folders, etc — that has for far too long seen far too little action. Nothing checked off. Nada. Surely I’m not the only person who is planning to start on the #1 item as soon as I get through the Thanksiving and Christmas holidays . . . or over the summer when I’m out of school for a few months . . . or by diligently working on one project at a time for 2 hours every Saturday starting, well, next Saturday!

And surely I’m not the only person who has, along with a project to-d0 list, some general life changes in mind. Make a budget and stick to it, declutter/pare down/simplify, exercise on a daily basis, consume a more healthy diet, write that best-selling novel that’s percolating in my brain. Come on, you know you’re right there with me. Thinking about it, planning to do it . . . tomorrow or next week or after Christmas.

The problem is not having enough time, right? Maybe. When my children were tiny and my husband deployed (was out somewhere in the world doing his top-secret Air Force job) several times a month, most of “my” time was consumed with parenting and taking care of basic household tasks.  When both of my children were old enough to play sports and be in Scouts and church youth group but not old enough to drive themselves to practice and meetings and my husband was working shifts, I was truly busy as the sole driver/confidant/cook/tutor/home-keeper and teacher-with-papers-to-be-graded. When . . . well, it’s clear that at various points in my life, I’ve been really, really busy.

But I always found time to chat on the phone or visit my favorite scrapbooking chat room or play a few (okay, maybe more than a few) games of online solitaire or watch a television show I now can’t even remember the name of. Yes, I needed to relax. I needed “down time”, and I found it. I put aside my project list and my dreams of being the next Margaret Mitchell and simply vegetated. What’s done is done, and I’m not going to spend any time 2nd-guessing my choices. Instead, I want to focus on what I can do now. I want to focus on getting those projects completed and implementing those life changes I’ve been pondering.

I’ve got time now. In some ways, more than I’ve ever had. My small home can be cleaned in almost no time at all, fixing a bowl of soup and a sandwich takes far less time than creating a meal for four, and my teaching schedule and office hours allow me to get quite a bit of work done at the office. On the other hand, at this point in my life, I’m facing the hard truth that I also have less time. The proverbial bloom is off the rose; unless I live to reach 100 (or so), the term “middle-aged” doesn’t technically apply to me any longer. I have a new appreciation and respect for time, and I’m determined to honor the time I have left by using it well.

In the past couple of years, I’ve spent considerable time pondering time (in print, that sounds ridiculous; in reality, it’s quite logical, as anyone who has faced the loss of a loved one knows all too well), and I’ve come to a few conclusions:

1. I can’t “find” or “make” time. Period. Instead, I can only choose what pursuits I “give” my time to. Thank you, Holley Gerth, author of Opening the Door to Your God-Sized Dream, for some great insights and gentle guidance.

2. I have more time to “give” than I ever imagined. Thanks to Robert Pagliarini, author of The Other 8 Hours, I have a new perspective of how much time I truly have and techniques for using it in a way that allows me to be productive without sacrificing relaxing and refueling.

3. I can often implement life changes — even try them on for size — right where I am, without a major investment of time and energy. I figured that one out on my own! 🙂

With that in mind, I’ve made some changes. For example, in an effort to “try on” living in a smaller home with fewer things, I’ve closed off the master bedroom and bath. I simply do not use those rooms at all — not even to store seasonal clothing in the large walk-in closet. I use the smaller guest bedroom, and what didn’t  fit nicely (without being scrunched together) in the closet was either sold or donated. I’ve also been selling and donating household items on a weekly basis. It amazes me, how much stuff a non-shopper like myself had accumulated and how not a single thing I’ve toted around for years and finally gotten rid of has been missed.

In January, I’ll begin an exciting 4-month experiment that will allow me to try out another idea that has gained great appeal the past 3 years. Within a few months of moving to the city and dealing with a rush-hour commute two times a day (the community I live in does not connect via mass transit to the part of the city in which I teach, and 17 miles is too far to walk, of course), I began thinking of where I could live and work that would allow me to park my car for all but occasional outings. Because I will be teaching in England for the Spring 2014 semester, I won’t be driving during those 4 months. Instead, I’ll rely on my own 2 feet and public transportation of various kinds the entire time I’m there. What a perfect opportunity to test-drive (sorry, I couldn’t resist) a minimal-driving lifestyle!

If you have a dream or a list of projects you’d like to accomplish — or both — I hope you’ll join me in using some time every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes, toward realizing that dream or completing one of the projects. Play some energizing music (I love the soundtrack to Mama Mia, for example), turn off your phone and computer, and set a timer for 15 minutes. Go for it! And, please, come back and share with me how you used “your” time and how it made you feel.