The Benedict Project 3: Time Management Tips

A few weeks into my Benedict Project I’m coming to the insight that getting up in the morning and going to bed at night at more or less fixed times is actually hugely depending on the art of starting and stopping a previous task.

Given my passionate and somewhat impulsive nature, I have a big tendency to get carried away by the latest and the loudest. Often times I start an internet task (like: research for my blog) and find a thousand more interesting things, which I clip onto my Evernote or (even more addictingly) pin on Pinterest or share on Facebook.
Very often I get so swept away that

  1. I get into procrastination mode
  2. my task doesn’t get done
  3. I experience a gnawing sense of being lost, of emptiness and failure
  4. the distractions are not even fun anymore and are guilt-inducing
  5. I have the feeling time is slipping away…leaking away..and I am wasting my life

Benedictine monks have several fixed tasks during the day, like: praying, working, meditating, reading and studying. They are never short on time!
Why is that?
They don’t carry on reading a particular good piece of literature “because it is so compelling”, they don’t continue praying “because they’re not done yet”, they don’t prolong their meditation time, “because they’re spacing out so nicely”, they don’t drag on with Mass “because working is less important”, they don’t study longer than scheduled “because they’ve procrastinated and have to catch up”, they don’t continue working after the alotted time “because work is not finished yet”.

How refreshing and counter-cultural is that, in a world where 60 hour workweeks seem to be the norm and working through the night is considered virtuous and ambitious? But the monks don’t ignore the bells and neither should you, if you want a to live a more productive, frictionless and spiritual life.

“But as soon as the first signal for None is made, let each and all break off from their work and be ready by the time the second signal has sounded.”- Rule of Benedict

Benedictine monks stick to their daily routine like velcro and know how important it is to start on time and stop on time, making mental space for the next task.

This goes against my human nature. I want to quit things I find hard or boring and I want to prolong things that give me pleasure as long as possible. How freeing it must be to develop a healthy Benedictine sense of discipline, character and time management.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

An added benefit of starting and stopping properly is that I am never “idle“.
Benedict already knew:

“Idleness is inimical* to the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be occupied, at fixed seasons, with manual work and again at fixed seasons with spiritual reading.”

I’ve noticed that my productivity is inversely proportional to the time I seem to be having. I seem to get less productive because I get idle or lazy by thinking I have all the time in the world, and I actually function better with deadlines and setting my timer for tasks.

Practical suggestions:

  • keep a kitchen timer or your phone with you at all times and consciously start each activity, alotting a specific time for it before you begin and setting your timer.
  • STOP when the timer goes off! Be still!
    Make some notes of where you’ve stopped and wish to continue next time, to make starting again easier.
  • Prepare for the next task, be conscious and aware, creating space in your head
  • Set your timer for the next task (or resting period)… and so on

Let me know if you’re implementing Benedictine time management into your own life and what your experiences are in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you!

Please take a minute to leave a comment now.

And if you like what you’ve read, go ahead and sign up for the e-mail list or via rss!! Thanks for supporting me, it means a lot…

love and peace,

Ester

You can also find me on: Facebook, Google + or Twitter.

You can find my previous posts of the Benedict Project here:

Benedict Project 2012: a sneak peak

Benedict Project 1: getting up in the morning

Benedict Project 2: going to bed on time

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the Benedict Project 2: Going to bed on time

After two weeks of attempting to get up early, I learned three things:

  1. I am powerless over snoozing and getting up late in general and I can only ask God to take it away from me
  2. it helps if I go to bed 9 hours before I have to get up
  3. it is about progress, not perfection (it does NOT help to beat myself up over it)

It humbled me to experience, that not everything I put my mind to is happening the way I want it too. I have to follow God’s guidance .

Hearken continually within thine heart, O son, giving attentive ear to the precepts of thy master [God]*

I will accept myself, but I will strive for more anyway. Gretchen Rubin puts it like this:

Although I have not yet succeeded in getting up early in the morning, I gained some valuable insights and I will continue to press on, adding a second goal: going to bed on time in the evening.

I’ve been having a great conversation with a reader the past weeks, who made some clever suggestions to make going to bed easier:

  • a 20-30 minute walk before sleep/ shut down the computer at 8:30 pm
  • no more snacks/cookies in the evening
  • drinking a decaffeinated cup of tea

I’d recommend herbal tea with chamomile, lavender or valerian, like Pukka’s Night time blend… Coffee is definitely a no-go for me!

