Many of us lead hectic lives, feeling pressured, harried or overwhelmed by responsibilities and obligations.
In his book The Secret Pulse of Time, Stefan Klein argues that the culprit is modern society itself. The pace of life has accelerated over the past few decades. And so has the pressure to succeed in many ways.
Even leisure time can be fraught, as we are faced with almost limitless opportunities, making it tough to decide how to best spend our time.
Klein recommends six steps to avoid being a slave to the clock, regain control of your time and live a more relaxed life:
- Take sovereignty over your time. Many of us have a tendency to load up our schedules unnecessarily. Even when we get home from work, many of us are still taking business calls or checking email. Yet much of this work is unessential or can wait until the next day.If you find you don’t have time to relax, the first step is to break out of your routine. Plan your days – and weeks – more effectively. Set boundaries between work and home.
- Live in harmony with your biological clock. Our genes determine whether we are early birds or night owls. For example, I know I do my best work in the morning. If I get waylaid early in the day by non-work-related activities, it takes me twice as long to meet my deadlines in the late afternoon or evening.Psychologists say you can accomplish more in less time and make fewer mistakes by conforming your daily routine to your inner circadian rhythm.
- Cultivate leisure time. The world seems to be made up of two types of people – those who must be goaded to work and those who need to be reminded to stop. The latter often develop the unconscious habit of believing that an hour without anything accomplished is an hour wasted.But that’s not true. We all need to relax to achieve some balance. As Klein writes, “Two hours at a café without a cellphone, travel, a stroll, music, gardening, the almost forgotten art of conversation – all of these are occasions to modify the pace of life. Leisure does not simply happen when there is a lull in our crowded schedule. We have to create it actively.”
- Experience the moments. We all spend the majority of our time thinking about the future or reminiscing about the past rather than lingering in the present moment. It’s a tough habit to break. But the present moment is all we have… or ever will have.Our resistance to this notion is partly cultural. In the West, we tend to think in terms of efficiency and productivity. It’s different in the East. The Japanese tea ceremony, for example, exists so that participants can calm down and sharpen their senses, leaving their worries at the door. It is a reminder that life isn’t just a race against time.
- Be single-minded. Americans are famous for doing two things at once. We answer our email while listening to a conference call. We watch TV while having lunch. We drive down the road while nattering on the phone (or, worse, while texting).We think we’re multi-tasking. But are we really doing any of these things well? Every time you turn your attention from one problem to another, you interrupt your train of thought. Important information vanishes from your working memory. Most of us can do better work in less time by concentrating on the most important task at hand and eliminating distractions.
- Set your priorities. Life is mostly about making good choices and tradeoffs. Do you want to be the best real estate agent or the best father? Do you want to earn a higher income, or spend more time outdoors or getting in shape? It’s tough to excel in one area without giving short shrift to another.Only you can decide what is most important. You may be happier working at a Red Cross event than a corporate function. You might get more satisfaction spending time with your family rather than pursuing that corner office. (After all, it won’t be your boss and coworkers weeping when you’re gone.)
Your life revolves around the calendar and the clock. But it shouldn’t be dictated by them.
Studies show that continual time pressures create stress – and chronic stress affects your quality of life, undermines your health and lowers your life expectancy.
So it never hurts to slow down, prioritize and plan your leisure, and take a moment to appreciate the many people and blessings that surround you.