For all the time saving devices we have, time always seems to remain in short supply. A fault perhaps of our perceptions and expectations, rather than anything to do with time itself.
In the busyness of our lives, we forget that time is neutral, it cares little how we occupy our time, indeed time does not get anxious or judge us if we do nothing with it. We, on the other hand are skilled experts at judging time and our use of it. A good day is when we get through our list of “to do’s” and can sit back and congratulate ourselves on what we have achieved. A bad day is when we are interrupted constantly by people who do not realise how busy we are. We are a success when we achieve what we set out to achieve in the time limit we have set. We are a failure or worse, we are lazy if we are not successful in achieving what we want to do in the time we have allocated.
It seems, the more time saving devices we purchase, the higher our expectations of what we should be able to do and squeeze into our time. To manage these higher expectations, we try to structure time in more efficient ways, thinking by becoming more skilled with our time management we will be more efficient and effective. Yet, this rarely occurs.
With COVID-19 and lockdowns, zoom meetings or meetings on other platforms became part of our daily life. On the positive side these meetings allowed staff to engage with each other when they were working from home and isolated. On the negative side, the number of meetings multiplied and often there were little to no outcomes as staff were not able to do actual work because of the multiplicity of meetings. It was not long before articles were being written about the negative effects of zoom meetings particularly in terms of people’s levels of fatigue and also their sense of connection or more accurately the disconnection they felt through technology.
The time saving effect of zoom meetings and our attempts to structure meetings to get the most out of them did not simplify our lives. If anything, they added to the fatigue and tiredness we experienced during COVID lockdowns.
We remain harried and stressed trying to improve our time management skills to be the most efficient, somehow convinced the better our time management skills are, the better we are as managers, directors, supervisors, employees, and parents.
This is to do with the judgements we make about ourselves, our concern to be seen as productive, to be known as hard workers, to achieve outcomes or the KPI’s. As stated at the beginning, time is impervious to whether we are productive. Time has no concept of and is unaffected by whether we are or are not a hard worker.
Perhaps rather than trying to structure our time for greater efficiency what we actually need to do is to simplify our use of time. To learn the art of subtraction rather than adding things into our day.
We often talk about how we would love to have a day, or a few days to do nothing, yet while the idea may attract us, the reality of it scares us, for we think, “what would we do?”
The space of stillness, of nothingness scares us. I was listening to an interview the other day about our use of technology. The interviewers acknowledged they felt uncomfortable standing in a line waiting for coffee doing nothing, so they would start scrolling through their social media while they were waiting, so they were at least doing something.
The thought of standing in line doing nothing scared them, more than the anxiety produced by constantly scrolling through social media.
The fear of stillness, of being present in the moment. Yet it is this stillness we need.
We need stillness and the space of doing nothing to allow our bodies time to return to a state of rest. We are constantly restless. We wonder why we have difficulty sleeping when our days have spent constantly inundated with stimuli and stress. We need the spaces of stillness to allow our bodies to return to a state of calm and rest.
We need stillness and space to listen to ourselves. Wise leaders give themselves space and times of quiet, so they hear their own wisdom. Inexperienced leaders are always listening to others, the next person who claims to have “the answer”, the next thing that promises to provide a solution. People and products can be helpful in our journey as leaders; however, people and products must be balanced with the deep wisdom we have within ourselves. A wisdom that takes space and quiet to hear.
We need stillness and space to hear our judgements about ourselves. We never stop to assess the validity of the judgements we make about ourselves. We become so caught up in the apparent truth we ascribe to our own judgements. We think we are inefficient with our time because we cannot achieve everything, we set out to achieve. We never think that perhaps the problem is not that we are inefficient, simply we are trying to do too much. We need to simplify our lives so we can hear and assess the judgements we make about ourselves.
We do not achieve these necessities by structuring our time more, but rather by simplifying our use of time, by creating space, by stopping, listening, observing. In this way, we become effective as people and as leaders.