Most of us were raised in a world shockingly similar to what the great German author Michael Ende describes in his novel Momo: We were teached to save time wherever we can, but we are cheated: You cannot save time, and by trying to do it, your days become shorter and shorter, as you lose your natural ability to live in the moment. Once you attempt to save time, every moment of the day, optimizing schedules and budgeting every single minute, you become hectic and time will slip right through your hands.
In reality, the only way to save time is to live it. If you use your time for whatever you like to do, it will not only be enjoyable in the moment, but also stay with you as a vivid memory.
This is the beginning. You’re probably stressed. You might think this post could be interesting. Or weird. Or funny. Whatever. You consider reading this text, but you’re not sold yet. Before deciding, do yourself a favor and just take a deep breath. Inhale through your nose, deep into your belly. Notice the point when you’re all filled up with air and your body doesn’t move anymore. Then, exhale slowly through your mouth. Now comes the sad truth: Finding your own speed won’t be done by the moment you finish reading this post. Finding your own speed takes time.
That doesn’t have to worry you, though. You don’t have to change your time perception and behavior completely to be able to find your own pace. It’s just good to have the basics in mind, and to consult these ideas again after integrating some slow strategies into your life. Little by little, your mindset will change during the process.
Until then, the first recommendation when you feel overwhelmed with a situation is just to take a deeeeep breath. The rest will follow.
1. Time ≠ Money
Just as an experiment for now, try to forget everything you learned about time scarcity since you were a kid. Benjamin Franklin may have been a smart guy, but he was totally mistaken in one thing: Time is not money. Jonathan David Price brings it to the point: “Time is certainly not money, or I (along with every adolescent in America) would be rich.”
While money is scarce indeed (and hell, I know about that…), time isn’t. Time is abundant. Everybody got the same amount of time on any given day. We call it 24 hours, but it doesn’t really matter. If you wanted, you could call it 73 donuts, but then you would confuse both your baker and your business partners.
Of course, nobody – other than some crazy psychics, that is – knows when his time as a living person on this planet is going to end. But as long as it doesn’t, we’re all in the same boat. The problem is that the popular equation of time and money has had its impact on our society and on every single one of us. Companies would (and more often than not still will) measure the commitment of their employees not in output, but in the time they are present at their workplace.
Sometimes, i.e. when working in an assembly line or at a call center, output and time are closely connected anyway, and the worker has no real option to slow down. But in many other positions, most 21st century office jobs included, things are different. Carl Honoré nails it down in a post on his Slow Planet forums: In the present economy, work is about creativity and innovation, not only about the time you invest into something. It comes to no surprise, then, that Franklin’s equation of time and money has become more and more questioned in recent years.
2. Time = Art
To understand time as art is probably a similarly flawed equation, but it helps in the process of detaching from the money mindset. The thing is that you cannot force creative thinking and innovative ideas. While you can train yourself to enter more easily into flow mode, great ideas and muses don’t just appear because you schedule them. Often enough, they arise a lot easier if you give yourself the time to tap the power of your idle brain.
Here’s the trick: Any given intellectual task can be solved if you have the necessary factual information and give yourself enough time to let your subconsciousness figure it out. I was able to confirm this in practice many times over the last few years: Originally explained to me by one of my profs, this strategy allowed me to successfully pass my studies without any backlash during writing a myriad of exams, papers, articles and speeches. Ideas will just come up automatically, if you give them some time.
Now, please, don’t take my word for it. Give it a try for yourself. While most of you may already have noticed this, I am convinced that it will pass a real life test: Being confronted with any major intellectual problem, instead of forcing yourself to solve it right away, spend a day at the beach or cooking with friends, and finish the task the next day. Chances are, the text you want to write or the connection between the areas you where searching for will be materializing a lot easier. At least for me, this has always worked, and resulted in happy clients, bosses, and profs. If you use time wisely and without pressure, it will surely convert into art, whatever it might be that you are pursuing.
