What is the Zen of time?

Zen and time: Part 1. I friend of mine asked me when I started this blog whether it was just going to be another time management type thing. I asked him what the problem with that was and he said “People are inundated with prescriptions and exhortations for using their time more effectively and being more compulsive about it.” I asked what he thought was the antidote and he said “We all need a more Zen-like attitude about time.” I presumed I knew what he meant, but the more I thought about it, the less I knew. I had studied Zen many years ago and was familiar with Zen meditation and Zen Buddhist philosophy. However, I had never thought about its application to time.

I once remember doing a long drive from Rhode Island to Wisconsin. The hardest part was going to be crossing NYC and getting past the large metro areas in Pennsylvania and NY. I had been doing regular Zen meditation at the time and I thought “Well, I will just use this drive time to meditate and not worry about the traffic or congestion.” I put myself into a frame of mind for sitting Zen. I did not expect the results. In what seemed like a matter of a few seconds, the next thing I remember was being on a wide open stretch of road in rural Pennsylvania. I had gone over 250 miles in some of the most traffic congested sections of the USA in what seemed like a matter of seconds. It still does not seem possible and feels more like a dream than reality. How could something like this be physically and mentally possible? Can time really stand still? Can we make life so smooth with our unconscious thought that we eliminate stress and anxiety and yet can still function? What then is a Zen-like attitude towards time?

Do you have a Zen attitude towards time? One comment I found on a web-blog was “But get some Zen and time slows down since you are actually experiencing it.” Are you experiencing time or do you just sort of anesthetize your self to it? Do you allow time to happen or do you try to control it? Are you waiting for something to happen which never does? Could your life be more exciting if it was more Zen like? I will address more of these issues in my next blog.

What does a clock ticking mean to you?

The clock is running out! I am sure that you have heard this expression at least once in your life. However, have you ever thought that it applies to just about every day of your life? The clock is always ticking. The clock is always running down and not up. The arrow of time flies towards our final meeting with eternity. Sometimes it runs out faster than we expect and sometimes slower. Sometimes it runs out for those whom we least expect it to. The healthy jogger who never smoked, who watched his/her diet and was in perfect health may just be the funeral we attend next week. Paradoxically, our obese relative who smoked and drank too much may live to be a hundred. The experts are full of contradictory studies relating to our health. Don’t eat this, do eat that, this is bad, no it is really good, watch your fat, eat more fat, watch your carbs, eat more carbs, get more exercise, get less exercise, etc. etc.

I like the quote that says: “ask not for whom the bell tolls.” This poem from John Donne helps me to feel linked to other people. Death seems to provide a kind of a linkage. We can feel sad about deaths for people whom we do not know because we are all linked together. I have six degrees of freedom with everyone in the world. How many degrees do I have with those who have already passed away or who are at deaths door? The clock is running out for all of us. The death we meet may not be the one we desire either for ourselves or for others. Today may or may not be your last day on earth or perhaps it will be the last day for someone you love very much. The clock ticking tells us to not take life for ourselves or others for granted. Each tick is a heartbeat. Each second another person takes their last breath. Better to connect now before it is too late. We will never know when the bell will toll for ourselves or anyone else.

Who are you putting off connecting to? What if their clock runs out before you can connect? How will you feel? How can you connect to them before it is too late?

What if we wasted a little time each day?

Time wasting web-sites! Have you ever felt like just wasting time? What about having a day where you can just let go of any concerns about time. We are so compulsive about time that we let it run our lives. A day when we waste time might be a day well spent. I can imagine the stress levels of the world going down. Less homicides, less road rage, less drive by shootings. Well, if you really want to give a gift to your stress levels, then you might want to visit the following website: http://freebies.about.com/od/710/tp/timewasting.htm

It has ten (I guess you could say games) that will help you to waste extraordinary amounts of time in a fun way. Alternatively, just go to Google and type in “time wasters” and you will be able to find all sorts of incredibly amusing ways to waste a little time. Spend some time foolishly. Stop worrying about time, being on time, managing time and letting time run your life. Time is not like money. If you waste money, you don’t get it back. However, each day you start with 24 hours again. Do yourself a favor, waste some time each day.

How often do you just waste time? Do you let yourself have a little fun every so often? Take some time today and just waste it. How does it feel not to be so compulsive? What if you made it a habit to waste a little bit of time each day? How would your life feel?

When are wise sayings about time wrong?

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today! This is another one of those bits of exalted wisdom that we learned way back in our childhood. “Under the influence of this pestilent morality, I am forever letting tomorrow’s work slop backwards into today’s, and doing painfully and nervously today what I could do quickly and easily tomorrow.” – J. A. Spender. This quote by Spender is interesting and funny since it contradicts that old wisdom about procrastination that dogs so many of us. How many of us live by these bits of wisdom that we learn early in life and never question? There are usually two sides to every story and very few things in life are universally or unequivocally true. For every bit of wisdom, there is a counterpoint.

While there may be few absolutes, this does not mean that some old sayings and wise thoughts are not without merit. More importantly, there is another moral here, which is that few things should simply be taken for granted. According to Spender, there might also be a place for procrastination in our lives. If this is true, then we may be well advised to put off doing some things until tomorrow. Perhaps, after a good night sleep, further reflection or simply having a better day, tackling the task that feels overwhelming today will be easier tomorrow. Often I do not know where to start or what I need to do. If I put the job off for a while, I can talk to others or do some further research. I am then able to come back to the task feeling more confident and competent.

