Mercury’s contemporary magic wand for taking command of your time is the stopwatch. Here’s how you use this magical wand:
You know the clock on the wall will keep ticking away relentlessly until the day has gone by. You even know how it keeps ticking at night--why else would you awaken at 5:59 on your digital bedside clock when you’ve set the alarm to go off at 6:00? You know the telephone seems wired to that damned clock, life’s interruptions seem wired to it, the myriad distractions that flesh is heir to seem wired to it--and you recognize that, as a result, you yourself and your dreams have been wired to the Accountant’s clock for way too long. Your world has been defined by that relentless, uncreative clock. You are desperate to realize your Goal Time.
Today you stop the world. You buy a stopwatch. I suggest buying the simplest one you can find, one that allows you to stop the seconds and restart them, without the other countless modes that will drive you crazy unless you’re training race horses. Hang the stopwatch above your computer, your telephone, your work table--above whatever altar serves the god of your dream. Promise yourself that, no matter what happens on that wall clock, you will work on your dream at least one hour before you go to bed tonight.
Or two hours. Try one first, then expand slowly and naturally in the direction of that Goal Time. Keep it as simple as you can and still make it work for you. Using the stopwatch allows me the illusion of freedom you value highly, but also ensures the constant sense of disciplined progress toward the success you’ve mapped out for yourself.
Nothing is more satisfyingly inevitable than the achievements that time creates from small, stolen increments. One hour a day is thirty hours a month. Thirty hours a month will inevitably produce results, especially if you’ve programmed the three parts of your mind effectively to make the best possible use of that one hour. Imagine how quickly planning his quest will move forward, having assigned five hours a week to the operation.
If the one-hour-per-day approach doesn't work for your unpredictable schedule, or makes you feel too disciplined, make it a weekly approach. One of my workshop students was having trouble keeping to his contract that he’d put in two writing hours per day. After several give and takes, we came down to the real reason he was having problems: He was leaving his day job in order to be free, and the daily discipline we’d been discussing made him feel enslaved again. I asked him if he’d be comfortable committing to a weekly number of hours, to bringing in his stopwatch to the next session with ten hours on it.
"Absolutely. The whole idea is to find a way of tricking your mind into allowing you to live by your own clock."
He came in the next week with 10:06 on his stopwatch, and the weeks after with 10:04, 9:56, 10:10. He’d found a way of using the magic wand to give him that necessary illusion of freedom and control combined with the satisfaction of real progress in committing hours to his career transit.
Don’t forget that only you can call "time out!"
Anon: It's not over until the fat lady sings.
Atchity: It's not over, but you can call time out.
I used to wish I could call time out to give myself time to regroup and figure out the meaning of life. I used to fantasize about building in an extra, dateless, hour-less day each week to give us time off: no appointments, no phone calls, no deadlines. But that is daydreaming, undisciplined Visionary thinking; and we are trapped in an Accountant’s world.
You can get time out on a regular basis by stealing it. Now that you’ve embraced your career transit and are living the entrepreneurial life, don’t forget to give yourself the benefits that your day job employer was forced to give you. Sometimes we are so excited about doing the things we love on a daily basis that we forget to give ourselves a break from them. “I don't need a vacation. My life is a vacation!”
Everyone needs vacations. Most people need them because work is exhausting. The entrepreneur needs them because vacations bring perspective and creative insights that are unavailable under the daily pressures of the career transit. "To do great work," Samuel Butler wrote, a person "must be very idle as well as very industrious." The entrepreneur, as both employer and employed, must schedule his vacations, with alternate dates in mind in case "something comes up" that forces a change. You are accomplishing just as much if not more when you "go away for the whistle" and allow your mind to play.
Vacations for the dreamer are excursions into Visionary time. "Getaway time," like the aboriginal "dreamtime," puts your Mind’s Eye in direct touch with the Visionary’s view of what you've been doing on a daily basis, and what you could be doing more creatively. Traveling away from "Base 1" is always good for the dreamer because it causes a "cross-pollinating" effect among your objectives, goals, and projects. Traveling anywhere away from a project is a kind of vacation, and nearly always a creative advantage; but traveling should be distinguished from true vacations. Going to New York on business, or going home to see your family for a week, are vacations that can bring fresh perspective. But in both cases there are too many things "to do" for the most constructive form of abandonment to occur. A true vacation is being on the island of Maui, where, after a couple of days of readjustment to "heavenly Hana," your "to-do" list consists of two items, and you somehow never quite get around either to doing them or to caring that you didn't. You notice suddenly that the days seem long, immense; that time has become, as Jorge Luis Borges puts it, "like a plaza." Smaller getaways can produce the same effect: mountain hiking; wandering through the museum; deep-sea fishing for a day; just "hanging out" at Grand Central Station or at the Plaza Oak Bar watching the world go by. During a true vacation Mercury can bring you an Olympian perspective, where the patterns of your life and activities become apparent among the tangle of busyness.
