How to Live Without the Clock

Zen Habits

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“Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” - William Faulkner

Classroom Clock

Have you ever wished that time would just go away?

I don’t mean time or “existence” in the literal sense. I mean time in the way we count things.

Because we’re always counting, aren’t we?

    * What time is it?
    * How much time do I have left?
    * How much longer until we arrive?
    * I hate waiting so long, I don’t have time for this.
    * We need to hurry it up.
    * If we’re late, we’re going to be in trouble.

When you really take a close look at all the hangups we have about time, it’s amazing how much we obsess over it. We think we can control time, how long things take, and what kind of results we get. Time management, after all, is how we achieve success, isn’t it?

Or so we think. Because there are so many other factors to success that have nothing to do with time, and nothing to do with counting it. There are priorities, there is leverage, relationships, resources, focus, commitment, and all of these other things. Yet we call it “time management.”

What I’ve personally found in my life is that the more I try to manage (control) time, the more anxiety I have.

I’m always trying to…

    * Make sure there’s enough time.
    * Schedule things efficiently.
    * Make sure I have time for this, or time for that.
    * Not let time “run away from me.”
    * Not spend too much time tracking time.

See how ridiculous this gets?

Jim Loehr, author of The Power of Full Engagement, says that “managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance.”

I have to agree. Trying to constantly manage and monitor my time has only led me to greater anxiety, and always feeling like I’ve not “done enough.” I’m always thinking about how I could have “spent that time more wisely.” But the purpose of life is to enjoy it, is it not? So can’t we perform highly without the anxiety of counting every minute?

I think so; at least I’ve been doing my best to live this way. After all, it takes time to ditch decades of time-bound conditioning.

So here are a few things I recommend to kill the anxiety of the clock:

    * Pick a theme for each month. A lot of people like to set goals. Well, I don’t. I find that goals give me too much anxiety because I’m always measuring myself up against what I could have done better. So instead, I like to set a theme for each month and focus my energy on that. This month, my theme is improving my ability to focus. Less email checking, distractions, and more highly focused, deep concentration work.
    * Work by the week. This has made a huge difference for me in getting the most important tasks done. Instead of setting my most important tasks for the day, I set them weekly. I’ve found this helps me better focus on the bigger picture. You may have heard the saying “We overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can do in a year.” I was always overestimating what I could do in a day, and beating myself up for not getting everything done. By focusing on the week, I’ve eliminated this issue.
    * Follow your rhythms. This may seem like a vague concept, but it’s about following the rhythms of your energy and listening to your body. When you need to take a break, take one. When you feel like plunging in, plunge in. Pay attention to what you’re drawn to working on and what you’re attracted to.
    * Schedule when you need to. We obviously can’t remove all scheduling commitments. There is a benefit to having a specific time and date setup for a meeting. This would be difficult otherwise. What you can do, though, is give yourself enough time to prepare beforehand and to transition afterward. That way you won’t always feel in a rush; the prime cause of time-based anxiety.
    * Flow. I personally love structuring my work around big, amazing and exciting projects. When I do this, I lay out the action steps and milestones necessary. Then I get to work. But the most awesome thing about working on big, amazing projects is that you are inviting the flow state. When you’re deeply passionate about a project, it’s easy to get absorbed in the work and lose track of time.
    * Stand still. We spend so much time trying to “go places” and “arrive.” And we spend a lot of time preparing for things in the future. While this is sometimes a necessary part of life, it’s also important to play, to let go, forget the future, and forget the past. What is so important that it cannot wait? It will be there tomorrow. And there will always be more. So relax, and let the world pass you by.

I heard a story from a friend about some business men that went to vacation in Bali. They had purchased one of the typical vacation packages from the local travel agency, which of course, had a schedule of events. As they were sitting at an outside patio at the bar, they asked when the entertainment would be starting that evening. The hostess just said “Oh it will start when it starts.”

You can imagine how much this troubled the men. Uncertainty… lack of control. Not knowing.

The locals in Bali are famous for being an incredibly carefree and happy people. They are also well known for not caring much about measuring time, or trying to be on time. They don’t care much about it. They are also extremely happy.

Meanwhile, the business men’s day has been ruined. They can’t count the minutes till the evening’s event begins.

So what would you rather be: in control… or happy?

 
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