Last month I explored how personal development tools such as SMART objectives can help make New Year resolutions become both realistic and achievable. This month I’d like to look at another Management buzz topic – “Time Management” and show how the 2000-year-old practice of Yoga can help develop the attributes required to handle the challenges of modern living.
Like most of you I have a pretty hectic schedule and it doesn’t matter what changes in that schedule the time pressures just don’t go away! So,a few years ago I was working part time in a senior role, completing my degree and looking after a young baby. As my son grew up and became more independent my Dad died and my Mam’s health deteriorated so she needed more support. She also passed away a couple of years ago and then I began to look at my Yoga schedule and to think seriously about how my classes could give me the opportunity to retire from the “Day Job”. To get that ball rolling I went from teaching two classes a week to teaching five or six while still working and running a home. I’m sure you get the picture. Whenever a gap appears in your schedule something pops up to fill that space and the problem of getting everything done remains the same. So how can a regular Yoga practice help with that? Isn’t it just another thing to fit in to a life that’s already bursting at the seams? Here are six ways the skills you practice on the mat can transfer to your day to day life:
1) Improved concentration – Yoga encourages you to live in the present moment. Throughout a practice you keep coming back to the here and now either through the anchor of the breath or the sensations in the body. Learning to apply this technique to everyday life prevents the wasted effort of either remembering or replaying events which keep you stuck in the past or worrying and obsessing about the future. Both do little more than drain your energy. When you give your attention to the current task you can deal with the important issues at hand. As Yogis have known for centuries “dharana” or one pointed attention is a far more productive way to work and by the end of the day you’ll be surprised how many items you can clear from your “to do” list just by staying focused.
2) Slowing down – At first that might seem counter intuitive – after all isn’t “time management” supposed to be about getting more done? However, Yoga can help you to understand the importance of doing just one thing at a time. On the mat that might mean exploring and staying with a single posture. In today’s fast paced world multi-tasking has become the norm. Even stopping for coffee or lunch becomes an opportunity to catch up on emails or surf the internet. It’s now been recognised that to do this the brain needs to constantly switch back and forth between tasks, so they actually take more time to complete. You are also more likely to miss something important or make mistakes. To paraphrase Thich Nhat Hanh “when you are working, work, when you are drinking coffee, drink coffee.”
3) Stress management – stress management and time management are two sides of the same coin really. Yoga breathing practices and relaxation techniques are great ways to calm the mental “chatter” so you can think more clearly and act from a place of considered judgement. My particular favourite for this is a breathing practice called “lengthening the exhale” which triggers the parasympathetic nervous system or “rest and digest” response and helps counter the “fight or flight” reaction that comes with too much stress. So, whether you want to reduce the panic of overwhelm or stay calm in a crisis using some basis Yoga techniques means you’re much more likely to stay on track when you need to.
4) Self-Discipline – keeping to a regular Yoga practice requires planning, determination and commitment and these are all skills that can also help you work more effectively to get things done. This is particularly relevant for those unpleasant or difficult tasks that keep getting moved from one “to do” list to another. Rather than procrastinating or avoiding challenges we learn to work through them by accepting slow, steady progress rather than quick fixes. I can spend weeks or months working on a single aspect of my practice and that same determination can help me make steady progress in other areas of my life. After all, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”
5) Physical and Mental Resilience – Yoga is a balance of physical postures and techniques such as breathing and relaxation which work together to keep your body strong and supple and your mind calm and focused. While it’s no guarantee of good health it does mean you are less likely to succumb to some of the minor ailments that come with poor posture and inactivity as well as the low mood that often accompanies them. Good general health also means you are less likely to have to put your plans on hold while you recover from illness. N.B. I am NOT advocating Yoga as some “snake oil” cure for major physical illness or severe mental health issues such as anxiety and depression! They belong in the hands of qualified health professionals not your local yoga teacher unless of course they also happen to have the necessary expertise in that field!
6) Letting it go – finally and most importantly Yoga teaches you that you don’t need to be “perfect”. Your posture may not look like the one in the book, but you are respecting your limitations and working with what is possible at this moment. Letting go is about managing expectations – both your own and other people’s . Equally “Time Management” relies on skillful use of limited resources rather than trying to make space to cram one more thing into a schedule that’s already about to explode! The four principles of good time management are “delete, delegate, defer and do” So look at your “to do” list and see what you can “let go”. If it’s not necessary, get rid of it all together. If someone else can do it ask them to – but leave them to do it their way. If it’s not important leave it to another day (N.B deferring is not the same as procrastinating and you do know the difference!) Then do the things that are left.
So, I’m hoping that you can see that Yoga practice is so much more than just an exercise programme or a means of escape from the modern world. In my opinion it’s time to rescue it from the stereotypical image of the laid-back hippy and instead re-assert its value as a way of developing the skills and experiences necessary to handle the challenges of everyday life. The techniques I learned on the mat were as relevant to me as a busy mother as they were to my role as a workplace manager. I’ll continue to draw on those same skills to help me transition to semi-retirement and self-employment. I really hope you can see how they might apply to your life too.
Thich Nhat Hanh “ The Miracle of Mindfulness” 1975