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Archive for the ‘Time management’ Category

Tempus fugit or time flies – a phrase most of us will have used or identified with, many times in our lives. Does it sound as trite as “Time and tide wait for no man”? Well, common place and much-used these sayings may be, but they are none the less true for that. Most of us wonder where the days, months and even years went when we occasionally sit back and take stock. We bemoan lost times and get nostalgic or often sad, that we seem to have let a long phase go past without any seeming significant achievement or memory to remember it by. Yet, every moment we pass is one moment less in our relatively short life span, so should it not have been treasured for all it is worth?

Most of are slaves to the clock; in fact it is difficult to imagine how we can have any structure to our days or formulate anything meaningful without reference to that often little ticking device, that consumes us from the minute we wake. It is drilled in to us that time is money and there is often that almost natural tendency in humans to try to cram in as much as they can, to maximise all possible benefit from an available resource. It may be an extension of an intrinsically materialistic disposition, or it may be an innate recognition that our life is also a finite resource of a sort and we therefore “need to make the most of it”. Whatever it is, the reality often is that we are doing the very opposite of what we set out to do.

Many will disagree and argue vocally that they are proud of their time management. They manage to fit all their requirements into their days. Yes, it is hard for them, but with careful planning and precise implementation, it is achievable. Aha – perhaps, but I am attempting to probe deeper here. I am trying to suggest looking beyond the veil and to genuinely analyse if in that hectic rush of activity you create and immerse yourself in, whether you are losing yourself. Are you  simply working so hard to aim for that elusive “complete” lifestyle that you are left with no time to really know and absorb what it is you are, or are not, attaining or enjoying? A classic example to the of the point I am trying to make is when we are so intent on capturing a special moment on camera or video, that we spend the whole of the time that we are meant to be “living” that experience, posing and getting the exact angle correct for that wonderful pose that will be our memory in days to come. Yes, I agree that those aids are very helpful and it is wonderful to look at pictures after the event and especially many years later, but surely not at the expense of actually becoming an effective spectator at the very event you are the star in?! I do not exaggerate, I have seen people fall out spectacularly over the simple issue of how a photograph is taken and its details, which you would have thought should pale into insignificance at the enormity of what the occasion should signify.

Another manifestation of our possibly subconscious fear of time passing us by may be the generally rigid deadlines we set ourselves by which we determine to ourselves that we are to have achieved set objectives. Bad enough that we all have these at work and need to meet them to get pay rises or promotions or other forms of recognition, but the majority of us will have set targets for personal and lifestyle aspirations as well. We often mask these as “dreams” or goals, which are of course important for all and must be present to motivate and instil within us a sense of purpose. However, my concern is over the inflexible timeframes we almost always set to these. I take my own example, a much younger and more naive me (I am not ancient despite the imagery that this statement must conjure up!) knew what her priorities were. I knew what age I wanted to complete my education by, when I would be married by, my promotion progress at work was charted and generally most major life events possibly until what I then viewed as the ripe old age of 40, were all “fixed”.

 However, in my 30s now, it is clear my life took a totally different course to that I had subscribed it for. In the past that would have worried me, I would have fretted that this implied failure on various fronts but now, I am grateful that nothing “went to plan”. I am – I do not say this as some form of “sour grapes” effect. Life threw me a few curve balls and they forced me to re-analyse what I thought I wanted, and to work with what I got. It also (I like to think) stopped me stagnating and turning old before my time (I mean old in spirit as many aged people are genuinely “young at heart”) . If you achieve all you think you wanted to, by when you had planned to, what else is there to aspire to? No, achievements are never prescriptive, your requirements should be not only realistic, but more importantly, flexible. Anything is possible, I do not dispute that and I do not suggest by the mention of realistic aims, that you cannot seek to obtain what seems difficult or almost impossible. No, what I mean is that you may need to allow a considerable degree of adaptability so you can tailor them to ever-changing circumstances.

Focus on the today and enjoy what you are accomplishing. By no means abandon the constant pursuit for betterment, but do not get so swamped by the elusive gleam of the future you want, that you lose out on the present that is yours. Throw away that list and especially that bucket list, and focus instead on liking and loving what life is giving you and what you are gaining from it, here and now. In other words, really “live” life, not just plan to live it.  You may find that even if is momentary, you may manage to somewhat slow or pause time momentarily for yourself, to forever capture perfect happy moments in your soul, to provide those mental photographs no-one can deface or destroy in the years to come.