My idea is to make the time before I go to bed an unwinding, closing ritual, inspired by the Benedictine Monks.

5 pm**: the monks have their sunset evening prayer service called Vespers

6 pm: dinner in silence while one monk reads something from Scripture or other literature

7-8 pm: Benedict prescribes the silent reading of ‘edifying literature’ in the evening by the monks in their cells (rooms).

8 pm: End of the day-prayers are said: Compline.
Afterwards Great Silence is observed: everybody goes to their rooms and is completely silent.

What speaks to me about the monks’ ritual is that they stick to a fixed bedtime, which is part of their daily ‘order’ or schedule. What also appeals to me is the strict application of silence in the Benedictine routine.
I’d love to experience in my own life the kind of freedom those ‘restrictions’ must give in the mind and the body.

Keeping all this wisdom in mind, I’ve come to a proposition for myself for this week, which I hope to develop into an evening ritual.

  • EAT 6:15 pm dinner. Note: after dinner: no computer!!
  • READ 6:45 pm Bible reading and prayer with my husband (myVespers‘)
  • CLEAN 7:00 pm cleaning up: 15 minutes kitchen and 15 minutes tidying the living room
  • FREE 7:30 – 8:30 pm free time to: hang out with husband and animals, read, take a luxury bath, call a friend, write a letter, drink herbal tea, listen to classical music…
  • PREPARE 8:30 pm prepare lunch and backpack for next day, pick clothes for next day, look at my appointments, feed the rabbits / tidy their cages
  • WALK 9:00 pm walk the dog (unhurried and in gratitude of the day)
  • CLEAN ME 9:30 pm wash, put on pj’s, write in 1-sentence journal
  • PRAY 9:50 pm short prayer and 5 minutes of silent meditation in my ‘meditation room’: my ‘Compline‘. I hope to expand the prayer and meditation in the future, but I want to start small to create a habit.
  • SLEEP 10 pm: in bed and eyes closed ;-). The Great Silence has begun!

I need 9 hours sleep nowadays, so this means I will be able to get up at 7am if I’ll stick to my bedtime routine.

For inspiration, I have composed a ‘Morning Moodboard‘ and a ‘Time To Go To bed-Moodboard’  at Pinterest.

Let me know your proposed evening ritual and let’s encourage each other for 1,5 week to stick to it and share our experience in the comments.

Please take a minute to leave a comment now, I’d really appreciate it!
And if you like what you’ve read, go ahead and sign up for the e-mail list or via rss!! Thanks for supporting me, it means a lot…
love and peace,
Ester
You can also find me on: Facebook, Google + or Twitter.

p.s.: If you want to read more about this topic: Gretchen Rubin just happened to write the post: ‘I can never go to bed on time!’, featuring an awesome video.

* Rule of Benedict: Prologue

** the times of the day vary a little in each monastery but are the same each day.

breaking the P-cycle

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Lately I have been struggling greatly with Procrastination and Perfectionism. I seem to just flatline when I’m thinking I either have to be perfect or just sit in my chair, stare, do nothing and feel bad about myself. Good or bad, black or white.

Today I read something very fantastic in a daily email from www.flylady.com.
Let me first say that Flylady (FLY stands for Finally Loving Yourself) is a sweethearted lady who helps you manage your home again in tiny babysteps, while loving yourself instead of beating yourself up.
It is a very fun website with incredibly helpful tools and I am currently doing the beginner babysteps of housecleaning & organizing, to keep me from getting into the Procrastination and Perfectionism cycle.

So today I read this awesome entry about there being two other P’s associated with Perfectionism and Procrastination, so all credit for the 4-P idea goes to Karen, a Flybaby from Tennessee and to Flylady for her advice and resources.(I’ve also added a fifth P)

Pride

The first P Karen says is for Pride, which wants you to set too high standards for myself (oh yeah baby!). I tend to do that a lot with household stuff, or my to-dolist for the day or week. I always cram in way too many things.

