The Time Academy Podcast: A Unique Time Management Podcast!

The Episode at a Glance

  • Ever feel like no matter how much you do there is still so much more to get done?
  • For many people, to-do lists are eternal with the focus on what hasn’t been done creating a sense of being incomplete, of not being enough.

“Productivity can then become about trying to shorten the to-do lists and itself become a task. It does sort of beg the question – when then will be enough?” – Tom O’Leary

Listen to the Episode

Transcript

My name is Tom O’Leary and this is the Time Academy podcast. Today we are talking about Productivity and the feeling of Never Being Enough.

Ever feel like no matter how much you do there is still so much more to get done?

For many people, to-do lists are eternal with the focus on what hasn’t been done creating a sense of being incomplete, of not being enough. Productivity can then become about trying to shorten the to-do lists and itself become a task. It does sort of beg the question – when then will be enough? And indeed how will you know?

The long-standing cultural narrative is around progress – our purpose is seemingly to improve ourselves and the world each and every day. There are still arguably religious undertones in many societies with the sense that redemption comes from working hard. Indeed, the philosopher Alan Watts put it simply when he said (and I quote):

“we think of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end and the thing was to get to that end.”

I love that line “we think of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end and the thing was to get to that end.”

But Alan Watts argues that this is a mistake and he goes on:

“But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and you were supposed to sing, or to dance, while the music was being played.”

So, what Alan Watts is pointing to is a tension in our worlds between living for the future – for the journey and getting to the end – and enjoying the dancing and music, by which he means today. If we are focussed on outcomes in the future, how much of the singing and dancing can we enjoy today? The classic example is working long hours so we can retire in some comfort. And yet, we might be dead by then. My own father died at 44 so I have an idea of what that looks like. Now hopefully we will still be alive but the point is that you are definitely alive today. And let’s be honest, if we were instead living just for today, how long would our to-do lists be?

The conundrum is clearly that if we do hope to be alive tomorrow and next year it surely makes sense to plan and work for that? It may not feel quite right to be broke in a year but to be able to look back and say “Well, it is ok – I had a great time on the beach this time last year”. So a key word feels like “balance”, which is in a sense hedging our bets. We may not live to enjoy the mythical better future so let’s enjoy today but in a way that is mindful of our possible future selves. As the Buddhism teacher Thich Nhat Hanh said “if you are grounded in the present you can then plan for the future”. Indeed the future emerges from the present moment and in that sense making plans for the future is part of our purpose in this moment.


So how then do we answer the questions: Am I doing enough today? And am I enough today?

Am I doing enough today? And am I enough today?

If we’re thinking of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and the whole weight of the future then it clearly may not feel enough. One possible pathway is to collapse time in a sense and bring as many of your future hopes into today as you can. There are echoes of this in the words of the poet Robert Frost:

“My object in living is to unite my avocation and my vocation.”

“My object in living is to unite my avocation and my vocation.”

A vocation is the work you do because you have to and an avocation is what you do for pleasure, not pay. So Frost’s invitation to “unite avocation and vocation” is about finding a way to bring joy and purpose to our days and to our living. Then your today will be so satisfying that today will be lived in full with no striving to get to the land of tomorrow. And there are many examples out there – take this comment Rick shared with me: “for some of us, work is a major part of what gives life meaning. In retirement, I’m on trend to “work” (in inverted commas) about 1800 hours annually.” Before you get your calculators out that works out at 35 hours a week each and every week – no easing off even in retirement! So Rick has his sense of purpose and has united his avocation and vocation.

It is then a matter of weaving today into that larger tapestry, which for me comes back to the idea of timescales – if the big picture is clear – i.e. what you want to have accomplished in say a year across your life – then you can hang that picture on the wall and focus on living today. If you are following the vision it is easier to feel you are doing enough today and that you are enough today.

In a way this is the same tension as between outcome goals and process goals. Outcome goals are about the future – “I want to have run a 10K by the end of the year”. Personally these are meaningless – I don’t know what or how much I’m supposed to do today. So instead I set that as my overall vision and turn it into process goals, which are about the steps I will take each and every day. In this case, that turns into a training plan for the next months with runs and rest days scheduled – there is no negotiation or doubting that I’m training enough– there is a plan so all I’m being asked to do is follow through on today’s one small piece and let the outcome take care of itself. That is enough!

So in closing let’s come back to those two questions I posed earlier “Am I doing enough today?” “Am I enough today?” There is no implication that you should be more or less and yet the process of asking these questions can unearth some interesting aspects about our own mindsets.

Thanks for listening to the Time Academy podcast. I hope this has offered you a slightly different perspective. If you find it helpful please share! I’d also love to get your feedback and hear your stories so please feel free to email me.