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Do not fear – I am not advocating a fast route to obesity, there is a method (sort of) to my madness. I have been thinking recently about how you can keep sane in situations where it all seems to be like a bad episode from a horror show. When chaos reigns supreme, there are deadlines hammering your door down, the phone will not stop ringing, more and more work is landing by the minute, and you still have a hundred other tasks such as filing those all important tax returns or renewing the car tax, that must also be somehow fit in. You constantly feel as though life is a treadmill and you are on it in high-speed, steep incline mode, and cannot even come off, for fear of falling flat on your face, and suffering permanent damage.

Sounding like a “usual” day in your life? I am sure it is not uncommon for most of the populace, trying to juggle demanding jobs, families and a whole host of other activities every day. I had one of those frequent moments last week and was beginning to despair as to how everything on my “to do” list, which was as long as my arm, was ever going to get done in a week, let alone a day. So, sitting in during yet another lunch break, staring in panic at the dreaded list and computer screen at alternate intervals, I glanced at my currently favorite drinks mug, a present from a close friend for my last birthday. A simple mug, yes – albeit, a pretty pink and white colour, with the words, “Keep Calm and Eat Cupcakes” emblazoned on it, crowned with a cupcake, replete with the obligatory cherry, in case someone did not get the point.

It made me automatically smile, the first step to arresting the panic before it runs away, with you in its grip. I then took a deep breath and forced myself to get up and walk away from my desk for a much-needed five-minute break. I made a tea and yes, resisted the urge to eat an actual cupcake, but simply reminded myself that unless calm prevails, in some form or another, productivity cannot result. Oh, it did not make the day magically better – not at all, there were still more “hair tearing” moments in the day, but that little jolt which allowed me a moment of respite and in an odd way, allowed a slight re-charge on otherwise flat “batteries”, did its work well. After all, the cake can be consumed but the sweetness lingers awhile, right? It certainly worked for me and I found that I was able to get through the day, managing various commitments and achieving what was strictly required, despite having to re-organise deadlines and tasks.

It also reminded me (at the end of that particularly hectic day) to reflect on whether I could identify any other associative tools that may be of help in the future when the weight of various pressures seems to weigh down with crushing impact, causing panic and thus putting an end to making any meaningful progress, thereby exacerbating the original reason behind the onset of the anxiety – too many tasks and too little time. It is always tricky and sometimes probably impossible, to stop yourself feeling overwhelmed. However, recognising the “danger signals” before it is too late, may be of some help. This may at least help to somewhat stem the flood, if not divert it totally. Even panic, as long as it is in manageable proportions, can be controlled and in some cases, may actually become an aid to spurring delivery despite unrealistic but immovable deadlines or focus the mind to ensure that the work being produced is actually focused and to the point, in the way that it sometimes is not when there is no urgency underlying it.

I found a variety of techniques, some of which I had myself been using almost subconsciously and probably daily, to beneficial effect. After all, what else was practicing deep breathing as taught in my yoga class, if not an instant relaxation aid? No wonder, we are often told to take a deep breath when we get agitated – I have found that many deep but systematic breaths buy you the time to calm your responses and of course also have the universally acknowledged health benefits we all know about. There is then the other obvious, but still effective methods, such as taking a quick moment to have a drink, looking at a picture on your wall or even computer screen that you associate with serenity, other seemingly silly accoutrements such as the poster I spotted recently in our offices which contains a wide circle on a page, with the words, “Bang Head Here” and a downward pointing arrow above it. I love those types of implements, as they do their work but also afford some amusement to the observer. Another very obvious mechanism for me is to almost forcibly remind myself that no matter how much I stress, it will not make the tasks any easier or the time it will take them any shorter, unless of course, I actually get on with them, rather than sit or stand there, worrying myself ill over them.

It is after all, about perspective and no matter what happens we must also try to remember that in most cases, if something simply cannot get done today, we need to organise and re-prioritise and ensure it is done as soon as it can. (I caveat this by clarifying that I am not referring to tasks of life saving importance – those are well beyond the scope of this post). Of course, one size will never fit all, and those very basic techniques I describe above may seem laughable to some, but I always believe that if a simple formula can solve the equation, why try to devise a more elaborate one?! If you are of a more intelligent disposition than I am and only feel fulfilled by a more challenging methodology, if it still causes the desired effect, i.e. that of inducing much-needed calm in difficult situations, it is all for the good. What is indisputable is that, only by conditioning yourself to this state, can you ever successfully master it. Once attained though, the benefits from remaining calm under pressure cannot be adequately described here. After all, as James Allen reminded us, “Calmness is power.”

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