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  • Writer's picturePeter Stadalsky

A Zen Approach to Time-Management

So you’re walking a tightrope. Well, running actually because you’re late. You’ve got to keep your eyes on your feet so you don’t fall but your appointment is about to start just at the other platform. Between trying to balance, focus, and hurry you’re a nervous wreck. You decide to take a leap of faith and you jump for the edge but you miscalculated (even though your life coach said you’d make it). You fall to the ground and splatter across the floor like a bowl of cereal.

A buddhist walks up and extends his arm to help you up. You take his offer and start checking your business jacket for tears. Examining your sleeve you notice the time. You’ve still got to make that appointment and you’re late! You look up at the monk and say, “Thanks for helping me, but I have to go. I’m late for my appointment and I have to get all the way up there,” pointing to the platform, 5 stories up. “Do you know the fastest way?” you ask.

The buddhist slowly looks up up at the platform and then back at you. “Yes, I do.” he responds.

“Well, then tell me,” you say.

“If you slow down, focus only on your steps and forget about your appointment you can make it across that rope in 10 minutes,” he said.

“That’s absurd,” you exclaim. “What if I do everything you say but double my speed?”

The monk pondered for a moment and replied,

“That will take you 20 minutes.”


Everyone is late once in a while, life happens. You can’t always plan for a flat tire or catching a cold. But what about us, who feel like there is never enough time to meet our deadlines? Every project is last second and we are eating dinner while driving in our cars. Valuable things like family, hobbies and alone time need to be “squeezed in.” Relaxation time is trimmed, counted while watching television, or cut altogether.

It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO, a mom, carpenter, musician or a real estate agent. We all run into the same problem: not enough time. If only there was one more hour, or you could be two places at once. If only we could make it and without all the stress.

Here is a more Zen approach to create more time in your life:

1. Slow Down

“The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” Lao Tsu

If you want more time in your life, you’ve got to slow down. This seems paradoxical because in theory you can get more done if you move faster. A constant “busy-body” produces a busy mind. A busy mind is filled with clutter. When your head is messier than a daycare toy room it’s hard to find the things you need, when you need them. Slowing down your mind allows it to process more efficiently. A car won’t last very long if you have the pedal to the floor every running moment. The same applies to your brain, give it a rest and it will perform better for you, and last longer too.

My grandfather used to say, “let’s hurry up everybody. Hurry up so we can wait!” Part of me believes that because life is short we want to rush to get the most out of it. The major issue is our minds always look towards the next toy or big adventure. And when that short event passes, we want to fast-forward to the next. All these big time leaps makes life fly by. Essentially, the theory of “faster” gives us less time.

Simply making a decision that you want a less cluttered mind won't do much. Make time in your day to:

  • Go on a walk, maybe in nature.

  • Sit out in the backyard, and just watch a bird for a while. Try not to identify the model, make and year of that bird either - labeling and analyzing makes our minds busy again.

  • Or have a cup of tea and sit for a moment.

2. Single-Tasking

“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.” Alan Watts

When we multi-task we divert our attention and reduce our ability to perform at our highest potential. Not only does it increase the number of mistakes we make, it also takes longer to get everything done. Focusing our attention on one thing allows us to give it our full care and reduces the amount of time to finish.

You can always tell when you’re talking on the phone to someone who is multi-tasking. “Yeah, uhuh, sure, yeah.” is all you hear.

“So, Richard, I got fired today.

“Yeah, uhuh, sure, yeah.”

“And then my girlfriend dumped me.”

“Yeah, uhuh, sure, yeah.”

“Even my dog won’t let me pet her. I’m a loser now.”

“Yeah, uhuh, sure, yeah.”

And if you are “Richard” you know that while on that phone call you weren’t doing a very good job on whatever the heck you were multi-tasking.

If we really care about our affairs, then they deserve all our attention; not some diluted clone of ourselves. One insidious killer is constantly checking our phones. We’re all guilty of being that quiet group at the restaurant, heads tilted down, falling into glowing screens. Slowly, one megabyte at a time, it infects our relationships. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone at a coffee shop eat a bagel without simultaneously wielding a phone in a long, long time.

Ways to limit continuous phone interference is by checking them at an appropriate time - like at home. Or when everyone does their most inspirational Twitter quotes - on the toilet. There are apps out now that restrict social media usage at certain times, if you need a heavier constraint.

  • When’s the last time you didn’t check your phone at work? (Your employer would

probably appreciate not paying you for selfies anyways.

  • When’s the last time you ate without a phone, computer, television or radio?

  • When’s the last time you gave a conversation 100% of your attention?

We can live better, one thing at a time.

3. The More of Less

“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” Dave Ramsey

Less stress, less debt, less worries, and less clutter. I fail to see the downside here. But we get comfortable in our crap - excessive possessions, negative thoughts, and hectic lives. Most of us won’t have to be extreme and adopt asceticism like Saint Francis of Asisi. Certainly we would benefit from reducing the clutter, negativity, financial-stress and high-blood pressure.

Take a look around whatever room you are in right now (or when you get home). Count how many things you have not touched in the last 3 months and probably won't in another 3 months. What is stopping you from getting rid of it? If you are in your friends house, please don’t start throwing their stuff away because you don’t need it.

The same applies with our time. How many things do we commit to that we have no personal desire for? This is not the green-light for self-centredness, but rather a suggestion to look at priorities. Busy is not necessarily a good thing. We can have a reasonably full schedule with things that have meaning to us, rather than a dreaded jam packed one.

Doing less allows us to do more of the things we enjoy. Homes, obligations and relationships free of chaos will thrive. Those few things that are important deserve our full attention. Sometimes we get caught up in the big picture and forget that we only have to live one day at a time, one situation at a time. When it comes down to just today, life is pretty simple, and we can handle that. Before you set another goal, say yes, or sign up for 40 hours of O.T., ask yourself:


“Don’t just do something, sit there.” Zen Saying

If you were to ask a Zen monk why he sits in zazen (zen meditation) he would reply, “it sit in meditation to sit.”

You may query, “but what is the goal?”

“There is no goal,” he’d respond.

“Then why do you sit?” you ask.

“To practice sitting” he says, with a smile.

With Zen practices like sitting, there is no goal. Attempting to gain something from zazen makes it no longer zazen. The point of sitting for nothing is to break the habit of always needing to gain, add, consume, produce, or benefit. There is an old Taoist expression that the sculptor makes a beautiful statue, not by adding stone, but by carving it away. Carve away all the excess doings in your life and you will be left with something beautiful: more time.

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