THIS EPHEMERAL THING WE CALL TIME—AND OUR AMAZING ABILITY TO FRITTER IT AWAY BY BEING BUSY, BUSY, BUSY—BUT TO WHAT PURPOSE?
A blog by Tony Schwartz in the New York Times has prompted me to write this particular piece. Tony is the author of THE WAY WE’RE WORKING ISN’T WORKING, a truly fascinating book about questioning our existing rat-race lifestyle. I came to exactly that conclusion decades ago—which is, I suspect, one of the reasons I became a writer. Fundamentally, I rejected the way a normal business day worked. I thought people were crazy to operate this way—and still do. There has to be more to life.
The section of Tony Schwartz’s blog that really resonated was in the following:
I was feeling tired and overloaded when I left for vacation in early August. I looked forward to relaxing and being with my family, but I equally craved time for quiet reflection. Thinking creatively, strategically and long term is a crucial part of any leader’s job, and I felt frustrated trying to make that happen amid the phone calls, e-mail, texts, meetings and the slew of questions and issues that come up over the course of a working day.
My brain had just gotten too crowded. With so much external distraction and so many issues competing for my attention, I was only able to give small amounts to any one. To make deeper and more meaningful connections between the disparate ideas in my head, I needed to free up both time and internal space.
That isn’t easy, as you surely know. I solved the problem simply: when my wife and I went to visit our daughter and her husband in Amsterdam, I didn’t bring my laptop and I didn’t activate my phone.
We hung out together, biked, walked and lingered in restaurants. But I also took a couple of hours for myself in the afternoons. I sat down with a journal and a pen, and free-associated. At first, it was just a jumble of thoughts about the new direction I believe our company needed to take. As the days went on, though, the thoughts began to sort themselves out, and clarify and cohere.
Time without interruptions and imminent deadlines was an incredible luxury. I didn’t feel rushed to arrive at conclusions or solutions. I could pursue an idea or a direction without worrying about its immediate utility. It allowed me to take a much more long-range view.
For a host of reasons—starting with the fact that it can take years to write a book, and decades to master your craft (not that one ever does completely)—it is highly desirable for a writer to take the long view; and to be prepared to endure setbacks and privation along the way. But you will learn to focus on one thing at a time, and to treat time itself with the respect it deserves. And you’ll be richly rewarded—though probably not with money! Though you may be surprised.