Professional Development: Befriending Time


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In the struggle to manage our lives, accomplish our dreams, be everywhere at once - on schedule - it seems time is the enemy. We fight the clock and try to “manage” time, as if we had any say in the way the minutes and hours pass. The sense of pressure and constant urgency in our professional and personal lives has its roots in our culture's relationship with time. It seems there is simply never enough.

From this perceived lack of time, we constantly worry that we should be moving along to some other task or project than what we are currently doing. We know that time passes by so quickly, and with it, all our good intentions to get purposeful things done. Day after day we experience the same frustration.

If the root of this issue is a belief system, perhaps a different perspective would serve us better: What if time were on your side?

As a thought experiment, take a moment right now to imagine what it would be like if you had all the time you needed, all the time in the world. How would your life be different? What would your morning be like? What would you do in the afternoon and evening? How would you handle your relationships with family, friends and co-workers?

It took me just a brief moment to conjure up the image of leisurely starting my day, lingering in the shower, taking time for a morning walk. Breakfast allowed time for a nourishing meal and chatter with my kids. I wrote letters to neglected relatives and had lunch with a friend. I pictured handling all the clutter in my office, taking care of errands and then relaxing in the mid-day sun when I felt like it. With unlimited time, I could take a week off work each month to write, take some painting classes, and read good books. The image was very inviting.

Yet, as I imagined having enough time for it all, I heard a nagging inner voice whine, “But I’d never get anything DONE. ” Isn’t that fascinating? With the gift of all the time in the world, a part of me insists I wouldn’t get enough done! This achievement-oriented part of me doesn’t place much value on enjoying my time.

Perhaps the rift is not between me and time, but between the different lenses through which I see the world. Can I value the part of me that wants to slow life down, relax, watch my children’s every move as well as the part of me that wants to have big accomplishments and change the world? Of course I must, because in fact, they are not in conflict, they support one another. Creating room to breathe actually enhances my productivity.

Making peace with time means doing what you believe and believing in what you do— whether you are relaxing at the beach or working late to get a project done.

Here are the steps I am taking to befriend time in ways that support both my personal and professional aims:

* Value Your Time. Are you spending your time doing what you believe has the greatest value? Assess the time spent relative to the return and adjust accordingly. Steve Jobs addressed the Stanford graduating class of 2005 and planted this thought: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" If the answer is “No" for too many days in a row, it is time to change something.

* Sequence Your Tasks. Order your tasks in a manner that allows you to cleanly take care of one thing at a time. Anna, one of our IWS Project Managers, is adept at creating boundaries so she can fully devote herself to the task at hand. She accomplishes this by sequencing types of tasks rather than trying to tackle too much at once. She puts one high priority internal project on her list to complete between client work. Only when the one project is complete does she move on to the next.

* Be in the Moment. Even in the chaos of the workplace, it is possible slow the pace and rest for a bit. Stop for a moment and breathe slowly, look out the window, or at a photo, bringing your full focus into to noticing how you feel, how you are sitting, where you are in your space. Calm your mind and connect with your timeless inner resources. The Power of Now is an ancient concept that has been rekindled recently in the writings of Eckart Tolle: “To meet everything and everyone through stillness instead of mental noise is the greatest gift you can offer…”

* Just Let Go. Letting go is counter-intuitive for most of us, but it has two rewards: it allows others to step up to the challenge, and it preserves our energies for higher priority items. My Grandmother, a compulsive worrier for most of her life, began to say to me when she turned 92, “I just can’t worry about that anymore. ” And she stopped. I understand now what it means to run out of bandwidth and have to preserve what attention you have for the thoughts and actions that are most meaningful.

* Recognize and Utilize Discretionary Time. Most professionals have a significant amount of discretionary time each day that can be put to use on their behalf. Notice how much of your day is truly committed, and how much you decide what to work on and how to approach it. Notice how you choose how to spend your lunch time, and other transitions between activities. Recognizing and using this unclaimed time creates the opportunity to support our peace of mind in the spaces in between our commitments.

We can be the author of our days. Instead of battling the constraints of time, embrace them. The finite nature of our time on earth, whether in a work context or the broader cycle of aging and mortality gives meaning to what we do with our time. Limited time creates compelling reasons to take care of what is most important to us - to define and live our values, sooner, rather than later.

Jessica G. Hartung is the founding principal of Integrated Work Strategies, LLC, a management and leadership development firm. Jessica’s years of professional experiences with a variety of organizations — government, non-profits, Fortune 500, small businesses, and entrepreneurial ventures — have provided strength and flexibility to her skills as a coach, educator and facilitator. She is known for her straightforward and compelling style that moves individuals and teams to develop the skills necessary to meet and exceed their goals.

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