3. Don’t look at time or it’ll run away.
The next thing I’d like to ask you is to get rid of your watch. If this sounds too hard for you, just try it for today. I did that many years ago (because I always managed to damage them when jumping into the sea), and it is a powerful technique to enter your own pace of life and time perception.
In my experience, the more you look at the clock, the faster time seems to elapse. When running late for a meeting and getting stuck in traffic, you get stressed instantly. Much better it is to only use a clock to leave on time, and then accept whatever obstacles you might encounter on the road. In the end, you won’t arrive any earlier or later, but you certainly will feel more relaxed about it.
By getting rid of your watch, you begin to enter your own tempo giusto, and you learn to be more aware of your surroundings: You get a feeling for time by observing light, traffic, and people around you, opposed to nerviously checking your watch hand.
Of course, this is not a strategy to follow when writing an exam. Here, you probably need to budget your minutes pretty well to finish on time and pass the test. But in everyday life, watches unconsciously stress you out and it’s really worth to give this strategy a try.
A related recommendation is to drop using an alarm clock, if you can. As a student, I would always be willing to get moving early in the morning during my first semestres. But then, over time, I noticed this did not help me at all. While some people feel fine becoming early risers, to others it’s just counterproductive because it disrupts their sleep patterns and, as a consequence, makes them feel dragged down during the whole morning.
Nowadays, I generally don’t care too much about getting up at any specific hour. If you really want to rise early (to leave your house to take a walk in the morning sun, for example), why not use an old native Indian trick and drink a large glass of water before laying down to sleep? Once you get out of bed to use the bathroom, you may as well grab a coffee and start your day.
If you need to be up at a certain our, program a radio clock to start playing your favorite tunes at a very low volume about 90 minutes before the moment you really need to get up. 90 minutes is the approximate length of one complete sleep cycle. If you get out of one while the radio is running, even if the volume is low, you will be noticing it and knowing it’s time for you to get up. Using this trick, you avoid interrupting your sleep cycles, and you may even manage to get up earlier than you need to, starting the day more relaxed.
4. The Power of the Spillover Effect
Readjusting time, slowing down, finding your tempo giusto may seem like a daunting task. Good news is, it gets easier and easier once you got started. The first changes may be weird or even difficult to you, but as you get moving in one area of your life, spillovers into other parts will occur.
Honoré gives several examples for this in his book In Praise of Slow: Once you get used to cooking and eating slower, you will generally dedicate more attention to your senses. Through this, you might begin to be more mindful about your environment when you are taking a walk: You listen to the songs of the birds, sense the smell of the flowers, enjoy the beautiful light of the morning hours. You might also start to dedicate more time to your sex life and enjoy it with all your senses, as teached in tantra schools, for example.
These changes in private life will also lead to a new way of thinking at your workplace. You become more aware of the tasks that really matter, in contrast to the ones you might want to drop: Most emails and phone calls are not urgent, but try to appear so anyway. If you become a slower thinker on the inside, this will have repercussions on your outside actions, too.
5. Your Speed is Tempo Giusto
The best thing about becoming a master of your own time is that there is no one right way to do it, but there are a myriad of options. Just as all of us are running on different speeds, we will also find different ways to get there. Although most of us probably will be wanting to slow down a little (or even a lot), we really have to inquire into ourselves to find our comfort level. It’s not about me, not about your boss, not about your dad, teacher or partner, but about your very own speed. To say it in the words of Christopher Richards of Slow Down Now: “You decide what excess is for you. Having drive is a self-actualizing positive attribute, but being driven, being compelled to work long-hours, is soul destroying.”
To help you find your own speed, I will share some concrete ideas on how to slow down and live life at your own pace in the areas of career, communication, travel, consumption and leisure in the upcoming posts of this series. Be sure to miss no post by subscribing for free to the RSS feed or getting the updates right into your e-mail inbox!
Because of this series, no Idle Musing today. Don’t be afraid though, they will be coming back next week or so! Thanks to h.koppdelaney for the image “Time Flies” (CC). More amazing digital illustrations on his Flickr Stream.