I am naturally inclined, or perhaps well-trained, to seek productivity. I want to be efficient, to get things done and progress rapidly across all areas of life. However, there’s an arrogance and ego in that the cosmos quite clearly finds amusing.
Mistaking Schedules for Productivity
It’s a funny thing, how much time we spend planning our lives. We so convince ourselves of what we want to do, that sometimes we don’t see what we’re meant to do.Susan Gregg Gilmore
When I began a systematic effort to improve my consciousness, one of the first things I did was sit down and lay out a schedule for progression. I included specific points of accomplishment in things like this blog, exercise, and points of deeper research. I had it all organized in terms of when, what, and how long was to be given to one thing versus the other. I abandoned that as unreasonable months ago; life had a pattern of giving me new insight and correcting my course along with new challenges and difficulties that made such a schedule difficult to maintain.
Despite learning that a projected timeline made no sense in terms of self-improvement, last month I tried it again only a daily basis. I felt I wasn’t getting enough accomplished in the morning, so I busted out my smartphone and set up a daily schedule. I was to rise at 4am, write and journal, do my meditation, exercise, check the news, then begin my workday. After, I had a specific idea of time to spend with my son, time to improve the house, time to read spiritual material. I understood spirit’s objection to this much sooner than the objection to the calendar though, and thankfully abandoned it after just a few days.
Things get done in their own time. When I write I may perhaps be struck with inspiration and have much more to say than usual. Or perhaps, my mind will find a truth succinct enough that it can be said quickly but must be digested slowly. In meditation, I frequently find there’s a point where I reach a sense of completion, and that almost never coordinates with a set allocation of thirty minutes or an hour. In the same way, artistic endeavors, time with family, time reading, and even time in work shouldn’t be about filling quotas of time. It’s about engaging the task at hand with complete mindfulness, giving it your full attention and best effort – and letting the task state its completion. In our lives, we frequently let our previously-stated intentions or compulsions towards perfection complicate and lessen the quality of what we achieve.
Productivity is a good thing. I don’t want to be an idle man. One of the first and crucial realizations I had was this:
I thought that I was a good man striving for a better future. I awoke one day to the truth that I had been an idle man dreaming of being a good man.
So, I still have work schedules and set timers to make sure I don’t drift far past an hour’s worth of exercise or meditation. But I don’t start and stop things at a specific time. This doesn’t work for my job as a consultant, obviously, or for scheduling coordinated events with family and friends – but those special cases are my exceptions. For those, I tell people when I will be with them, and so I strive simply to fulfill my word. Without angst, without hurry – I let the calendars summon me to those prior commitments I make.
So, live in the moment in your life but also be a person of your word. Make plans of those things you mean to accomplish, but abandon dates and times in relationship to those – imposing artificial deadlines creates a sense of obligation and indebtedness to yourself that’s not compatible with mindfulness. Engage with others in a organized fashion, to clarify expectations and be a reliable contributor to works beyond yourself. If you make a commitment to others or yourself, do your best to keep that commitment – but without guilt, without obligation, and with mindfulness.
Plans versus Planning
In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.Dwight D. Eisenhower
Don’t internalize your calendar! It’s just a temporal list of the commitments you have made, after all. A calendar should just be a list so that you know how full the coming days are in terms of commitments, so that you can make further commitments without overloading your days and creating stress. If it’s not a commitment you’ve made to someone else, it shouldn’t be on a calendar – it should just be on a list. Let your works mature at their own rate. Our minds are not sufficient to know all things that must be done in advance and our emotions shouldn’t sag under the weight of failed expectations.
Fix your eye on the next hill to climb, but don’t mistake the climbing of that hill with your identity. It is enough to say to yourself, “I am one who climbs hills.”
Keep on keeping on,