There’s a walking trail in Markham that winds its way leisurely around a pond, through fields, wooded area, along a river and eventually emerges in the quaint village of Unionville, Ontario. People negotiate its many twists and turns either on foot or on bicycle as they get their daily dose of exercise. A pleasant walk indeed. On occasion, I have even spotted the odd deer peering through the early morning mist.
But surprising at it may seem, I have also spotted shortcuts at every curve – paths beaten through the grass and wild flowers by walkers and cyclists who have been programmed by life to seek out the shortest distance between two points. Has the world gone completely mad? Why would someone whose sole purpose in the morning was to exercise or enjoy the outdoors want to take a shortcut?
Yet this is precisely what they do. And I am tempted as well when I see this swooping arc in the path ending at the foot of a bridge a scant 50 yards straight ahead. Is the real purpose of this path to take a person from point A to point B in the shortest time possible? Forget the rippling stream and swaying branches, the colorful flowers and fluttering birds. Ignore the early morning mist and the animals scurrying for cover in the bushes. Let’s get to Unionville as fast as we can!
Upon reflection, we negotiate life the same way. We try to get through it in the least possible time. Who has time to smell the flowers? Just trample them underfoot as we carve another shortcut through life. Dictate into a pocket recorder as we drive through the countryside. Scan magazines as your child skates his heart out for your approval. Mentally rehearse that sales presentation as you and your family eat breakfast in silence. Use your wireless handheld computer to collect e-mail at the beach. Make every vacation a working vacation, every social event a networking opportunity and every flight a chance to work undisturbed.
What is the impact of eating breakfast during the commute to work or using a cell phone as we weave through city traffic? A safety hazard? Absolutely. A stressor. Of course. A time saver? Not really. You cannot save time, stretch time nor salvage time. You can only use time. If you use it for trivial, needless or superfluous things, you are actually wasting it. We try to cheat life by cramming more into each hour, but by doing so, we simply displace something else or ruin what that hour already contains.
There are a few things that can be done simultaneously while preserving the integrity of each, such as listening to the radio while taking a shower or reading a book while waiting for a delayed flight to depart, but these are few and far between. In general, what appear to be time savers are actually life wasters in disguise. In the name of personal productivity, organizational efficiency or time strategies, we have been sold a bill of goods by well-meaning time management consultants who are paid handsomely to keep us on the fast track. Sometimes we are moving in the opposite directions to the track. What is the point in running up a down elevator?
We are conditioned throughout our lives to hurry, be efficient, and not waste time. We are brainwashed by commercials that promote fast foods, speedy delivery and instant success. We are deluged with time saving appliances, super swift software and precision watches that track time to the nth degree. We move faster, talk faster, work faster and live faster. Children grow up faster and grownups grow old faster. Time itself seems to be picking up speed.
It’s a beautiful life, but who has time to notice? Life expectancy has increased but its benefits have been nullified by our distorted perception of time. We are living faster than the speed of life. We are literally racing to our deaths. If you are a participant in the rat race, get off the track. Let the die-hards pass you on the way to the finish line. The secret of life is not to be the one to finish it first, but the one to enjoy it the most. Don’t live speedily; live abundantly. Time management is not doing more things in less time. It is doing more important things in the time that we have. And who is to determine what is important? You are. It’s your time. It’s your life. You may want to live it a little slower and savor the moments. You may even decide that it’s more important to see those fish gliding effortlessly between the rocks in that shallow stream than to arrive in Unionville before the stores open.
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