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Whirling Chief

The Power of Presence

“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.” – Eckhart Tolle

We all know someone who seem to ‘bumble’ through life with no real sense of time – almost like a butterfly. These are often the same people who dread replying back to a quick email, leave 20 minutes before a party 60 km away and open the door wearing a dress shirt with pajama bottoms. These people are often late to meetings, late to gatherings…they’ll probably be late for their own funerals. ☺

I sometimes wish I could be one of those people… Then again, perhaps not?

Time management has become such a big topic in business. Everybody is ‘busy.’ You call a friend, ask what they’re doing and they say, “Busy.” You stop by a colleague’s desk to ask a question, they look “busy.” The leaders you run into while getting coffee, on their phones? “Busy.”

Busyness is one of the most widespread diseases of our time. What does it even mean to be ‘busy’ anymore?

When I teach executive education courses and we discuss time management, I ask my colleagues sitting in front of me to reflect on the reality that we have all been blessed with time. I let them ponder this a while. You, me, our next door neighbor, colleagues in the next office, the President of Uganda, Bill Gates, Beyoncé…time is the great equalizer, and none of us gets more or less  on any given day.

Then, how is it that some of us feel ‘in charge’ of time and ‘on top’ of our duties day to day, while others feel like they’re always ‘running behind?’

The research data on the topic would suggest it is not actually time that’s our main issue, it is our perception.

Thinker and author, Eckhart Tolle, introduces the concept of ‘clock time’ in his books, for example. Per Tolle, clock time is calculated time purposefully focused on practical aspects of our lives. That said, it is not only about making an appointment or planning a trip: “It includes learning from the past so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes over and over. Setting goals and working toward them. Predicting the future by means of patterns and laws, physical, mathematical” and so on, learned from the past and taking appropriate action based on our predictions. That is an interesting concept.

You can see how this sort of idea of time would be different from the concept of our ‘psychological time,’ which is when we lose living in the present moment (our presence) to focus on our thinking (whether we think of past or future).

In fact, psychological time is often the real source of our suffering over a “problem” in regards to time management. It is usually not the situation itself we are in, but the interpretation, the thinking we put behind the situation, contemplating about possibilities repeatedly that blocks us from effectively using time.

In this regard, our brains don’t help us. Our memory is often distorted because our brains react more strongly to novelty than to repetition. It’s true. Our brain can’t differentiate between reality and perception, and it will choose what’s familiar over non-familiar. Therefore, once we start spending more time thinking about what’s ahead of us, we adversely teach ourselves to give in to our concentration. By doing so, instead of staying in the present moment to focus on a given task, we let our thoughts wander and shrink our precious time.

In a Scientific American article, “Time on Brain,” back in 2011, I read the following paragraph and remember being fascinated by it:

“… When you’re a kid, you wake up and say to yourself: ‘I’ve got a whole day ahead of me. How will I possibly fill it all?’ But when you’re an adult, it’s more like: ‘I’ve got a day ahead of me. How will I possibly get it all done?’“

Isn’t that so true?

You may have competing, conflicting, ever-changing priorities in life, or you may always have a long list of tasks to complete at work. Whatever the situation, the key is to stop and realize the power of Now – to then accept the journey as is, rather than trying to reach an unrealistic, unattainable end goal of ‘no priorities/no tasks.’

If we can do something about what we have at hand, our job is to do it now. If we can’t, then we’re better off leaving the situation or accepting it. There is never a reason to dwell on any situation, thus creating a problem in our mind.

Stop, focus, do. That’s all we need at any given time.


  • 1 March 2017

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