There is always Time!
“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.” — Rabindranath Tagore
I used to pride myself in saying that even if there were 48 hours in a day, I will not be able to find six hours for sleep. In hindsight, it was quite foolish (and perhaps arrogant) of me but well, I used to be proud that I was quite busy.
Do you generally feel that you do not have sufficient time? Do you feel trapped by various goings-on in the day that do not allow time to achieve something important to you? Did you ever abandon any personally meaningful and important goal because you felt that you did not have time? Are you not able to set aside time to build that important skill or capability because you are busy fighting fires at work (and in personal life)? Well, depending on your phase of life right now, you may not realize this but suddenly you will wonder where all those years went by, your children are fully grown adults (not children anymore) suddenly, your dream of running that 10K run remains just a dream, you are staring at retirement (and likely yet to begin proper retirement financial planning). Time always feels in short supply.
But how come a precious few among us are able to accomplish so much in a day (and in their lives)? They certainly do not have more than 24 hours in a day and also many of these folks sleep well, have meaningful family/social relations and also indulge in personal hobbies.
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.” — Zig Zaglar
There are many reasons for short supply of time. Here are a few major ones:
We waste time
We waste a lot of time without realizing it. Time at work is spent in having coffee, tea, social interactions, long lunch breaks, reading news and perusing social media. Many waste time in unnecessary meetings, they attend workshops/seminars that are not necessarily value adding. Many work on projects that get shelved later. People spend time and effort on development of unnecessary skills — they do certification courses or continuing education programs on skills that are not relevant to them.
And then there are things on which we waste a lot of time while being fully cognizant of that. Indulgence in “web series” on Netflix, watching News channels and most time we spend on social media (YouTube Shorts, Insta Reels etc) are examples.
Output Vs Outcome
I have come across this distinction recently. Output refers to the direct result of the corresponding input and to this extent, is generally proportional to the input. Whereas Outcome refers to the impact that directed inputs yield — it is the real change in circumstances/conditions as a result of earmarked efforts. We generally focus on output and this results in many of our efforts being inefficient and not yielding meaningful changes, certainly not commensurate with the efforts that are put in. This is largely because output does not always mean real progress. An example: acing an exam but not learning much. Many focus on previous question paper patterns and prepare accordingly but do not end up gaining real knowledge in the process.
Right thing to focus on is “outcome” — this tends to make our efforts efficient and effective thereby reduce wastage of time. This unlocks time.
Multitasking is an illusion
I came across the concept of “multitasking” for the first time in relation to its implementation in computer processes (e.g., in a computer, ability to watch a movie in one window and track cricket scores in another window). Computers slice their processing power minutely and cycle through the seemingly concurrent tasks (processes) executing one task per slice of time. This gives us the illusion that multiple tasks are being worked on concurrently but in reality at a moment, only one task is being executed. Cycling through tasks incurs switching costs, reorienting costs and state management costs. While computing power of computers and mobile phones has become cheaper and cheaper, computing power of our brains has not changed much. Cognitive load and cost of switching between tasks tend to be very high. Our brains are really terrible at multitasking — even at the illusion of it. Try remembering a six digit random number while deciding the next song on your Spotify playlist and you will understand what I mean here. The cost we incur in multitasking is the low quality of execution.
How do we remedy this
Time is a created thing. To say “I don’t have time” is to say “I don’t want to” — Lao Tzu
Unending stream of activities always clamour for your time. Without conscious focus, you end up working on things without thinking through their priority. Urgent work overwhelms important work. To imbue your life with quality, it is important that you learn to say to “no”. By defaulting to “no” and consciously choosing what you want to work on, you will be able to find sufficient time to work with quality and satisfaction.
Declutter your life, your mind and your physical surroundings. Doing a few things but doing them well is lot more important that doing a lot of things. It is significantly more important to do the right things than doing things right. Long to-do lists are an indication of cluttered life. In fact, existence of a to-do list is bad enough. Occasional use of to-do list makes sense. A checklist to automate thinking makes sense but a dynamic to-do list indicates diffused life.
“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” — Henry David Thoreau
Once you declutter your schedule and consciously decide on what to do, focus completely on the task with no distractions — it is said that even so much as a glance at the screen of your mobile phone to check the time/weather or to see if there are new messages may cost you up to twenty minutes of focus. So ensure pure focus on the task at hand — for a minimum of 90 minutes. There are lot of books and research done on this aspect and you may read them for detailed information on the how’s and why’s.
A while ago, I read a short account from Seneca called “On the Shortness of Life”. It is a worthwhile read and could serve as a core primer as you embark on creating time.
Remember you hardly have time or you have all the time — the first option is default and hence easy to fall into and the second option is hard and you will need to cultivate it. It is a choice you make. Choose carefully.
“Time stays long enough for those who use it.” — Leonardo Da Vinci
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