Marking time

So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12

A year ago, the day I handed in my resignation letter to my boss, I figured that I would begin to possess a valuable commodity in abundance. That gem is called Time. That thing which people equate to money. And almost literally in our world today. And the thing was, at that moment, I haven’t really given much thought in actually knowing how to use this sudden surge of “wealth”. I thought I would find my passion and end up in another job soon enough. But as I waited, that “soon enough” hasn’t arrived for almost a year now.

Well, the thing about being semi-unemployed (I still do freelance instructing for gyms) is that most people assume that you’ve got lots of free time. And that was definitely true, at least at the beginning. However, and I’m not quite sure whether it’s due to my personality or obsession to try out everything all at once, the number of stuff to do started pilling up ever so gradually. There are a few friends I know who simply cannot fathom this. Especially when they, at least for a while, shared the same status as me – being without a fulltime job. I figure that’s because it’s hard for them to find stuff to do when they’re alone. Most of them could manage with taking care of their dogs or go on a marathon session watching their favourite dvd series. Throw in a holiday in between and they’re done. As I have found out the past year, though I’m consistently deemed an extrovert, I could always find things to do on my own to fill up my days. They may not always be interesting stuff but I do try to keep them varied. Otherwise, I would get bored very easily.

The thing is that, over the past year, I’ve actually learned to be more comfortable with doing stuff alone. This is probably an essential skill to have as one grows up, seeing how most of your friends around you predictably start to embrace and immerse into higher responsibilities of either starting a family or pursuing their lifelong interest. Both of which demand a huge part of their waking hours. You just can’t expect your usual band of brothers (or sisters) to hang out all the time with you anymore. Priorities change the structure of people’s lives. It’s no good chaining your friends down by expecting to do stuff together ALL the time. Relationships should be free; that’s where they thrive healthily.

Going back to my use of time, as I’ve said before, there wasn’t much consideration being put to it. Having said that, it didn’t mean that I haven’t put it to good use. I’m the kind of person who simply cannot be in a state of inertia. My body and mind have to be in motion, otherwise my days would normally go on a downward spiral. So I did stuff as I felt compelled to do. The thing about this “do as you feel” mantra is that there is much lack of one revered attribute – focus. If there’s anything I’ve learned, that’s the one thing that breeds achievement or success in any endeavor which you embark on. And by success, I don’t just mean earning lotsa money or garnered worldwide fame; it’s having seen a marked improvement over time. Your weakness becomes a strength, so to speak.

Oh yes, I do want focus.

To do that, I’ll be using a method taken from one of my favourite writers. Using a stopwatch instead (I actually bought a kitchen timer but failed to foresee the possibility of an extremely irritating ticking sound with every second that passes), I’ll be marking out 35 minutes blocks of time. For every block, I would use my entire being to focus on doing ONE thing.

Why 35 minutes, you may ask?

Well for a start, despite its arbitrariness, half an hour just didn’t seem like a meaningful mark for time to me. It has that casualness factor to it – “Oh, I’ll see you in half an hour” is something we all say but don’t really mean precisely. To put an extra 5 minutes so that you actually have to say out the number in terms of time, somehow for some inconceivable reason, gives a sense of seriousness to it. Something that I should honor. That extra 5 minutes also gives a sense of a “grace period”, where you know the moment it hits half an hour there’s some lag time to move on to the next task.

The other thing, as I pondered over the kind of stuff I’m doing right now, is that most of my daily activities could actually be performed within that timeframe. Most of my Crossfit workouts are actually completed within 35 minutes (warm-ups and stretching included). The ideal training stimulus from playing the trumpet can occur over the same period before my lips actually get tired. I could eat my meals comfortable within that time. Read a chapter of a book. Most importantly, travel from one place to another to do errands or honoring appointments.

Now, the way I do this is to continually set the clock running and resetting it once it hits 35 minutes. No, the battery life of my watch is not a major concern here; optimising my life is. And if there’s anything that does take more than 35 minutes, I’ll just dedicate another block to that task. Until it gets done or at least, when I’m satisfied with the work; Or if I get real tired of doing it.

Now there are a few rules that I’m applying to this discipline. For one, I’ll only set the clock for tasks that I’m doing alone. There’s no point really in timing those moments where you’re having meals with your friends, family or colleagues. To me, that’s just plain rude. Those times are meaningful for me and I don’t want to set a limit on it. If other people have strict schedules to adhere to, that’s fine. But I’ll give as much time as I can to craving out space with people as much as possible. The clock has little or no place there. Unless there’s another appointment or some urgent stuff I must attend to. Secondly, I will not use the clock on Sundays, which is the Sabbath day for me. The way I see it, I could be effective and productive with my time for most of the week but for one day, at the very least, I could consecrate and dedicated it as a means to experience a glimpse of eternity. Where the sense of minutes and seconds ticking away doesn’t exist. To imagine a palace in time, where I enter to find re-creation and worship my God, the creator of our world. Gratitude and thankfulness find it difficult to breathe in a place of scarcity.

You may be wondering,”Now isn’t this a little bit extreme?” Chillax man! Life is meant for living; not counting your seconds. (Well, Crossfitters might beg to differ!) You see, I’m a kind of person who possess a ridiculous short attention span. Reading this proves my point. I dilly dally a lot. I meander quickly between tasks and random thoughts; and for the most part, my life seemed to be going around in circles. Life is both a journey AND a destination. One should want to be heading somewhere; and hopefully try not to arrive at the same point again and again, while feeling you haven’t changed at all.

In short, I lack focus. A lot of it. And from what I’ve observed from the memoirs I’ve read about people who did make a difference, including the ones around me, it’s that to change anything for the better, one must dedicated a consistent stream of time and effort to that which he or she is talented in and passionate about. Consistency and focus is key. To have a routine or a ritual provide structure from which creativity could be properly harnessed to form beauty. To have marked moments in the form of 35 rhythmic space allows me to hone my craft and discover a glimpse of its potential, at least on this side of heaven where time is finite.

For now, it’s just Crossfitting and practising my trumpet. Spending time bringing smiles and encouragement to people. It may not sound like much but it’s what I think I’m called to do at the moment. I’ve not received any other inkling or instructions from the sky or my mailbox. Even my heart signals that this is as much I can handle for now. I’ll be observing intentionally how it benefits my daily living. If it doesn’t catch on, well at least I’ve tried and then I could go back to the “do as I feel” mode again where there seemed to be less pressure. Then again, I never believed in enslaving myself with methods and tools. For the moment, marking time is rather fulfilling and enjoyable. Let’s see where this goes.

Now if you would excuse me, my 35 minutes are up.

Inspired by this.


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