Posts Tagged ‘time wisdom’

The arrival of ‘Cam’ always causes me a frisson of excitement. It’s certainly the best alumni magazine to come through our letter box, and rarely disappoints for either human interest or a bit of an intellectual stretch.

The latest number arrived today and I was immediately captivated by an article about ‘play’. ‘Excellence often requires many of the qualities of play’ I read.  ‘This’ I thought, ‘is my kind of article’.

Based on a new book by Patrick Bateson and Paul Martin (Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation CUP) I interpret the piece as a research-based argument that I should play more.  After all, without his playfulness Flemming may never have discovered penicillin. And if they did not play with sticks when young, chimps wouldn’t be nearly as good at the tasks which playful scientists set them.

It made me wonder which aspects of my childhood larking about have equipped me for life today.  I used to like lighting fires – and am still pretty good at it when faced with the challenge in a holiday cottage or after a big clear-up in the garden.  Fire lighting for me was part of Scouting which was, I suppose, an organised form of play. I now see the rudimentary weekend camps as a school of leadership. That sounds impossibly pompous, so I should explain that I mean that it was an arena for making mistakes which would teach you not ‘how to be a leader’, still less ‘what to do if you are a leader’, but that ‘the big life lesson that it is okay to make mistakes.’

Reflecting on the article I recognise that it’s not so much play as playfulness that matters.  The word ‘play’ is used for all sorts of activities which, while not intrinsically meaningful, are super-serious.  This is ‘play’ with the fun taken out – which is a one word oxymoron (if you can have such a thing).  It seems that it is play in the proper, relaxed, and purposeless sense which allows for later purposefulness.

That’s the paradox of play.

It’s not that you can write a Shakespearian sonnet by letting a million monkeys play with typewriters.  It’s that the next time you read something really interesting, moving, poetic or original the chances are that it will be written by someone who has had a good dose of play in their younger life and who still retains that quality of playfulness.

Bateson writes that people can be helped to become more creative. How?  ‘by freeing up time from the pursuit of predictable goals, and by avoiding time-wasting distractions …’ But he goes on, (and this is the bit I especially like)  ‘Daydreaming, far from being a wasteful activity, can lead to links being made between disparate bodies of thought.’

That sounds a bit prosaic – but the reality could be amazing. The point is that no one knows what will happen if you allow yourself to be playful and creative. That’s the fun of it. And the wonder. And the paradox.

Let us play.

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The good people at Sacristy Press have published my ebook Beyond Busyness: Time Wisdom in an Hour as a paperback.

They have done a nice job and, while I like the portability of the eBook, I also like having a real book in my hand: turning the pages, making a margin note with a pencil and so on. And what’s more, with a paperback you can lend a copy to your friend – or leave it in a public place for a random stranger to pick up. I saw someone do this with a thriller recently. It seems such a fun idea.  But to do it with a little book about time wisdom is a potentially transformative act of charity.

I have emphasized the need for clergy to get wise about time. But the reality is that there is need for very many people in all walks of life and at different stages in life’s journey to wise up about time too. Recent editions of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times carried articles explaining the ills of busyness, and in April 2010 the Harvard Business Review warned of the dangers of what authors Heike Bruch and Jochen I. Menges, called ‘The Acceleration Trap’, whereby companies and corporations both demand more and more in terms of productivity and simply keep changing things.

This is why Time wisdom matters so much!

Time wisdom is ‘time management plus’. Time management tends to treat time as if it were a limited resource which can be used more or less efficiently.  As I put it in the micro-paperback: Beyond Busyness: Time Wisdom in an Hour

Time wisdom says that what matters about time is not only physics but biology, psychology and spirituality. People have complex needs, curious cycles and, thankfully, individual and not always predictable thoughts and feelings. … Time is also the opportunity, the wonder and mystery of the present moment. Time is a new turn of the kaleidoscope of possibilities which requires of us not efficient reaction, but creative response based on a careful reading of the ever changing patterns. This is part of the joy of life …

Regular readers of this blog will know that I recently challenged people to give up busyness for Lent. Some of those who took it on said it was the toughest Lenten challenge they have ever encountered – the busy habit was so ingrained, the demon busyness so powerful. It was not that there was more and more work to do necessarily, but that the need to be busy had inched its way into the soul – squeezing out the contemplative space and creating a frenzy of on-going and draining activity.

