When I first started teaching time management, I was focused on helping people get things done.
Over time, I became more keenly aware of the need to step back and focus on doing the right things. (To do less, even, in order to make meaningful progress on what matters most.)
Today my focus is even broader — and deeper.
It’s about getting the right things done, but it’s also about how you do them. Doing them in a way that honors and enriches the gift that is your life.
Below are eight principles I’ve incorporated into my approach to
time life management that help with ALL of these things:
It’s so easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when we’re in our typical day-to-day “human doing” mode.
The “soulful” approach means reminding ourselves again and again how important this stuff actually is. Because, as Annie Dillard has said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
This is about your life. Your precious and fleeting life.
This is about arriving at the end of your life and not feeling a sense of regret about how you spent it and what you missed.
It’s also about arriving at the end of today and feeling like it meant something.
Think of this day as a sacred vessel — a container for your life.
When you truly treat it that way, you’ll notice a difference. It changes the quality of your decisions about what you put into that vessel. And it helps you look at both the vessel and its contents with a new sense of reverence and appreciation.
Awe (#1) is about staying attuned to the big picture.
Mindfulness is about becoming more attuned to what’s happening in this particular moment.
There are several things that does for you…
It wakes you up to the details of daily life, so you can find — and create — beauty, wonder, and meaning. (Want a beautiful life? Make this day, this moment beautiful.)
It slows down your experience and reduces the sense that life is flying by.
It allows you to make conscious choices instead of defaulting to habitual behaviors or getting hijacked by your knee-jerk reactions.
It helps you course correct more quickly if you’re getting pulled away from your intentions about how you want to spend your day.
And so much more.
In fact, mindfulness is the foundation for most of the other strategies that are a part of this “soulful” approach. So keep reading, and you’ll uncover many more benefits…
Your relationship with yourself is a foundation that is just as crucial as mindfulness.
So many of us go through life flinging insults at ourselves, heaping on unreasonable expectations, and generally neglecting our needs and feelings.
But you are SO much more effective — including in what you can do for others — when you give yourself the attention and care you deserve.
Try using mindfulness as a tool to help you pay attention to yourself, so you can discover the things you need in order to operate at your best. And then actually offer that to yourself — from a place of wisdom, self-respect, self-compassion, even reverence for your own soul.
Here are some examples of what that looks like…
An important note here: This requires a whole-person approach.
You are not just your mind, and what you get done each day is not just a product of your mind.
Attend to your mind, of course. But also attend to your body, heart, and soul. That’s the key to sustaining and optimizing your energy and attention — and also to accessing higher levels of wisdom, insight, creativity, and joy.
This one is about remembering your own interconnectedness with the world around you — and intentionally establishing a healthy relationship with that connectedness.
We are impacted more than we realize by our social and physical environments.
From the colors and light in your surroundings, to your exposure to nature, to the physical layout of your workspace — your physical environment can have a HUGE unconscious effect on your concentration, cooperation, creativity, mood, physical health, and so much more.
But the effects of other people are even bigger.
Think for instance of how easily (but subtly) your mood can be impacted by others. Or the pace at which you’re working. Or your opinions about someone or something. Just to name a few.
And of course so much of what we aim to accomplish each day is dependent on other people — their support, cooperation, feedback, input — or even just getting them to leave you in peace(!) so you can do your work.
Even more important, though, is the fundamental role that human connection plays in your well-being.
So what does all this mean for you?
It means drawing on that foundation of mindfulness to notice what’s going on around you and how you’re being impacted by it.
It means making wise choices about how you engage — when to act, when to let go.
It means staying connected to your own center. Grounded in self-care and self-respect in the face of unsettling experiences and interactions. Or even in the face of the fun, joyful, heartwarming ones.
And, at the same time, it means opening yourself up to others. Letting love, compassion, and appreciation flow in a way that enriches the world around you — while enriching you too.
Our lives flow most effortlessly when our actions and choices are in alignment with What Is.
You can go seriously deep with this — thinking of it in terms of alignment with God, the universe, etc.
But it can also be very down-to-earth and pragmatic…
Fundamentally it’s about seeing and accepting things for what they are — whether that’s you (see #3) or your environment (see #4) — and then operating accordingly.
So simple. But so hard sometimes.
Because it means letting go of denial. Letting go of “shoulds”. Letting go of complaining.
And embracing acceptance.
This isn’t about apathy or passivity, though. Rather, it’s about making decisions and taking actions that are based on the situation as it is — instead of how you wish it was or think it should be.
Often, one of hardest places to do this is with yourself — to see and be who you are instead of trying to “fix” yourself.
Avoid falling into the trap of having an idea of who you are (or should be) and then trying to make yourself fit that. Instead, notice and embrace who you actually are. Any endeavor that requires you to try to change who you fundamentally are is doomed to fail.
But does that mean you can’t grow and evolve? Of course not.
As Carl Rogers has said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
You have a limited amount of energy to spend each day before you must stop to rest and refuel. So stewarding that energy becomes really important.
Negative emotions such as anger or anxiety can offer you a kind of energy boost — but it’s highly inefficient. You burn through that sort of energy really quickly when you try to use it to get things done.
Positive thoughts and emotions, on the other hand, offer a more sustainable energy boost.
They also have a certain expansiveness to them. Literally.
It turns out that experiencing positive emotions expands your thinking and range of possible actions — leading to things like greater creativity, better decision making, friendlier behavior, and much more. And in the long run it helps you build new skills and personal resources.
So embrace pleasure and positive emotions as motivators. Embrace wonder, gratitude, and joy as productivity tools. And pay attention to how your choices affect you energetically.
This does NOT mean rejecting “negative” emotions (e.g., sad, angry) when they come up.
(In fact, the more you try to push difficult feelings away, the longer they’ll hang around — and the more energy you’ll use up. See principle #5 instead.)
But it DOES mean being conscious about your choices.
As much as you can, engage with tasks and experiences that make you feel good. Look for the positive. Create meaning. And try to do things in ways that fit you (again, see #5) and will feed you instead of depleting you.
By now this one is probably seeming pretty obvious.
If you want to do all of the things I’ve listed above, then contemplative practices become incredibly valuable tools in your toolbox. (Right there next to your calendar and to-do apps!)
Used thoughtfully, they can help shake you out of your habitual mindsets and connect you with higher sources of wisdom — including your own wise inner self.
Here are just a few examples of what this could look like:
I’m especially keen on journaling as a practice that offers so many different benefits and uses.
However, you need to choose the practice(s) that speak to YOU. Experiment until you find what resonates.
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This last one is also pretty obvious if you’ve been following along with me…
This is not a “quick fix” we’re talking about here. Not a “one and done”.
Can you discover new tools or approaches that lead to a rapid improvement or breakthrough? Sure.
But will you ever be “finished” living into your life’s potential? Of course not.
This is the work of a lifetime — learning how to be with ourselves, how to be in the world, how to make the most of our lives.
You won’t one day be “done” learning it all and be able to sit back and relax in your own perfection. There’s no overnight “makeover” that fixes everything in your life, once and for all.
(That’s true even with basic time management tools and techniques. How so? You can always get smarter about how you use them. Plus circumstances can change, and then what once worked beautifully for you is no longer a fit.)
So with that in mind, here’s my approach to supporting you with this journey. I help you…
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