The Changing Constant

March 18, 2015 at 11:46 am

Of the many unique relationships that man nurtures with objects and ideas, the one he has with time is the most puzzling and enchanting. Unlike the rest of the inhabitants of the planet, we believe we can manipulate time. We can alter perceptions of the past or plan futures. We have even gone as far as to reflect on our time after death. How far have we taken this manipulation and do we really understand what we are manipulating?

Time on a Pedestal. Image Courtesy: Hartwig HKD

Time on a Pedestal. Image Courtesy: Hartwig HKD

I was 16 years old when I attended my first lecture on Time management. With the board exams coming up, the teachers felt it would be a good addition to the curriculum. Looking back now I wonder why they did it so late when I was expected to “manage” my time from the day I joined school. Nevertheless, despite the well intentioned lecture I am still terrible at managing time. I have since read many books, followed many blogs and used all sorts of tools from to-do lists and calendars to Pomodoro apps and personal Kanban boards. Nothing has helped. I am still as bad, only now I am adept with the many ways through which I can track and measure how terrible I really am.

 

My obsession with time was only matched by my curiosity towards it. My father once told me that everybody had the same number of hours in a day and some of them have created greatness with it. That was his way of encouraging me to stop complaining about how less the hours in my day were. It worked for a while. I grew up believing time was the ultimate equalizing force. I realize now I was foolish to believe that. In the world we live in, time is a currency and it has been this way forever. People buy and sell time every single day. Every time we pay someone to do something for us, a chore or a service, we are in fact buying hours from their day and every time we do this for someone else we are selling a part of ours. The richer you are, the more you can get done in a day. We believe “Time is Money” until we start buying it. But to the buyer, “Money is Time”.

  Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them. ~Dion Boucicault

To really understand our relationship with time, we need to understand what time is. Time is change. If you imagine a world with no time, it would be standstill. Nothing would happen there. Now if some change took place in that world, that world has transformed, it is different “now” than it was “before”. This difference can be used to now denote and measure the passage of time. This is how the early man started measuring time. He used things around him that changed at regular intervals to define days and seasons. Over time we invented instruments that did that for us. They changed in some way at regular intervals to denote seconds, minutes and hours. We used these changes to measure other events in our lives and correlate them.

So our relationship with time is essentially our relationship with change.

When we are bad with time management, we turn to other tools to help us simulate discipline. But what these tools fail at is to help us discern what the problem really is. The issue isn’t one of discipline as much as it is an avoidance of change. Resistance to flow with time is really a resistance to change. So instead of using a pomodoro app or a to-do list, what we really should be looking into is, “What is the change that I don’t want happening?” Since I don’t want this change to happen I will try to slow down time, but I cannot really slow down time, so I will opt for the nearest solution: I will delay it. There are many forms of delay and we are well acquainted with all of them. Our education system may not have imbued in us a respect for time management, but what it hasn’t failed at, is in imparting the crucial skill of inventing believable excuses for delay.

Saving Time. Image Courtesy: mbgrigby

Saving Time. Image Courtesy: mbgrigby

 

So if we are consciously causing this delay, aren’t we wasting more time looking for tools that will help us fight the delay? A more noble delay introduced to fight the first that is too hard to deal with. Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t mean all tools are bad. They are great if you are actually using them to sort and prioritize your work. But for someone who is committed to delaying his tasks, prioritizing it isn’t going to help much. In fact over a period of time, it becomes the source of the delay. If a well planned job is a job half done, then all the procrastinator needs is to learn to live with half done jobs. At least he has made a start!

 

I realized the proper way to deal with procrastination wasn’t by forcing discipline or routine. What was needed was courage, not focus. I needed to sit by myself and be willing to look at the change I was resisting so much. What was the worst that could happen and could I stomach it? Once these questions were answered honestly, it was only a matter of courage. After everything is planned out, courage is really just an impulse away and like a roller coaster ride or a jump into the pool, I would much rather get done with it sooner than later. Notice how this changes the relationship with the task completely?

 

Change could be the only constant in life, but the way it affects us isn’t. We live in a world that changes us and is changed by us simultaneously. There is no escaping change. Even if we locked ourselves up in the ivory tower of purchased time, we cannot escape change. What we need to get comfortable with is the uncertainty that comes with change.

 

As much as we try and build security and certainty around us, we can’t really fool ourselves into believing that we have done away with the vicissitudes of life. If we can center ourselves in the chaos of our everyday lives and be OK with it, time management will never again be an issue. We don’t need to survive change; we need to start actively participating in it. That is the only antidote to time management. And if the change does get painful remember the universal adage, “This too shall pass“.

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