Time management secrets of Attila the Hun & the Zen Master
Photo: Micaela Parente / Unsplash
We are in the office of Mr. Attila, the well-known CEO of The Huns, an organization whose aggressive approach to growth is now legendary. Everything here at The Huns’ headquarters oozes power. A pile of skulls in a corner is a tasteful reminder of the organization’s famous “take no prisoners” style.
Wasting no time, we dive into the heart of the matter: Which time management apps does Mr. Attila use on his smartphone?
We do not have time to complete this sentence. Attila’s withering look says it all. He has about as much use for apps as he has for the MBA’s he eats for breakfast.
Does he use any time management tools? Attila brandishes his sword and spits on the sharp blade. Hmm. Oh yes, of course: it’s all about clear-cut decisions.
Visiting Zen Master
We now move to another scene. We are in Zen Master’s serene abode. Talk about having a clean desk: there is no desk in the room. No chair either. Zen Master is sitting on a cushion, calm, focused. But, when he hears our question, he erupts into rollicking laughter.
We ask, chastened: If he has no use for time management tools, does he, at least, have any words of advice? “Do what needs doing,” he says. “And, when you do it, be fully present.”
Wow! Both Attila and Zen Master have been so inspiring, so relevant to us. We sure will remember their wise words as we face computer screens in our cubicles! Thank you so much!
Back at the office
However, back at the office, we discover that we have some difficulty translating these words of wisdom into practical steps. So we use our computer to reach the mighty Amazon, and we ask for advice about time management. And mighty this Amazon is, indeed. There are over 100,000 books on the topic. This topic must surely be one of the most arcane fields of study known to humanity!
Now we begin to understand why so few of us feel any good at managing our time: It would take several lifetimes to study all the literature on the topic, let alone figure out a way to put all this information to practical use.
We know it’s hopeless to attempt to read all the time management literature exhaustively. Nevertheless, we decide to take the plunge and to see what some of these books have to say.
At first, we feel daunted by the variety of approaches. It seems that just about every author speaks a different language, and uses a different set of concepts.
Daunting, but exciting. Little by little, patterns begin to emerge.
These books reveal to us is that it is not time that we manage: there is no way to speed up or slow down the pace of time.
What we can manage is how we use time. That is, how we make decisions on what to do. Which is what Attila had told us.
These books also remind us of what our friendly Zen Master had said: the secret of effective time management is to do what needs doing and do it well.
Why then are so many books written about something that is so widely known already? The devil is in the details.
A moment-by-moment challenge
We already know the theory about what we should be doing to manage our time better. Or, at least, when told what to do, we realize that we already knew.
The problem is that we don’t do what we know we should be doing. So how can we practice what we preach?
Our challenge is to pay attention moment by moment, to notice when we are not doing what we know we should be doing. Throughout the day, we have opportunities to make decisions about what to do and not to do. And to notice how wholeheartedly we are engaged in what we do.
As we put our attention to this, we change our patterns. Not only do we accomplish more of what we want, but we also feel more satisfied with the way we do it.
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