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How to Rid Your Life of Time Bandits

Few challenges in life seem more unrelenting and formidable than time... there never seems to be enough time to do what we believe we must do, and our experience of time often defeats more than delights.
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Few challenges in life seem more unrelenting and formidable than time... there never seems to be enough time to do what we believe we must do, and our experience of time often defeats more than delights. Our core beliefs about time bind and bond us; make us tired and often resentful. A plethora of time management books, apps and seminars promise us proven tools to track and plan how we spend our time, but offer little real solace or insight into what or how our precious moments are taken away from us.

Don't you often feel as if someone or something has stolen your hours away, never to be felt, treasured, and recalled again? Who let those time bandits into our life?

Two events, one global, one personal, reminded me of time this week. Watching the implosion of the Middle East, the riots, the cries of the hundreds of thousands of people demanding freedom echoed across the volatile region. Their passionate lament of too little for too long created a firestorm that still burns across six countries. Time is running out for dictators and freedom's fragile hopes seem to be rising from the burning streets.

On a personal level, I became a grandfather a week ago. My first grandson, Finnean, enters a life rich with love and promise, with great parents and a family that promises him all we can give. My wife's death two and a half years ago brings special poignancy to the birth, for we waited a long time to be grandparents together.

Sudden change transforms whole sense of time. As Joyce Carol Oates writes in her new book, "A Widow's Story," grief challenges our very identity. In her case it ruptured her quietest of lives ("measured and decorous as Laura Ashley wallpaper"). I find that my relationship with time, which I always measured and calibrated carefully to accomplish as much as possible each day, is developing into a softer state. I am still very busy and I work to contribute as much as I can to our clients, my friends, my students, and of course to my children, but I do so without reflecting on what was, only what is, and what might be. Time seems somehow gentler now.

And I am sharply aware I have less of it to waste. In truth, we all should be aware of the time bandits lurking in corners of our days and nights. And accept that we invite them in.

Many of our conversations with leaders are about helping them find a center, a place where they can focus on the best of themselves, to experience peace in moments when they are physically exhausted and spiritually depleted.

Our very successful clients often feel like victims of their own success. I recently challenged a group of global executives to turn off their Blackberrys one day a week! They considered the notion to be totally shocking, and even though several tried it, four or five later confessed that it only worked if they locked their devices in their cars on Sunday afternoons (and even then some still slipped off to their techno-mistress anyway). Their genuine feelings of withdrawal are part of our information addiction, and we'd better understand how our devices own us.

I suggest tackling time addiction in small steps:

  1. Decide how many calls you will take every day.
  2. Decide how long you really need to be on each call.
  3. Decide how many blinking, buzzing devices are really helpful.
  4. Turn off your Blackberry, computer and cell phone one day a week.
  5. Go to bed an hour early two nights a week. Read. Play. Sleep.
  6. Try speaking less and listen more to your thoughts.

We Need A New Understanding About Our Relationship With Time

We lead and live out of our beliefs, so unless we alter what we believe, nothing changes. My own decision to turn my time machine from high to medium (I am working on medium low) has brought me face-to-face with some new beliefs about time:

  • Time's reality exists within us.
  • Although time consists of a past and present, with a potential for future, time only truly exists in the moment of "now."
  • Time is an infinite series of present moments, strung together.
  • Each moment of "now" is written by all of the past, and it influences the future.
  • Managing time is about managing ourselves.
  • If you spend your life reacting to the outer chaos, you are at the mercy of time, you are its victim.
  • You never master time. All we ever have is this moment. So, by being fully present in the "now" you can surrender fully into what is.

In practical terms, I've discovered it means "scheduling" more windows of time for me: To walk, to exercise, to listen to music, to rediscover wonderful inside the "university" we have created over many years. It has meant making time for friends with no agenda, for deeper work with fewer people, for writing and for simply, well, doing nothing (That one is the hardest for high-achievers, until we discover that we never really do "nothing").

Perhaps it's time to downshift a bit. Instead of worrying about your lists, your next appointment or the time of the carpool pickup at school, can you allow yourself to sit more in your now, and surrender to the realization that you are experiencing, indeed creating the very moments that hold the potential for more delight and surprise that you can imagine. Take it in small steps. How does it feel? If you stop, what do you think will happen?

Eckhart Tolle reminds us in his book "The Power of Now" that most of us live "under the insane burden of 100 things (we) may or will have to do in the future instead of focusing on the one thing (we) can do now. Past, present, and future are thought forms; mental abstractions... the only thing there is, is now. And it is always now!"

It takes courage to step into the now. As Tolle asks, "can you welcome it and become friendly with it?" I want it for you. Will you try it?

"We do not remember days...we remember moments." -- Cesare Pavese