Perfectionism

The second P is Perfectionism, which is the result of setting the bar too high in the first place. With me this is closely related to never feeling good enough. It’s definitely gotten better the last years, but when I am hungry, angry, lonely or tired, or (God forbid) PMS-ing (you ladies know what I’m talkin’ ’bout…), then I tend to slide back to this horrible P to try to regain control my life (of course, in vain).

“You cannot open a flower with a sledgehammer” –

Bob Wilson

Pressure

The third P is the inevitable selfdestructive Pressure you’ll be on then, resulting in negative self-talk, spiraling down to feeling like crap and behaving that way as well.

Procrastination

Fourthly there’s mr. Procrastination. Now I think there’s good and bad Procrastination. Good Procrastination is letting your mind wander, daydream, do nothing and get creative.

Bad Procrastination is the result of negative self-talk, self-condemnation, being stuck in a irrealisticly high expectation of yourself, perfectionistically disabling yourself from doing ANYthing ANYmore.

In this state (where I was in yesterday afternoon) my muscles turn to jell-o, and I feel like a boneless chicken , not able to think, not able to move, I was even crying out of sheer self-imposed helplessness and inertia.

Punishment

At rock bottom of this process I’d add a final and utterly sad fifth P: Punishment of myself. That’s when you actively start thinking horrible thoughts about yourself and punishing yourself in your thoughts.

Like:
“I am good for nothing; I cannot do anything right; I am worthless; I am lazy ; I am a bad person, I am not worth being on this planet.”
Recognize those bugger-thoughts?Time to turn it round!

I know that these negative thoughts are so self-destructive, they prevent me from being the me I am supposed to be, they increase my stress levels, decrease my quality of life.
Who am I to say that I am not good? I am God’s beloved creation!

Awareness, Acceptance, Action

But I know that if I am to beat this nasty P-cycle, I first have to be aware they are there, drink a cup of acceptance-tea with them, gently usher them out of the door and start praying to my God and saying healing and healthy thoughts to myself (action).

Now be nice to yourselves today and go replace them nasty P-s with nice ones!

Patience, Pleasure, Potential, Pampering, Pleased, Peacefulness, Prayer, Passion, Perseverance, Peace, Possibility, Positivity, Praise, Pureness, Playfulness and you are PRECIOUS!

If you like what you read, please take a minute to leave a comment below, follow me on Twitter or visit my Facebook page. Thank you! Spread the positive word!

Be a Task Killer Ninja

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How do we get from Victim to Captain and Commander in our productivity?

In his book Making it All Work David Allen describes the matrix of self-management.
In the mire of little perspective and little control, in the lower left quadrant is the Victim. A feared state of hopelessness and inertia.
In the upper right quadrant is the widely admired state of Captain and Commander. That’s the perfect state in which we are if we have both perfect perspective and control over what we do. Of course these states can alternate per week, day or even hour…

Sometimes I can get into a slump and I must admit: the label Victim best suits me in that situation. Sigh…

So what do I do to drag myself out of it and start doing?

Last Wednesday I wanted to knock a whole lot of tasks off my to-do-list.
I started with the Most Important Task, which was adjusting six similar reports. Instead of spreading the energy and focus thin, I gave myself an extremely tight time limit for each report: 10 minutes. So I started chopping away at my reports like a ninja chops his wooden boards. I even had to suppress some of the little ninja-yells. Immediately I saw myself from a helicopter vision and thought: I am a Task Killer Ninja, that’s what I am!!! I was exhilarated and in great flow.

Here’s what defines the Task Killer Ninja GTD-style:

  • clear vision of the outcome: next action thinking
  • extreme focus
  • compressed energy
  • speed
  • bold task killer attitude
  • black suit is optional

Later that day I applied my Task Killer Ninja-attitude to my Weekly Review. I grabbed my intray and started chopping away at all the little Collected notes. Within 30 seconds I divided them between actionable and non-actionable items. You should’ve seen me! I looked like a ninja movie played fast forward. This was my record in Clarifying!

The Task Killer Ninja-attitude I can also recommend for cleaning your house or chopping wood.

Let me know if you’ve ever felt like a productivity-ninja or if you identify with something else. I’m so curious!

Post a comment or find me on Twitter

p.s. I googled task killer ninja and I saw that Leo Babauta also has an excellent blog post on Task Ninja’s (without killer)