At work the other day, I caught myself clock-watching. It was almost quitting time and I had one more item to take care of. Instead of just focusing on doing the work, I had to fight the urge to calculate how much remained to be done, divide by the number of minutes remaining, carry the two. That sort of thing.
In other words, I was thinking about making more work for myself, rather than less. Why? For some reason I wanted to know the exact minute I could shut down my computer, put on my coat, leave the office, and walk (or possibly run) to the bus stop.
It was the sheer silliness of that moment that inspired this post.
Modern society is full of time pressures. Public transit runs on a schedule, as do most group events ranging from concerts to sporting matches to religious services. Employers may choose to reward our work in terms of hours spent in the office, and even salaried employees are expected to be available at predictable times.
With the clock holding such an elevated position in our lives, it’s no wonder that it can be a source of anxiety. I hate being late for anything, and when I feel rushed it has a negative impact on whatever I’m doing. It’s a bit easier when the cause of the lateness is not something that can be controlled, such as bad weather or a traffic jam, but when my actions can influence the situation those actions can become rushed, clumsy, even angry.
This is usually when I give my head a shake, take a deep breath, and regroup. If I’m not leaving till I’m done, might as well concentrate on doing the best work rather than the fastest. I have a saying: “It takes just as long to hit the right key as to hit the wrong one.” That realization did wonders for my typing, not to mention my piano playing and a few other skills dependent on hand-eye coordination. Once you hit the proper cadence, awkward movements smooth out and speed develops naturally.
(As an aside, I’d like to comment on another aspect of time management, specifically the two minute rule described by David Allen in the book Getting Things Done. In essence, if you can complete a task in two minutes, just do it rather than scheduling it. I ran into this tonight when doing a sewing project: I needed a metal weight for the end of a cord so I went down to the basement, clamped a nail in the bench vise, and cut the required piece right then and there, rather than putting it off for tomorrow.)
So what’s to be done about this time lunacy that permeates our lives? At very least, try to mute the internal Voice of Impending Doom and get back into the present moment, because that’s the only place anything actually gets done. It’s not always easy — it’s a process, not a quick fix — but it gets easier with practice.