Friday, October 02, 2015

Time Sponges

Time goes by...
Sometimes time goes by so slowly, as Madonna and The Righteous Brothers remind us, but we all know the phrase that time flies when you're having fun. 

I'm sure that if we're honest with ourselves, in these days of endless distraction we probably spend far too long passing the time doing not much more than looking at a screen! 

"There's no such thing as free time, there's no such thing as down time, there's no such thing as spare time there's only lifetime"  (Mike and Isabella Russell)

It's funny how we like to compartmentalise our life. Dividing it up into easy to understand sections, like a GCSE revision chart, or a job where you have to punch your card in and out. I only had one job where I needed to punch my card in at the beginning and end of each shift, and these days the work I do is more outcome oriented. 
"It's funny how we like to compartmentalise our life."
Punching in...
But, as the quote above suggests, life isn't so easily divisible nowadays. The lines between, say, work and leisure, are blurry - especially with the pressure in so many areas to be constantly available. 

We rarely punch in and punch out of situations any more, and although this has the potential to give us more time, it's more likely that we just spend our time in the margins less wisely.

My father in law told me that when he worked in the local Council in the late 60s and early 70s work time was very delineated. You started on the hour in the morning, there was a set time for lunch and a set leaving time.

Because of this, even if you got to work early you didn't start work until the designated time, maybe reading the newspaper or chatting to colleagues instead. At lunch time there was a plethora of clubs and activities to join in with - all kinds of sports and leisure.

But all of this came to an abrupt stop when flexi time was introduced around 1973 or so. Suddenly people were freed of the burden of clock time and could undertake their hours more conveniently. If their bus got them to work twenty minutes early they could start early and leave early. All of a sudden people took shorter lunchbreaks, as it was their own time they were redeeming. The days of the clubs and societies were over.
"So how do we redeem the time we take for granted in our own lives?"
So how do we redeem the time we take for granted in our own lives? So often I get sucked into the quicksand of social media and put off the things I really want to do. Even as I write this post I've started hours later than planned having been distracted by a rugby world cup match and checking what's been going on in my friends' social media lives (answer, not much since I last checked).

Avoid the time sponge!
Happily I finally got writing but it took an effort of will! Not so long ago my wife and I came up with a way to postpone collapsing in a social media stupor in the lounge each evening after getting the kids bathed and in bed.

Rather than sitting straight down, which was deadly for lethargy (although not unjustified - raising kids and working for your crust IS tiring) we made an agreement that as soon as the kids were down we'd each spend an hour doing something productive instead.

So my wife crocheted for example, while I practised an instrument or made progress on my latest project in the workshop, or we went to the allotment, or worked in the garden. It was surprisingly effective! I'm not sure quite when we got out of the habit...

Sometimes the hardest thing is getting started isn't it? I'm the master of doing other things as a means of prevaricating - having a shave, doing the washing up... all good things but not necessarily the activity I really need to do! (Sometimes I feel like I need to psyche myself up for it though, especially if it's a complex piece of DIY).
"Sometimes the hardest thing is getting started isn't it?"
We're better in bursts...
A well known way to get started on something is to apply what's known as the Pomodoro technique - in essence giving something your full attention for twenty minutes and setting a timer to let you know when to stop.

The idea is that you have a short break after each session, then after every three or four have a longer break. I've never followed it to the letter, but setting aside a deliberate twenty minute timeslot has worked wonders for unblocking the paralysis of indecision and apathy.

Another exponent of short bursts was Charlotte Mason, a 19th century educator whose philosophy we follow as we home educate our kids.

She was in favour of short, focused lessons or learning periods, linked to how long children could productively concentrate. We find this works well in terms of keeping our kids' attention in our studies and activities during the week.

I must be clear that I'm not saying all of this so that we can all become uber prodcutive "maximise every minute" people. We all need downtime, plenty of sleep and periods to really let our brain switch off. We need to make space for quiet, contemplation and centring.
"I don't want your life or mine to become an endless to-do list"
I don't want your life or mine to become an endless to-do list, instead redeeming our time is about making sure we're investing the right amount of time in activities which are taking us in the right direction - towards our dreams, ambitions and goals. Little and often trumps bingeing every time - not just with diets but in many areas of our life - skill acquisition in particular.

"Great things are not done by impulse but by a series of small things brought together"- Van Gogh

It's hard not to finish with a carpe diem, seize the day type call to action - but as Van Gogh reminds us, it's not really about the big stuff but about the little stuff. So in what little ways can you avoid the time sponge of distraction this week and pop the prevarication balloon in your life?


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