Here is an excerpt from an email that I recently received from a friend of mine.
“The last couple of months have been unusually busy (though not necessarily fruitful) for me at work. Days seemed to be packed with demands. The to-do list would often seem longer at the end of a long work day than it had at the beginning. Problems and worries abounded. When I opened my eyes in the morning, my first thoughts were of the to-do list. I suspect that many people struggle with similar situations and the sensation of being terrorized by their to-do list. The list may be work related, but it may also involve taking care of children or parents, regular chores and even things that we impose on our selves like going to a yoga class. We begin to live our whole lives in a hurry, trying desperately to get it all done. Even if we can find a day off, we continue to feel hurried, walking quickly, cleaning the kitchen quickly, brushing our teeth quickly. The habit energy carries on. Perhaps there is a subtle realization that we are not really living in the present moment, that this is not working; but we don’t know how to stop, how to get off the tread mill, or even how to find some peace and happiness in the work that we are doing.”
In his email, my friend suggested that in one of my blog posts I address the issue of the ever-expanding “to-do” lists that most of us are faced with. In today’s ultra-competitive and highly demanding work environment, most of us feel overwhelmed by “too much to do in too little time”. Recent lay-offs have forced people to take on multiple responsibilities with one person carrying out the work that was previously done by two or more people. With increased amounts of time spent at work, it becomes a challenge to balance work and family life. It is easy to see how stress builds up under these circumstances resulting in problems at all levels – physical, physiological, mental and emotional.
I would like to share with you some thoughts on how best we can manage our time effectively using techniques influenced by yogic principles:
- When we set goals, we need to keep the value of “satya” (truthfulness – one of the five yamas) in mind and only strive for achievable, realistic goals. By being truthful to ourselves and to others, we can stay stress-free.
- We need to recognize that by striving to ‘over-achieve’, we are actually hurting ourselves, both physically and emotionally. By keeping the value of “ahimsa” (non-injury – one of the five yamas) in mind, we can prevent physical injury and emotional stress.
- I think the most important of the yogic principles in managing time is “ishvara pranidhana” (surrender to Ishvara – one of the five niyamas). Ishvara Pranidhana involves surrendering the ego (ahamkaara) to a superior principle. By doing that we can continue to do our work (ticking items off the to-do list) without getting attached to any expected outcome of our work. We then develop a sense of relaxed detachment (vairagya) to the results of our actions and yet continue to perform the work to our utmost ability. In the Bhagavad Gita there is a famous shloka (Chapter 2, shloka 47)(“Karmanye va Adhikaraste’ Ma Pphaleshu Kadhachana.” – You have the right to action only, and not to its fruits). What this shloka implies is that we can only put our best effort in every action that we do, but are not the architects of the outcome. The outcome, which is controlled by a multitude of factors, is essentially inherent in the level of effort that we put in. By worrying about the outcome, we are actually depleting our energy which can otherwise be utilized to accomplish more actions.
- Prioritizing the to-do list is very important. After the completion of each task, we may need to re-prioritize our list. However, it is important to tackle always the top item in the list at any time.
- When confronted with a large to-do list, we tend to ‘multi-task’ – taking on more than one activity at the same time. We need to remember that the mind functions in a linear fashion only, even though it may appear to be otherwise. At any given time, there can be only one thought (called ‘pratyaya’ in yoga) in the mind. Similarly, to tackle our to-do list effectively, we need to linearize the actions so that only the most important action is the point of focus at that time. If distracted by other thoughts/activities, we are taking away our energy from the task on hand.
- I found this website which I have found helpful in keeping the most important task in view. It presents an empty, clean page where you can add your to-do list. Once you are done with adding items to the list, it displays only the top item in bold letters. It is a strange site that has no links and no mention of the author etc. – just a clean empty page that constantly reminds us of the task at hand!
- Practicing meditation on a regular basis can bring about clarity of thinking and a oneness of purpose. In Patanjali’s yoga sutra, meditation is the seventh of the eight limbs of yoga, and along with concentration (dharana) and samadhi, it has been used effectively by the yoga practitioners to attain a single-pointedness of the mind. This single-pointedness will help us stay focused on the task at hand and not get distracted by other thoughts/events.
- When confronted with a common distraction like a phone call, a tweet or an email, there is a tendency to give up the current task and get engaged with the distraction. At that point, it is best to add any actionable item dictated by the temporary distraction to the to-do list and continue with the current task.
- A regular yoga practice will help revitalize, energize and relax you. With renewed rejuvenation and a stress-free mind, you will be able to stay focused on the present task.
- Just as we always make time for mundane but essential activities like brushing the teeth, paying bills, take out garbage, eat meals etc., we need to ‘make time’ for our top priority tasks.
I would love to hear from you as to whether and how you are able to manage your time effectively.