Those who tried it reported that some of the tips I suggested, like never letting people get away with calling you ’busy’, not using the word as a self-description, and finding some regular time each day to do absolutely nothing had a big impact on them and helped them ease themselves out of a dangerous rut.

As for myself – I tried it too and also found it a real test. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that having gone so public in this area I would be challenged – and I was almost flooded out with new work, unexpected opportunities and even a family bereavement. Through it all I remained resolute that come what may I would not let the demon busyness get into my soul. I think I just about keep it at bay – but it is a constant struggle. I shall be taking an hour to reread my own little book every now and again: just to help keep the upper  hand with regard to busyness.

Related articles

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Just when I was thinking that I had said all I could about the demon busyness, and that everyone was bored stiff with me going on and on about it, I meet someone for whom the whole ‘Beyond Busyness’  thing is a revelation. And more than that, a liberation.

It happened this morning as I was talking to someone with a similar job to mine – but who is on sabbatical from the far side of the world.

‘That’s right’ she said. ‘People use “I am busy” as an excuse all the time. And the clergy are the worst…’

‘And it undermines their ministry’ I added.

‘Absolutely’ she replied.

And so it went on. I gave her a book and two ‘I’M NOT BUSY’ wristbands when she left.

It sees like the demon busyness is alive and well down-under.

And that makes me wonder whether this is a global problem or whether some places are worse than others.  I’d be interested to know what you think. .

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It’s all over the papers!

Well, that’s an exaggeration, but two articles in one week for NOTBUSY is not too bad.  And for all I know there may have been more.

On Monday, the Guardian ran a piece entitled, Could beditation be the answer to exam nerves? Oenone Crossley-Holland, a teacher in South Hampstead described the way in wich school children ar being taught mindfulness to help them cope with exam nerves.

Happily her enthusiasm for mindfulness seems to be supported by both her headteacher and pupils.  And so she writes

My headteacher [said] “Young people live in a fast-paced and confusing world. The expectations that parents and society place on students are so high. To be able to step back and appreciate yourself for who you are, and be able to stop the plates spinning is a gift. Mental wellbeing is at the route of being able to achieve anything.”

Ally, a student at my school, explains why she attends mindfulness club at lunchtime. “It’s just 15 minutes of quiet under a table,” she says. “I don’t necessarily find solutions to problems or anything, but I do come to terms with what’s happening around me.”

You can read the whole article here:

And then today, the Daily Mail ran an article precisely about the joy of refusing not to be busy.  The author, Candida Crewe, does not reference the I’M NOT BUSY’ campaign or the website and has probably never heard of it. Nonetheless she speaks the same language when she writes,

I never rush my children hither and thither, and they rarely see me busy – though admitting that makes me feel as vulnerable as telling someone how much I weigh.

Not being busy is a contemporary taboo, but one which I am happy to shatter.

She clearly understand the interpersonal power politics too, writing,

There is an increasing divide between the busy and the non-busy, just as there is between fat and thin, rich and poor, and it makes those of us who are not busy feel inferior.

And this is a great NOTBUSY story:

One day, a customer at the bookshop asked me if I planned to work in a shop for the rest of my life. I said I was enjoying it, but writing a book in my spare time. ‘I wish I had time to put my feet up and write a novel!’ he replied.

I realised, then, that it is in people’s self-important interest to make out that their time is more precious than mine.

Now, when people tell me how busy they are, I tell them how busy I am not.

Spot on. Three cheers for Candida Crewe! A wristband is yours whenever you wish to claim it.

You can read the whole article here

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Here is an extract from an email I received the other day. It raises a really good point.

I read about your book and the notbusy idea for Lent and am hugely attracted to it for many of the reasons you list on the website about how busyness eats away at us. I’ve been really conscious for example of how having a smartphone for the last three months has changed how I live, having access to the internet, email, twitter at all times … how much I love it, but also how profoundly distracting it is.

