When I think about time management I smile. Time is what it is. What we manage is ourselves. Time management is self-management, energy management. If I only have so much energy, where do I focus it? So this is really a conversation about Purpose.
In Aikido, we have a free-style sparring practice called "randori," in which the student stands alone on the practice mat and as many as five opponents attack simultaneously. The term literally means "chaos taking." The workplace—and life—can feel like this. Which task, event, or relationship do I take on first? How do I manage the chaos?
The first secret of randori is to handle one adversary at a time. I can't be overcome by the enormity of what's out there. I must stay fully present with the person in front of me, and with the next, and the next. It's hard to do because you can see them coming, but it saves time, energy, and wear and tear!
Secret #2 is to choose. As they come toward me, I decide which opponent I want to engage first, second, third, and so on. I move toward each in turn, always aware of the larger picture. As I meet, receive, and join their energy, I am fully present. I mentally and physically change from feeling that things are happening to me to making things happen.
Planning a meeting, organizing a project, getting the budget in on time, and hiring a new administrative assistant—if taken together can seem overwhelming, but when you move purposefully toward each one, with full attention, all are doable, even enjoyable.
How to stay balanced, efficient, and in control of your time? In the midst of life's multiple, simultaneous events:
- Know that each can be an assault or an offering—your choice.
- Engage one task, one person, one responsibility at a time.
- Every time you experience the pressure of "How can I possibly do it all?"—stop and be present to this moment, instead of where you were or where you’re going, and give your relaxed attention to the task at hand.
I have an ongoing conflict with time. There never seems to be enough. And yet there is. Both personally and professionally, I periodically address this conflict and ask if where I’m spending my time and energy reflects who I am and my greater life purpose. As Annie Dillard said:
"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."
We all need to revisit our time management on occasion, because it forces us to ask the important questions that must be asked if we’re going to create the life—the organization, the school, or the company—we want, one that is uniquely ours and that we love. Our ultimate power is not to control time but to appreciate it and to learn from how we operate in it.
Gradually you'll feel in charge of the only things you can be in charge of—yourself and the present moment.