Tips for expanding time

Every now and then I read a book and some concept in it really sticks with me. This time it was “The Divine Circle of Ladies Making Mischief” by Dolores Stewart Riccio. In this book are a circle of 5 women, and each of them has various “talents”. It’s a series, and in this book it comes out that one of them seems to have the ability of expanding time to encompass whatever she has to do – rather than the other way around (doing only what we think we have time for). In the book there may be some magickal means at play; however, when pressed, she gives only one explanation for her inexplicably prodigious output.

She explains that we spend too much time thinking about what to do, or how to avoid doing it, and not enough time just doing it. She goes on to suggest immediately beginning whatever it is that needs doing, without giving it even a moment’s thought – because those moments get ahold of you, and before you know it, you’ve spent half an hour avoiding doing it, or thinking of all the other things that maybe you should be doing instead, or what have you – none of which gets anything done. Could it be that simple?

I’ve been thinking about this off and on ever since. We live in a world where distractions are greater than ever. Scientists have found that there really isn’t any such thing as multi-tasking, as the conscious brain can only focus on one thing at a time. People don’t get more done, in fact, it takes time to switch between tasks and they actually get less done due to the refocusing time, however slight, that occurs each time the mind moves from one thing to another – not to mention the mistakes that get made due to lack of concentration. And this all assumes that you’re doing anything at all in the first place.

The other day I was driving to a meeting and my mind was bouncing around between three topics, two work-related and one personal. I realized at some point that my thinking was totally useless – I wasn’t staying on any one topic long enough to get anywhere, and I wasn’t paying attention to my driving. A multi-tasking failure if ever there was one. This brings up the other half of what I believe to be the two rules of expanding time:

1) When you have time to do something, do the first thing that comes to mind, without a second’s thought. Don’t think about whether you should do it, if there is something more important to do, etc. This just gives your mind time to come up with ways of procrastinating. That thing is most likely coming to mind first because it needs to get done, but often it isn’t getting done because there’s something difficult or unpleasant about it, or it’s a big job. Just do it. Trust that there will be plenty of time later in the day to do anything else that needs to be done. Now you are not wasting time getting started or procrastinating, and your available time is expanding. The job will take just as much time no matter how long you dither around getting started, and that makes it seem to take much longer than it really does.

2) While you are doing a task, think about that task, and only that task. This is really hard. We are programmed to think about many different things at once, the next item on the list, what our co-worker said yesterday, what may happen at work tomorrow, etc. Don’t – give your task its full attention. Give yourself reassurance that all those things are not important now and can be set aside. There is a lifting of responsibility that happens when you say this to yourself that is rather nice. Just say “I’m making dinner now, I don’t need to think about that until later.” Be present and mindful in each task. Take the time to savor the smells of cooking, to get involved in the details of a project so that it gets done right the first time, to drive carefully. Now your time expands because you are not trying to multitask and your brain is not having to refocus continually from one thing to another. You won’t forget what you were doing, or where you were on it, or be tempted to timewaste for a while reading e-mail. If something else is really intruding on your consciousness that you think is important to remember, write down that note or task to come back to later.

As soon as you are done with one task, do the next one that comes to mind. Continue throughout the day like this, and it is amazing how fast things get done. And yes, this is not just for work and chores. Your next thing may be a book you’ve been wanting to read, a yoga or stretch break, or your morning walk through the neighborhood. Be present and mindful in those activities also, rather than letting your mind drift to the next unpleasant task. Then these breaks and fun activities will be much more enjoyable and rejuvenating.

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3 thoughts on “Tips for expanding time

  1. Gretchen says:

    What a wonderful post! I am trying to learn how to do this. It’s weird how addictive multitasking (or attempting to, more like it) can be, but it really is pleasant to just do something singlemindedly.

  2. Mike says:

    I have noticed that by being “in the moment” one can make time stop. Or at least is seems to stop- I don’t think it really does stop, of course. Still, easier said than done, and I’ve rarely been able to do it. But in such moments, I’ve felt fully alive.

  3. Bill says:

    This is really wonderful. It reminds me very much Thich Nhat Hanh’s description of mindfulness in Zen. Anything you do can be a meditation if you put all of your attention into it and are mindful, in the moment.

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