mindfulness project: time

Have you heard the story of the professor who places a jar of rocks in front of a room full of students and asks if the jar is full? Their answer is yes. Then the professor pours in small rocks that fill in the nooks created by the large rocks. Again, the professor asks if the jar is full, and again, the students say yes. Finally, the professor pours in a bucket of sand, which fills in the crevices left by the large and small rocks. And now?

The large rocks are to symbolize the important elements of your life: family, relationships, wellness, faith, career, education, etc. The small rocks the mundane necessities like the dentist or grocery shopping. The sand are the smaller things that fill your life. The point of the story is to recognize that your life is full enough with the big rocks. 

Have you heard of Steven Covey's Four Quadrants of to do lists from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People? Same idea with a more practical approach, as it outlines how we spend more time on small, urgent things rather than important, distant items. Randy Pausch brilliantly outlines it in his time management lecture, which is entirely worth your time and full attention. (The Four Quadrants show up at about 20:00.)

This continuous completion of unimportant, tiny things (so many of them on our phones or computers) are creating peacefulness scarcity. We're obsessed with busy-ness and we are amplifying that by staying plugged in even when we could choose otherwise. When I ask people how they are and they respond with "busy", I believe that they're trying to express that they matter. They are needed by someone, something. I invite you to think a little more macro with me, and answer that "all things considered, very good". Reserve busy and overwhelmed for the times you are deeply in those emotions, so you can also ask for help.

Because it's tiring for everyone to resist being solution-oriented when it comes to busy. You may be going through a time in your life where you've brought on a new goal (job, baby, school, move) and you're going to have to let go of something else to make space. Reducing stress is good for your happiness, and essential to your health. Accepting our choices cultivates non-attachment/aparigraha and peacefulness.

I am a perfectionist and someone always working to refine my organizational skills (the thing my early teachers always recommended!) Since failing to plan is planning to fail, if I do not map my time out, feel overwhelmed with the tasks I have to complete, and experience less satisfaction when they are done. I want to be able to get things done, and I want to get them done in a manner that's good enough without creating an untenable level of productivity all the time.

The few exercises to being mindful with time include knowing how you spend it, what's preventing you from experiencing time with a sense of peace and mindfulness, and what is available to you to create change. Before you create any change in your life, use a time journal for a week. Simply record everything you did from the time you woke up to the time you went to bed. You'll find that having to record your time will make you more aware of it, and you'll have the desire to allocate it more carefully.

Here's what I've been working on with time management:

identify time blackholes

Time blackholes are the antithesis of mindfulness. Sometimes it's the willing participation in procrastination (low quality experience of life), and sometimes the over-extension of good times because we're feeling starved for them (high quality of experience). We're trying to find a balance so we don't binge on procrastination or good times.

The most challenging times for me are at the open and close of the day, where I am more likely to linger on something and browse the internet. I've been turning off devices and shutting down screens at least an hour before bed, and meditating for 20-30 minutes before sleep. (Five minutes is also better than no minutes!)

Here are time blackholes I know are common:

  • the internet - Facebook, emails, online shopping, Instagram. Checking Likes/Comments/Follows. One more email. One one one more email.
  • texting - calling is often faster.
  • figuring things out on the go - plans improve efficiency and reduce stress. (Look up addresses and phone numbers beforehand.) 
  • socializing past when I planned on being home - it's not impolite to end social time, especially if you've given it your full attention. Some social time is better than none!
  • multi-tasking poorly - doing everything with less attention and energy. One thing at time!
  • feeding yourself - planning the week's meals helps, and while cooking is a wonderful way to stay healthy, it's best to have a mixture of easy meals and adventurous meals. Simplify.
  • saying yes to too much - your friends and colleagues will respect you more and find you easier to be with if you're honest upfront. it is not kinder to say yes and then bail. A friend of mine and I were recently trying to make plans and we settled on June because that's the soonest she could do. She's very wise with her time, productive, and happy. I made a mental note: put a bigger buffer between the moment the plans are suggested and the time they're executed.
  • stuff - the less stuff you have, the less stuff you need to clean up and organize. more time for meditation!

Have I missed any?

I know what I'll be doing on certain dates well into 2016, and this forecasting is a necessity of my job. Planning my year is helpful for goals, but once you've got the ideas plotted out, you need to achieve them. That often looks like a long list of tasks that need to happen at the right time. When your schedule is all over the map, you need to have it coordinated in one spot, maybe two. I like to have mine digitally: synced on my phone and computer, and in print, so I can write down my schedule, to-dos, and accompanying notes.

My planner is the Day Designer - a thorough planner that is lovely, heavy, mostly perfect, and expensive. If you've skipped ahead and are already into financial mindfulness, then you can download the daily sheets from Day Designer here and pop them in a binder. You can also download this daily to do list from a cute design company.

There are a world of apps available to you, and TED rounded up the best ones for simplifying and organizing.

make a realistic to-do list
Sometimes my to-do list has the same thing written on it several days in a row. Act with self-compassion for the times you do have to bump something to tomorrow, but acknowledge when it's actually a case of persistent over-commitment. Put some of your less urgent items on your less busy days in the future, not everything is an immediacy.

check things off
it feels amazing. mindfulness project time post - check!