DANIEL MONTGOMERY Founder & CEO Leadership Reality
Have you ever had a morning like this one?
It’s 9 AM. For the past hour, you’ve tried (and failed) to start in on your to-do list.
For some reason, you can’t stop stressing about that upcoming meeting with senior leadership. So, you distract yourself with a little email.
30 minutes later, you decide to get back in the saddle and make a few phone calls. As soon as you pick up the phone, you remember the call you blew yesterday.
Afraid to repeat that ugly performance, you fire up Facebook instead. You’re just going to check in and make sure you didn’t miss anything important, of course.
Another half hour goes by. The phone rings. There’s an emergency in production. Congratulations! You just lost the rest of your day to crisis management.
So much for that to-do list.
Time is on my Side. Yes… it… is?We have to accept the fact that time bandits like these lie beyond our ultimate control. What we can control, however, is how we use the time we do have. How will we maximize those precious few moments when we get to do the work that… Click To Tweet
Due apologies to Mick Jagger, but time is most definitely not on our side.
Consider just a few of the numbers on workplace productivity:
- Interruptions can rob a leader of up to 6 productive hours per day.
- 65% of senior leaders feel that meetings keep them from vital tasks.
- Estimated costs of procrastination top $10,000… per employee.
Whether from without (meetings and interruptions) or within (fear, procrastination), we’re continually facing challenges to our time.
I know exactly what that’s like. For 17 years in church leadership, and now in my own company, I’ve had to fight the very same battles. Some, you can never win: the sudden crisis; the unexpected market fluctuation; the emergency board meeting.
We have to accept the fact that time bandits like these lie beyond our ultimate control. What we can control, however, is how we use the time we do have. How will we maximize those precious few moments when we get to do the work that counts?
Welcome to the Moment
If mindfulness had a UVP, it’d be this: we reintroduce you to the moment. As Bhante Gunaratana describes, “Mindfulness is present time awareness… It stays forever in the present, surging perpetually on the crest of the ongoing wave of passing time.”
I’ll admit, that sounds like a pile of new-age gobbledygook.
But if we think about those internal conflicts that often keep us off task—regrets about the past, fears and anxieties about the future—then we might find that the thing we need most is to recover our connection with the present moment.
What mindfulness offers is a set of principles and practices that are supposed to shut down those unhealthy distractions and situate us right back in the present moment.
Take this simple breathing exercise, for example:
- Breathe – Slow. In through your nose, out through your mouth.
- Let Go – Let your thoughts pass. Focus on your breath instead.
- Watch – Envision the air coming in and filling your body with life.
- Release – Watch as the air leaves and dissipates throughout the room.
Mindfulness exercises tend to play off this basic theme: stop, breathe, and focus your attention inward. Don’t let yourself think of anything but the here and now and now.
In fact, don’t let yourself think at all. Mindfulness is about learning to live in a pre-cognitive state—a mental space without label, critique, or judgment.
In the Christian tradition, Centering Prayer offers a similar rubric: breathe more, think less. Only, instead of turning inward, Centering Prayer invites us to turn upward to God.
Mindfulness in the Key of G(ospel)The best way to capitalize on our time isn’t to run from it in contemplation, but to joyfully embrace it as a gift in prayer. Click To Tweet
Whether you’re a Buddhist, a Christian, or an Atheist, taking a few minutes to breathe, let go, watch, and release will dramatically affect the way you engage with your time.
As a Christian, though, I can’t help but feel unsatisfied.
Mindfulness calls us to leave time in order to redeem it. In contrast, the Gospel says that God’s reality has invaded time in order to redeem us (Galatians 4:4).
If that’s right, then the best way to capitalize on our time isn’t to run from it in contemplation, but to joyfully embrace it as a gift in prayer.
That said, here’s a Christian spin on the exercise I shared above:
- Breathe – Slow. One breathe every 6 seconds.
- Let Go – Quiet your heart and mind.
- Remember – Your days are but a few breaths, your life is nothing but a passing shadow (Psalm 39:5; 144:4). Time is a precious gift to be used wisely.
- Ask —Seek wisdom to make the most of every moment. Ask for freedom from whatever fear and anxiety might be keeping you off the ball.
- Give Thanks – You’re not in this moment by accident (Acts 17:26). Embrace the opportunity and express your gratitude by committing to use your time well.
Putting it into Action
Pick whichever exercise suits you best. Give it 10 minutes a day: 5 in the morning, 5 right after lunch. Within a week, I’m confident you’ll experience the following:
- Your past will stay in the past.
- Your future will stay in the future.
- You will stay in the present.
Get back those hours you’re losing to distraction and despair. Remember what it’s like to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day rather than one of guilt and shame.
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