The reason I wanted to contact you thought was I don’t feel I can with integrity put ‘I’m not busy’ on my twitter profile, or wear the wristband – I feel I am busy and to say otherwise simply wouldn’t be true! So this is why I wanted to contact you, because I think you have a very important message and guidance to give, but I’m not sure if I can ‘sign up’ and say ‘I’m not busy’.

They also added: I don’t feel called to give anything up, but just to find a way to live well, in a more grounded way, with the busyness, or fullness of life.

My answer?  Essentially I see ‘busyness’ not as a state of productive effectiveness conducive to a personal or spiritual flourishing, but as continuous state of semi-panic. It is for this reason that I am comfortable with people who have a lot to do putting on the wristband. Indeed I am wearing one myself and sporting a ‘twibbon’ and I have plenty on my plate. But I am not thinking that really and truly there is just TOO MUCH TO DO.

The wristband, as I see it, is only secondarily a statement to others. It is primarily a statement to me. Whenever I catch a glimpse of it I think, ‘take care,’ ‘moderate your pace,’ ‘keep things calm,’ ‘make sure you don’t rush past someone you should speak to,’ and most importantly, ‘give people time’.

These are messages to the busy-busy me. In the language of my little eBook they are my effort to keep busy only in the old style and to avoid the ‘busyness syndrome’ which involves a craving for activity and distraction and the fear of waiting, silence and the sound of a ticking clock.

Finally, are ‘busyness’ and ‘fullness of life’ the same thing?  They can be. But for many the word ‘busy’ does not code ‘fullness of life’ but ‘out of control life’. So while the word can be okay, it can also be toxic. And it is for that reason that I hope that more and more people, including my correspondent, are able to become #NOTBUSY while remaining fully alive. Wearing the wristband is not really important, but I have found that it does help me.

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I received an email the other day from a hospital chaplain who was given an ‘I’M NOT BUSY’ wristband by a ‘thoughtful volunteer’. It would seem that the gift did not arrive at quite the most opportune moment…

Dear Stephen,

I have enjoyed your book on time wisdom and understand what it and the website ( ) are getting at, and heartily agree with the ideas. However having talked with colleagues we are left wondering how this can apply to a working environment that has to be so much more, in fact largely, reactive. There is very little room for saying for example “Come and talk to me next Wednesday when I have free time” because the person is only here now. Patients can be made to wait an hour or two or even a day for a non-urgent visit but if they are critically ill….

To give a little taste of life in the modern NHS:

Last Friday was day 7 of a very long week for me. (My colleague and I have a pattern of working that means 7days one week 3 the next.) Last week was made harder by 2 people from the Team being on annual leave, so for more than half that time everything in the diary or on the end of the bleep or knocking on the door was mine to deal with.

It happens, that’s life here.

And of course 4 of the nights I was on-call. On Friday I had to try to help and minister to two families with baby losses and then, amongst all the ordinary stuff, a visitor approached me for a chat. Two hours later I was finally able to leave her in the Chapel for reflection. Returning to the office I found a thoughtful volunteer had left me a wrist band….

I am sorry to say that this was not received by me in the spirit in which the gift was intended! Or indeed with the intended message! Most evenings I had gone home and done nothing for a large chunk of time, as per website suggestion, but largely because I was so drained I was not capable of doing anything!

Yours sincerely,

Name supplied but withheld by me

There is no easy answer to this one. But it is important to recognise that it is real.

While most of what I’M NOT BUSY is about is empowering people to understand that busyness is often self-inflicted. That’s an important and worthwhile aim. But it is unhelpful if it suggests that all chronic busyness is self-imposed – or even avoidable.

I address this issue in my eBook Beyond Busyness: Time Wisdom in an Hour where I pick up a concept from an article in the Harvard Business Review called ‘The Acceleration Trap’.[i] This is how the authors, Heike Bruch and Jochen I. Menges introduce the article and summarise the idea:

Faced with intense market pressures, corporations often take on more than they can handle: They increase the number and speed of their activities, raise performance goals, shorten innovation cycles, and introduce new management technologies or organizational systems. For a while, they succeed brilliantly, but too often the CEO tries to make this furious pace the new normal. What began as an exceptional burst of achievement becomes chronic overloading, with dire consequences. Not only does the frenetic pace sap employee motivation, but the company’s focus is scattered in various directions, which can confuse customers and threaten the brand.

