If you spend too much time thinking about a thing,
Check lists. Who doesn't abide by them? I must admit that I do. Making lists of the most important tasks and actions I need to finish each day is actually my ideal way to start the day at work. Along with a good cup of coffee or green tea. Preferably on paper, so I can feel the physical satisfaction of crossing them of my list.
The magic of three
A couple years ago I read an article on the Dutch website SoChicken which claimed it is most useful to pick three goals a day to fulfill. Three essential things. The rest was to be extra.
I have found this 'philosophy of three ' very useful and still use it on a daily basis. It has helps me to have a sense of accomplishment each day. Just three important tasks next to all the ad hoc things that come my way. Either at work or in private life. Three is enough, either small or big steps.
This method has brought me a lot of peace and I advised colleagues of mine to do the same. Many of them have embraced this simple way of making (a little) progress each day. But still, my to do lists grew in the back of my mind and I felt a sense of unease growing in the back of my head.
But wait...While I was relaxing on the lovely Dutch island of Terschelling - a perfect place to let go of lists, to-do items and social obligations - I read about the idea of time surfing. Paul Loomans, a Dutch Zen Buddhist, came up with the term from his own experience of being a zen practitioner, a father of three and co-managing an international Zen Center.
As you can imagine - like any of us - he is well aware of the stress of modern life. Plagues by the daily demands of his responsibilities, Paul set off to find a way to keep his 'zen' meditative state of mind during the day. He wrote a book about abandoning to-do lists and working purely on intuition.
Wait. Abandon my precious lists? Losing complete track of the tasks at hand? The idea scared the meticulous organizer inside of me, but also piqued my curiosity.
As a former zen practitioner and a busy entrepreneur, I was curious to experience this idea of time surfing. Here's a small summary of his philosophy as I understood it.
7 ways to surf time
Paul shares with us 7 'rules' to retain our inner peace and surf time during the day.
1. Preform one task at the time and finish
Concentrate on one task at a time and finish it. As most of us nowadays know, multitasking is an illusion. It just means that your brain switches from one task to the other very quickly, but the cost of this jumping to and fro in the back of your head is the loss of precious brainpower. Just think of your computer processor overloading with simultaneous tasks. They slow down your computer as they do your brain, one of the reasons you seem to need coffee all the time.
Focusing on one thing at a time gives us peace of mind. It also frequently improves our results as well. Finishing the task means we can drop the thoughts around the task in our head. No reminders necessary. Done is done.
2. Be aware of what you do and accept it
When you hate doing the dishes and try to rush through them in annoyance, you might break a plate, burn your hands and ultimately snap at your partner. By accepting in your mind that you have to do the dishes and focus only on the dishes, it might not be such a hassle. All of our likes and dislikes originate from our mind: our ideas, expectations and feelings. Simply accepting a task and focusing all our energies on that task, makes that task more bearable.
The "scary" thing is, you might even begin to like doing the dishes.. the soap bubbles popping up, the smell of fresh soap around you, the gleaming plates after you washed them.. And even if you are still in a state of dislike. you can at least pat yourself on the back for finishing a dreaded task.
3. Take a break between tasks
Going on from task to task in a hurry can make you feel frazzled. Take breaks before you really need them and make those breaks qualitative. Stare out of your window, make some tea/coffee or - even better - take a swift stroll outside. The time you 'lose' is gained by being refreshed.
4. Give ad hoc emergencies your full attention
You are totally engrossed in your zen-moment and your colleague stumbles in, demanding assistance right this instant. Or your partner. Or your kids. Or maybe even your cat. The world will never be 'zen' and these things will always happen. If it is urgent, give it your full attention and aid where you can. You would want them to do the same for you, don't you? Letting go of what you were doing will free up your mind to concentrate on the present.
5. Take the nagging (rats) in the back of your mind seriously
Nagging rats in the back of your mind are the tasks or actions you are trying to postpone or avoid. These can make you feel hastened or pressurized, it is hard to relax when these rats are wrecking havoc in your brain. Acknowledge them, describe them to yourself and put them into action. Instant relief.
6. Observe the programs that run in the background of your mind
These are not rats - however, they can bring them along - but feelings, worries and anxieties that run in the back of your mind. These take away your precious energy. Bring them at peace by any means that suit them. Acknowledge, express, write, act upon or simply accept them en let them be. Stop them from having power over you.
7. Choose your next task spontaneously
The cornerstone of Paul's philosophy - saving the best for last - is that intuition is the best planner you own. Trust your gut. The only way to correctly trust your gut is by being at peace.When you are reaching a state of distress, take a little time to reflect. In the midst of deadlines? Yes! That is the time you need your focus and concentration the most.Intuitively - Paul reasons - you know very well what your next action should be.
My favorite things in life don't cost any money. It's really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.
No more hurry, no more to do lists.. Simply letting your intuition decide which task deserves your full attention. I am trying to implement this in my life and I indeed notice that many things are resolved simply because they matter in the present moment.
Continuous worry about things in the future will keep me jittery in the present, whilst I can only influence the future in the present. So, why not address those future worries at the appropriate moment in time required? Continuous planning ahead might seem smart according the books, but robs you of your inner peace.
In cases where you do have to prepare actions or tasks in advance, intuition still will trigger you to do so, as long as you keep your mind clear. In the end, you are intelligent enough to know when and where you are needed at this point in time.
Actions and tasks that are minor, might slip away in oblivion. But were they that important in the first place? Living a simpler life also means accepting that you cannot do everything.
Do you think you could surf time? Stop trying to be in control so furiously and trust your own senses? What would you gain?
Paul Loomans is a practicing Zen Buddhist since 1984 and co-responsible for the European Zen Center in Amsterdam. He is married and father of three kids. His book "Ik heb de tijd" (I have time) has not been translated to English yet.