Life at The Speed of Right
I was about 21 when I started my entrepreneurial journey.
When you start a business in your 20s you don’t quite have the experience to understand what happens when you inevitably get stretched too thin. When you try to do too much too fast on too little sleep quality suffers all the way around.
Over the course of a few years, it gradually dawned on me that quality in business and relationships are both connected to time management. A few years after that, I began to realize that traditional time management is a myth. Time isn’t something you manage, it just is.
I shifted my focus to what I called priority management. One productivity guru I read at the time described it as putting things in four buckets, the things that are urgent and important, the things that are urgent but not important, the things that are important but not urgent and the things that are neither. The goal of priority management is to delegate the things that are urgent but not important and forget about the things that are neither so that you can concentrate your time on the things that are both or merely important. Over time the goal is to reduce the urgency of things so that you can concentrate on important matters with less stress in your life.
Lately though I’ve begun to realize that priority management doesn’t really work either. There are too many competing factors and what one person deems important or urgent isn’t often the same as what you do. Instead, as I have begun to explore what I can only characterize as Zen Spirituality I’ve started to settle on an entirely different understand of time. Time management is still a myth but urgency is really just a matter of perspective.
What it comes down to is doing the right thing at the right time with the right level of intensity. Or as the Italians say, Tempo (pace) Giusto (proper).
The question then becomes, what exactly is “right” when it comes to the timing and intensity of the work you do?
Spiritual author and teacher John Mark Comer once had the chance to meet one of his heroes, the theologian and author Dallas Willard. Like any aspiring author/ theologian, Comer wanted to know how Willard the master, managed to maintain a busy teaching schedule while at the same time penning several best-selling books and travelling the world as a sought-after public speaker.
Comer was expecting to hear a detailed explanation of Willard’s time management system, instead what he heard were three words that turned the whole idea of time management on its head and changed the trajectory of his life. When Comer asked Willard for the secret to his incredible productivity Willard paused for an uncomfortably long time and finally said,
You must, ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.Dallas Willard
Comer wrote that down and hurriedly asked, “what else?” Willard paused again and very slowly said, “There is nothing else.”
Hurry, among other things, sucks the joy out of the room, distorts priorities, causes mistakes and ultimately ends up increasing the time it takes to complete a given task. It may sound counterintuitive but hurrying through life is detrimental to long term productivity and satisfaction.
After that interview Comer embarked on a years long study of productivity and found that there are four keys to “ruthlessly eliminating hurry” and increasing productivity. They are, according to Comer, Silence, Sabbath, Simplicity and Slowing.
Over the years, I’ve tried meditation several times and in different ways, but nothing really stuck. My mind tends to race and nothing I do seems to be able to calm it. What I have found instead is that the simplest and most effective way for me to relax is to just live, in personal solitude. I get up at 5:45 every morning and spend the first 45 minutes to an hour of every day in absolute silence. Depending on my mood I might pray, read, or just sit quietly and think. What I am doing with my mind is secondary to the fact that it is done in complete silence. Without the distraction of sound, I tend to find a level of calm that I can carry with me throughout the rest of the day.
Once a week, usually on Saturdays, I take silence to the next level. I shut down everything that is remotely work related and spend a day doing as much, or as little as I feel like with no agenda. Read a book, tend the garden, listen to music, watch a movie, go for a long walk, or take a nap. One day a week of complete mental rest, even if I am physically active, helps to cleanse me of all the residue of the world.
When faced with a complex task most productivity gurus will tell you to break it down into a series of smaller, simpler tasks. The smaller and simpler the better. Anxiety is often the result of an inability to see the small and simple tasks in the shadow of the large and daunting one. The more we can break a task down, the more productivity becomes a matter of doing the little things consistently. Over time this series of successfully completed tasks add up and compound until before you know it, and without working yourself to exhaustion, you’ve completed something great.
Accuracy is always attainted by first slowing down. I type a lot and I always find that when I type more slowly, I make fewer mistakes. That’s a simple example but it’s an easy one for most people to recognize. When you race ahead, you may get somewhere quickly but then be forced to go back and retrace over the same ground again. That’s a lesson most of us learned in elementary school. Do it right the first time and you won’t have to waste time doing it again later. If you want to eliminate the perceived need to hurry, do it slowly and accurately the first time.
There you have it. Ruthlessly, eliminate hurry and live life tempo giusto. You will save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress and still get lots done. I promise.
PS – This post took me 12 days to write. There was no hurry.