Realizing something is amiss, leaders frequently try to fight the symptoms instead of the cause. Interpreting employees’ lack of motivation as laziness or unjustified protest, for example, they increase the pressure, only making matters worse. Exhaustion and resignation begin to blanket the company, and the best employees defect.

And this is what I write about it in the eBook.

Their research was based on more than 600 companies. Some they diagnosed as ‘fully trapped’. In them, 60% of employees agreed or strongly agreed that they lacked sufficient resources to get their work done (whereas this was true for only 2% in companies that weren’t trapped) and 80% said that they worked under ‘constant elevated time pressure’.

The ‘Acceleration Trap’ is the corporate version of the ‘busyness syndrome’ as it afflicts individuals – the ‘new busy’. The problem is not that there is sometimes the need for exceptional levels of activity and effort. It is that this becomes the new normal.

The article analyses the problem in terms of three patterns of destructive activity. While described in organisational language they will be familiar to anyone who has become busy in the new sense. First there is overloading – that is being faced with more work than can be done. One company for instance doubled the value of its contracts without addressing capacity issues. Second there is multiloading, which means that people are asked to do too many different things. The consequence is that employees lack focus and activities are unaligned. You could think of this in terms of a lack of joined-up-ness or internal coherence. Third there is the pattern which they call perpetual loading which is the habit of constantly imposed change. This, the authors suggest, leads to relentless and debilitating frenzy.

The Acceleration Trap is where companies get stuck if they try too hard for too long.

The reality is that some people opt into the busyness syndrome whereas others have it thrust upon them.

The eBOOK Beyond Busyness: Time Wisdom in an Hour costs £1.99 to download and is available in various ways.

[i] Bruch, H. and Menges, J. I. The Acceleration Trap Harvard Business Review April 2010

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Living the Unbusy Life #5.

This Lent, Tim Hardy has been trying to avoid busyness – after being given a I’M NOT BUSY wristband (see ) by his boss.  I am grateful to him for sending me these reflections.

Tim is the writer of an occasional blog (very) short stories and ‘poetry’; believer in God, people and (more often than not) the church; and pioneer of the rambling, trailing-off introduct…

Tim writes:

Positively Doing Nothing

One week into Lent and a quick recap seems in order – every day, I’ve been attempting to sit and do nothing for at least ten minutes (in a Lenten discipline kind of way, not an unsurprising slobbing around kind of way) and then sitting down to write something, whether inspired by the inactivity or otherwise.

Day Seven: Making a List

Today, I was back at work after what seemed like a very long weekend. It still feels like there’s way too much to do, and two hour calls from technical support do little to ease the workload. This feeling of too much to do and not enough time continued right up until I sat down and forced myself to stop.

Cue my internal monologue coach suggesting that it might be a good idea to make a list of the things that were important to me and his being rudely heckled by the question as to why I wasn’t doing them and instead was filling my life with other stuff.

This seemed to call for four lists (and I swear this was as far as I got before I calmed myself down and tried to stop busily thinking):

  • Things I can’t avoid but need doing anyway: taxing the car, paying the bills, et c.
  • Things I don’t particularly want to do but find myself doing anyway: watching rubbish on the telly, mindless Twitter consumption, doing killer sudoku, extra jobs
  • Things I do that I want to continue doing: spending time with my wife, hanging out with my friends, doing my job, eating good food
  • Things I do want to do but never get round to or I don’t have the time for: read more novels, read more proper books, fill in the Giant Form of Doom, write some more stories, do some research

As I tried not to make plans regarding the various bits of lists that were forming, an overwhelming desire seized me. However, I knew that if I acted on it all my nothingness for the evening would be wasted. I really, really wanted to know what was in that box-I-didn’t-quite-recognise-on-top-of-that-cupboard-there! I lasted until the alarm went and then I checked.

Reflecting on this evening’s nothing – it seems to have been the most productive so far. Now it’s just a case of doing something with what’s been thrown up from my brain.


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