By Suma Varughese
When you stop fretting about time, you actually get more done
If there is one power that has enslaved me over the years, it is time. I have always experienced time as the tyrant that hustled and bustled me beyond my endurance, leaving me harried, fretful and stressed beyond measure.
And unfortunately the more it pressured me, the more I ran away from its clutches, putting off those pressing deadlines, dallying over the duties that cried to be done, and shrugging off the many obligations that crowded on me.
The paradox is that the more one struggles in the dreaded grip of the tyrant, the less one gets done. I recall always being in a hurry to do things, and therefore doing them badly and having to redo them. I recall never really taking the time to think, or to absorb my surroundings and situation. Something always seemed to be crying to be done, and there was always the foreboding fear that I would not get around it. Often, the pressure would get so intense that I would not be able to focus on the work, and instead worry about the awful consequence of the aborted deadline.
It has therefore been a long and arduous struggle to get on top of time, to get to a state of peace and ease where I had my work, and therefore my life, under control, where every moment stretched out long and luxuriously, and where I could amble through life at my own pace.
I could not have chosen a better apprenticeship in time mastery than to take over the editorship of a magazine – this one. All magazines work to exacting deadlines. You have no option but to fill the pages, and to do them within unforgiving time schedules.
I shall not bore you with the details of my travails, but they were intense. However, as one learnt to climb the monthly editorial mountain – starting off peacefully and with the feeling that one has plenty of time, and then as the altitude gets higher, increasing your pace and pushing on until one is literally gasping for breath as one touches the summit, with barely moments to spare – one slowly acquired the lessons on which time management devolves.
One memorable lesson took place a couple of years ago while I slaved over a special issue. I wanted it to be truly special but as usual, everything went wrong, including the fact that my only colleague went on leave. Facing the prospect of bringing out the issue on my own, I quivered with anxiety, until I got a satori. What if I stopped worrying about the deadline, and simply focused on doing what I could, bit by bit? And it worked. My mind stayed in the moment, I found myself enjoying the process of producing the issue, and the deadline wasn’t perilously infringed either.
Since then, I have not been in dread of the deadline. I see it as a flexible tool, not as an executioner waiting to strike me dead the moment I crossed it.
Another lesson that I have learnt somewhere along the way, is that accepting the consequences of procrastination frees me of fear of it. And I am then more liable to do the work within the expected time. What you resist persists, says that ancient truth, and the more I resisted the fear of procrastination, the more profound it grew.
A third lesson is currently shimmering in my consciousness, having offered itself to me during a fairly long break I treated myself to last month. As I relished the freedom of not having a deadline, time settled down to a more relaxed framework. Oddly enough, the more relaxed I was, the more I got down to doing. I have now resumed my work with this one mantra on my lips: “I have plenty of time.”
It’s amazing what a difference this mantra makes. Instead of frantically attacking each task without method, order, or planning, the notion that I have time enables me to prioritise, and to work purposefully through my tasks. It frees me of the internal tussle between the inner tyrant who reminds me that I am running out of time, and the recalcitrant child that responds to pressure by abdicating responsibility.
I am also learning not to resist work. When I simply tackle it instead, it feels weightless. Now I understand how great people achieve such momentous tasks. They simply don’t think about it. They just do it.
As the mantra percolates into my being, I like to think that I am looking into a vista that is more peaceful, joyful, and leisurely. A future in which time will be a friend and not the disciplinarian it has been for so long. Ultimately, I must acknowledge that time has been a good teacher.
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