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Time: Too Little, Too Much, or Just Right?

Jim Dethmer
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April 4, 2017

I’m in the midst of a two week stay in Florida and I’m noticing something. People who believe that time is real and a thing to be managed (about 99% of all people) tend to be in one of two relationships to time.

First, there are those who believe there isn't enough time. Day in and day out I work with leaders and their teams and a recurring issue is scarcity of time. There is never enough time; there is always too much to do. This relationship to time results in stress, anxiety and pressure. These people respond to the starting gun each morning by sprinting through the day trying to find more time to do the endless amount they have to do until they collapse into bed. Time, for most leaders, is their scarcest resource.

But here in Florida I’m with some friends who have too much time. Boredom is the result of having too much time. What am I going to do today? They try to fill their lives with activities, but even when their schedule is filled they often feel bored while they’re playing golf, reading another book, fishing, or having dinner with another group of friends. They look forward to 5 o’clock so they can start numbing the boredom and emptiness with a drink or television.

Many of our clients report they can’t even imagine being bored or having too much time. What we often discover is that they’re actually terrified of boredom or having time on their hands. They live lives filled to the brim with busyness because the thought of being bored is anathema to them.

Here’s what I’ve come to think: Both the deadly emptiness of boredom and the stressful craziness of busyness come from the same decision. The decision to resist being in this now moment with what is.  

In my direct experience, if I stay here now and notice what is actually here in this moment, it’s impossible to be stressed or bored. In order to stress myself that I have too little time or bore myself because I have too much time, I have to go into the future or the past. Want to to test this out for yourself? Ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What is actually here now?
  2. Can I accept what is here now?

The answer to the first question (upon direct examination) is that the only things that are ever here now are our direct sensory experience (i.e. what is being heard, seen, touched, smelled and tasted), thoughts arising in the mind, and a sense of a personal “me” who is having the sensory experience and the thoughts. Nothing else is ever here now.

The second question: “Can I accept these current sensory experiences, these thoughts, and this sense of “me? Can I let it all just be as it is?” If I stay here, right here, there is always enough time. Just the right amount of time. This now moment is never lacking anything, and never has too much of anything.  

Practically speaking, if I’m writing an email to a client and I ask myself: what is here now? I’ll notice that there are sensations (butt on chair, sound and sensation of fingers tapping keys, images of a screen and pixels, taste of coffee in my mouth) and thoughts (“I need to mention the supply chain issue,” “he won’t understand,” “I have lunch with Bill”) and a sense of “me” writing this email.

If I don’t attach to thoughts about the future—including “this is one of a hundred emails I have to write in the next hour”—but rather just notice my sensations and accept them, notice my thoughts and accept them (which is very different from attaching to them and believing them), I’ll just type the next word in the email that needs to be typed. I’ll do the next thing that is mine to do.

This practice is the basis of experiencing that I always have enough time, not too little and not too much. A saying I love is:

“You have all the time in the world to do the will of God. If you don’t have enough time you’re either not doing the will of God or you’re doing it the wrong way.”

If you react to the term “will of God” simply substitute it with “You have all the time in the world to do what is yours to do. If you don’t have enough time you’re either not doing what is yours to do or you doing it the wrong way.”

From this consciousness a leader discovers that stress caused by busyness and boredom is not only optional, but not necessary for living a fulfilling, powerful life on purpose.

About the Author
Jim Dethmer

Jim has been coaching leaders and supporting individuals, groups, and organizations to optimize their effectiveness. Potent and practical, he see issues clearly and communicates next steps crisply. Jim works with Fortune 200 CEOs across all industries, and co-authored the book—High Performing Investment Teams—to support his work with leading asset management organizations around the world.