Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about a time management video (yes, video) I saw back in the mid-1980’s.In that video, there is a beautiful scene where a man is fly fishing in a sun-dappled stream surrounded by green woods and a golden meadow.He is casting his line slowly and carefully to a rhythm that is obviously his own.He is lost in that world and time has, for that moment, become irrelevant to him.
Contrast that scene with a typical workday, when from the moment you wake up to a ringing alarm until you go to bed, time is a constant.You get up at a certain time, you leave for work and arrive at a certain time, you have scheduled meetings, phone calls, lunch appointments.In the evening, if you’re watching TV, your shows come on at a certain time.You may have another scheduled meeting or dinner engagement.We are ruled by the clock.
One of the main points of the video I mentioned is that this reliance on scheduled, structured time is antithetical to the way our bodies work.Just as there are rhythms and cycles in nature (day and night, the change of the seasons), our bodies have rhythms of their own that are not dictated by the hours in the day.We have our own circadian rhythms (cycles of sleep and wakefulness) and ultradian rhythms (a cycle of rest and activity that occurs every 90 – 120 minutes during our waking hours).Nature and our genetic makeup play a part in shaping our unique rhythms.
In our non-stop culture, it’s easy to ignore our bodies’ rhythms.We have caffeine to keep us awake and sleep aids to help us sleep.But ignoring these rhythms puts our health at risk and surprisingly it also puts our productivity and effectiveness at risk.We need unstructured time to be able to perform at our best.That unstructured time rests us, restores us and gives us the ability to go on.If we don’t give it to ourselves, our bodies end up taking it in one form or another.It could be getting to the point where our concentration falters and it starts taking us longer and longer to get something done.It might take the form of an exhausted evening where we are too tired to connect or create.It might take the form of a greater susceptibility to everyday illnesses or, more seriously, a long-term health issue.
Of course vacations can be a fantastic way to rest.I love vacations where the entire weekend or week is unstructured.I get up, eat, exercise, engage when my body wants to.But we don’t have to go on a long vacation to get the restorative power of unstructured time.In our waking hours, we are able to keep our full attention on a task for a 90 – 120 minute interval.After that, our minds start to wander and we have more difficulty concentrating.If we pay attention to that natural cycle of activity and rest, we can give ourselves very short breaks during the day where time can stand still.An absorbing book at lunch, a two minute breathing exercise or meditation, a brisk walk outside, giving our full attention to a song we love—all these take away the clock, even if it’s only for a moment.With that break, we can engage again at a high productivity level until our body says it’s time for another break.
In what ways can you lose yourself today?Isn’t ironic that by stopping for just a minute you can actually accomplish more?