We're all busy. That's a given. Especially this time of the year, we eye our to-do lists with dread if not anxiety as we gear up for what can feel like a daily obstacle course of work, family, errands, household chores, volunteering, socializing, and, if we're very lucky, a little free time.
The last thing we think we want is to be stuck in a long checkout line, as a recent Wall Street Journal article on how to "Find the Best Checkout Line" reminds us:
"Shoppers tend to become impatient quickly and fail to take into account key indicators of what may slow down a line. They experience remorse when they feel they've chosen the wrong (i.e. slower) line. And they prefer to choose their own line rather than wait in a single-file line for the next available register-even though that set-up has proven to be faster, research on queuing shows."
We even size up the people around us for clues as to making the best choice:
"'I make my selection based on how full the carts of other shoppers are, the age of the person or if the person has children with him or her. These shoppers are almost always slower,' says Rebecca Mecomber, a married mom of four teenagers from Utica, N.Y. She also factors in the cashier's gender and age. 'Young male cashiers are usually faster but are very sloppy and careless when they bag items. Middle-age ladies are slower but take better care of glass objects.'"
What if, however, we are looking at the problem backwards? Is the problem always one of long, slow-moving lines? Does getting in a short, fast line really make us feel less rushed or less busy for the rest of our day? Our life?
Or is the problem our own impatience and inability to stand with ourselves for only a few minutes?
What I miss and crave the most on those "too busy" days is not more time in which to pack more activities, but more time for myself, time to be with my own thoughts and feelings, time to breathe. For writers, in particular, this time of stillness is vital and may help us to be more rather than less productive, as author Joyce Carol Oates explains in The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art:
"It's bizarre to me that people think that I am 'prolific' and that I must use every spare minute of my time when in fact, as my intimates have always known, I spend most of my time looking out the window (I recommend it)."
What better time for metaphoric window-gazing than standing in line? If we can resist the urge to reach for the security blanket of a cell phone, we have a built-in opportunity to slow down, to practice mindfulness, to watch life unfold at its own pace, to practice gratitude, even to daydream a little and boost our creativity.
The next time you find yourself in a mad race to the shortest check-out line, consider choosing the "not too busy to wait" line, the one with lots of children and older shoppers, and with a middle-aged cashier wearing a big, round "Trainee" button. Don't worry about the next item on your agenda. You have a built-in excuse for tardiness.
You were stuck in a long line, after all.