Are you driven by doing things today that might be better handled tomorrow? Do you always tackle the task even when you are not quite sure what you should be doing? What sort of things do you think you would be better putting off doing until you have some help or more guidance? What should you put off doing today, since you might just do a better job tomorrow or the day after?

How can you eliminate the time wasters in your life?

Don’t waste my time. One of the greatest sins of modern society is to waste time. It is even worse to waste someone else’s time. Unfortunately, there are numerous ways that you can waste time. Pace Productivity conducted surveys among 690 employees and entrepreneurs across North America. The first question they asked was designed to find out which factors impeded respondents’ productivity that were outside of their control. The following were the top ten time wasters that respondents felt they had no control over.

135 Paperwork / administrative tasks
115 Customer requests: service / problems / complaints
101 Phone calls / phone interruptions / inquiries
86 Computer / system / equipment problems
58 No internal support / other departments’ inefficiency
45 Unspecified interruptions
43 Traffic / travel
38 Meetings – too many / too long / unnecessary
38 Volume of work / not enough time
36 Staffing issues / people absent

This is a very interesting list. No doubt there are many aspects of time that we cannot control. However, the first question I have when looking at this list is the validity of the respondents’ assumption that they have “no control” over these time wasters. I admit that in several of these areas, it is difficult to have control, but the operational word is difficult. I would stop at the word impossible. I lean towards looking at what I can do to have more control over my life and I refuse to abdicate control in many of these so called time waster areas. I might only have partial control but once I assert this control, I can minimize the impact of the time wasted.

Do you see some areas above that you also feel you could take some control over? What are the biggest time wasters in your life? Do you think they are all out of your control or do you think you have some control over them? Pick one large time waster in your life. What could you do today that would help you to gain control and minimize this time waster in your life?

How to overcome procrastination?

Procrastination is a word to be feared, yet it is a word that we are all too familiar with. The dictionary defines it as “To postpone or delay needlessly.” It also traces its roots to the Latin wherein pro-crastinate means to “put forward.” Thus, when we don’t want to do something today, we put it forward until tomorrow. Sometimes that works and other times it starts creating a kind of sandbag effect in which it just seems easier to keep putting things off. Why do we procrastinate? There are many reasons. Here are some that I have found:

• I don’t know where to start
• The task seems daunting and monumental
• I am afraid I don’t have the ability
• I fear I will not be able to finish
• I am afraid of looking stupid
• I tried before and failed
• I just don’t feel like doing it

You could probably put your own list up but I would guess that it would have some similarities to my list. Is there a secret to overcoming procrastination or a solution? I think the answer is yes. We are all intimidated by the world. The people that accomplish the most are the ones who find support from others. Every year at graduation, I listen to the seniors talk about how they could not have made it without the help and support of someone else, usually their family, a teacher or friends. Going to college for four years is a major undertaking. We can never be sure if we will pass or graduate or even manage to pay the college loans off. Anyone who starts school begins a very long and precarious journey. However, as the song says “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

When you find that you are procrastinating that can be a red flag or a signal that you need some help from a friend. Working together we can do anything. Remember Ben Franklins famous quote “Either we all hang together or we all hang separately.” Why try to do it all by yourself? Musicians, chess players, actors and sports figures all have coaches. Coaches help us stay on track and provide moral and mental support. You may not be able to afford a high paying professional coach, but I will bet there is someone in your life that could help play this role. Seek this person out and enlist them in your endeavor. The secret to overcoming procrastination is to find others who can support and nurture your effort.

What are you putting forward today that you really need to do now? Who can you enlist to support you mentally, physically or emotionally in your effort? Do you need ideas or simply willpower? Who do you know that would best provide them? By the end of the day, will you be able to contact them? If not, is there someone else who could help you? Don’t procrastinate, contact them now. You will be glad you did.

Why timing is critical and what you can do to use it effectively?

“Think big, start small and deliver quickly.” I found this advice from a Vice President of Cisco Corporation. At the time, Cisco was one of the most profitable and fastest growing firms in the world. It struck me as the way we must all do business in this highly competitive global era. We must think big. We cannot just look at the world from our own petty perspective. We must view the world from the eyes of our customers, stakeholders and other world citizens. Things we do in New York affect the Amazon Rain Forest and vice versa. We must start small. Every journey begins with a single step. Every large organization or endeavor started out quite humbly.

It is no shame to start on the bottom and work your way up. We must pay our dues. It is all too easy to see those who have achieved success and think they did it overnight. However, when you look closely at success, you see it came from very humble beginnings. Finally, we must be quick. Opportunities are like a window that opens and closes or like an elevator going up and down every few seconds. Opportunities do not last long. If you do not seize the moment, someone else surely will. Nature abhors a vacuum and an opportunity is a vacuum just waiting to be filled. Opportunities are like the waves in the ocean and whenever one comes in, it is quickly spent but soon replaced by another one. You must pick the right wave and jump on it quickly or you will miss it.

I posted Cisco’s phase over my desk as a reminder. Thinking big reinforced the need for a vision worth achieving. Without a vision, we may end up building a molehill. We need a vision but we also need determination and speed. You need determination to have the stamina and patience to build your vision one day and one step at a time. You cannot know in advance if you will succeed. You will need determination to see you over the hills and valleys. You will also need speed. While you are still contemplating your great new idea, the chances are excellent that a competitor is also thinking about the same idea. Haste can make waste, but timing is everything and today you must act fast or lose the opportunity.

What good ideas do you have that you are procrastinating over? What opportunities are waiting for you to seize them? Why are you still waiting? Who or what could help you get started? If you are not sure how to get started, find someone to help you. You will regret it later if you do not act now.

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