It's Thursday morning. We go for yoga at 6 am, are back home by 8 am, and leave for work by 9 am.
It gets over at 5:30 pm. At 6 pm, I go for a dance class. Home by 8 pm, I make and eat dinner and crash out by 9:30 pm. That's my busiest day and I have no time for myself. On all other days, I have enough time left after housework is done [I have a sweet and reliable part-timer who does dishes, floors and chopping], to write, the love and passion of my life. Somehow, I haven't managed to get a full-time help, nor a cook, nor developed a love for eating/ordering "outside" food.
I write between loading the washing machine and unloading it, between putting the cooker on the gas, and switching off the latter after it's done, and attending to phone calls. While writing, I have to get up to open the door for the dhobhi [washerman], the bai[maid], the fisherwoman. But, no cribs: I consider those interruptions as necessary exercise for my desk-bound limbs.
Got no time?
No time? I have to snatch seconds, for every moment is precious. What's true for me could be true for any other person, including housewives. Or, any man with a stressful schedule. One really has to squeeze in moments if one is serious about making time for oneself. You could think of doing stretching exercises between typing paragraphs on the computer. Or, flex your knees and ankles whilst preparing for a presentation. There are many I know who sit in their car after parking and meditate for a couple of minutes before getting out. A refreshing thing to do, they claim, but meditation isn't my scene these days.
Don't I get tired? Of course, I do! Then I lie on the bed, take a couple of deep breaths, turn on my side to sleep for a couple of minutes. to hell with the world, then. until I've recovered enough to get back to the computer, or choola, or book.
This works for most of my men friends, too. In office, when it's not possible to have the luxury of a bed, push the chair back, rest both elbows and wrists on the table and put the forehead down on them. If you don't know how to blank out your mind, silently recite a poem from your childhood. Better still, try and compose a verse if you can. It's an excellent exercise for mind and soul.
The kind of time management I'm telling you about didn't happen suddenly. I took tips from other working women, those who "ran" joint families, interviews of corporate CEOs, how-to books, everywhere. In some people's case, they have to answer a call, no matter when, no matter where. Some people pray wherever, whenever they have to. Which means it's a question of priority, right? Many men I know like to catch up with their reading during a commute. The talkative ones, or those in marketing, like to socialise on such occasions, on their mobile phones. But, yes, this is also the time you can use for introspection, planning the future, or chilling out.
Look at the women who commute long distances by train. They use the journey to sort their vegetables, or shell peas. Others use it to sleep, for they can't have undisturbed peace in their crowded homes. How pragmatically they do it! I've heard of athletes practising in the middle of the night so they get traffic-free roads to run on. In families whose lives have revolved around a very sick, or handicapped or elderly member, everyone pitches in, tasks were/are delegated. Each knows that others depend on them for a certain job to be done. They go on with their lives, making space for personal events, successes, children, exams.
Count not the minutes
It's not only the minutes of the day we're talking about. We also need to cater for a day per week, a couple of weeks per year, when it's something beyond work that we need to do something about. Something, that'll recharge our batteries to stop us from winding down completely.
To get something, you may have to give up something. In my case, I decided that television wasn't a priority. Also, I reduced the daily shopping to once weekly [the faithful part-timer chops and keeps all vegetables ready for cooking in the fridge]. A few instant-food packets took care of unexpected guests, not uncommon in middle-class Indian homes.
Daily dusting became an alternate day chore. I focused on keeping my personal life simple: less clothes meant less cupboards to tidy, less time spent in deciding what to wear. Bless that dhobhi [keep one if you don't have one already], I get a crisply ironed outfit to wear, every morning. Make use of all facilities as time is the ultimate luxury in urban life today. Other tricks? I know a lot of men who say: use technology to your benefit. Let callers leave voice messages that you can later answer at leisure. Get up earlier than usual; even 15 minutes makes a difference. Enjoy your cuppa or the newspaper, meditate, or pray, or paint, or exercise, or sit around doing nothing at all.
If you can't get time to yourself everyday, manage some once a week. Give no appointments, take no calls, switch off the mobile, turn off the lights, go introspective, and treat that hour of day as sacred. Teach your wife/children/secretary that you are serious about it. Come what may, this time is yours. Once you're firm about it, family and friends will not intrude.
Listen to music while driving. If you have a driver, you have an option of reading, or catching up with friends on the phone. At office, take two breaks whether or not you have work to finish. Leave shopping to others, and keep a ready stock of books to read. Organise, organise, organise.
Take a break
Take short breaks of a couple of minutes, to stretch, breathe deeply, and refresh yourself. Once you start searching for opportunities, you will be able to devise a personal time-table for the day that will allow you to find a niche quarter or half-hour for yourself. If you are blessed with a predictable routine, all the better. But, even if your job doesn't give you the luxury of monitoring the hours, this exercise will benefit you.
Indeed, it is only when you begin to search for, and count every waking minute that you value time.
On the occasional evening when I have to entertain friends, or attend a family function, there are no gripes, or regrets, for all the "regular" days are well-managed. Whether at the railway platform, or while waiting for the dentist to hurry with a patient, the "invisible, wasteful" minutes have been catered for, and are getting rarer by the month.
Planning certainly helps: whether it's with calories, cash, or the calendar.
The time to start is now. And, use your will power from the very first minute. It works.
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