It is precisely at such times that "chaos theory" applies itself to the creative process. Chaos theory posits the all-important impact of tiny random events on the long-range prediction of physical cycles. Weather patterns could be predicted accurately were it not for "the butterfly effect": Somewhere a Monarch butterfly fluttering from flower to flower (an incident too small to measure) minutely disrupts the passage of the breeze, and a thousand miles away a middle-sized storm turns into a tornado. Chaos theory is the despair of Accountants, who spend their lives trying to predict regularity as though chaos didn’t exist. But to the Visionary, chaos is the staff of Mercury. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in Thus Spake Zarathustra, his most Visionary work, wrote: "One must still have chaos in one to give birth to a dancing star."
The dreamer arranges his true vacations to put him in direct touch with chaos, following winding roads to heavenly dream places inaccessible to ordinary travelers.
Tips on time and work management
Rate everything that crosses your desk 1, 2, or 3. Then make an agenda for the 1s immediately, and immediately delegate the 2s to someone else. Put the 3s in a drawer designated the "3-drawer," setting aside a few hours once a month to go through it and see what’s still important enough to deal with. You’ll discover that most of the contents of the 3-drawer are even less important than they were. Napoleon supposedly had all his mail dumped before the bags were opened, on the premise that the important news would have reached him already and anything he neglected that should not have been neglected would make itself known. I’m sure that Josephine quickly found an alternative method of communicating with her Emperor.
Postpone procrastination! Anthony Robbins says, "The best way to deal with procrastination is to postpone it." Procrastinate with everything except your dream. To make that happen you need to--
As much as possible, solve each problem as it occurs. Postponing the solution automatically increases the total amount of time needed for it. Opening a letter, then stacking it somewhere, is counterproductive. If you know from the envelope that the letter isn’t important, toss it in the nearest wastebasket and don’t even take it into your den.
Mencius: Men must be decided on what they will not do, and then they are able to act with vigor in what they ought to do.
Well-meaning Friend: You're such an enthusiast.
Atchity: Why does that sound like an accusation?
Enthusiasts must protect themselves from their enthusiasms. To accomplish this, I suggest the following.
Hold a monthly "drop" meeting with yourself. The object of the meeting is to select activities that can be dropped for a month, with a promise to reevaluate their importance at your next meeting. Tabling or discarding the weaker dreams, thereby constantly improves the quality of the dreams you work on. As you become experienced in the creative life, you’ll recognize that one of its strangest characteristics is the necessity of killing the little monsters--that once were bright dreams--nipping at your heels. The smaller dreams must now be pruned away so that the bigger ones can thrive. Of course it’s even better to kill them off in the concept stage; as Albert Camus said: "It's better to resist at the beginning, than at the end."
Don’t feel bad about the discards. Celebrate them. More than sacrifices or disappointments, they are symptoms of your disciplined progress. Just because you can do something, after all, no longer means that you must or should do it. That was the old you, dominated by the Accountant, before your Mind’s Eye opened to engage you in an entrepreneurial career transit.
When evaluating new projects, keep in mind the sign that psychologist Carl Jung had framed above his desk:
Yes No Maybe
"Maybe" is crossed out as well as “No” to remind us that it’s the "Maybes" that devour our time and dream energies. If the answer to an incoming idea or request isn't definitively "Yes," it’s definitively "No." Never Maybe. Maybe kills countless ambitions and splendid plans. "We are what we pretend to be," says Kurt Vonnegut's narrator in Mother Night, "so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."
You may also find it useful to go through the following checklist:
Is this a good idea (or opportunity)? Yes or No.
Is this idea directly connected with my dream? Yes or No. If the answer is No, pass it along to someone else "with no strings attached.”
Does this idea fit into my present agenda? If not, is it such a good idea that I should revise my agenda to accommodate it?
Is the world ready for this idea?
Am I ready to spend years making it real?
It’s extremely important to consider both internal and external "timing" when it comes to evaluating new ideas and opportunities. Many of us waste time on good ideas whose time has either come and gone, or won’t be coming for too long a time to make its present implementation productive. Of course, thanks to the predictably unpredictable impact of chaos on our lives, we can never be certain about timing. But we can be certain about our gut reaction to the checklist.
So long as you live, be radiant, and do not grieve at all. Life's span is short and time exacts the final reckoning.
--Cepitaph of Seikilos for his wife (100 B.C.)
This series was updated from How to Escape Lifetime Security and Pursue Your Impossible Dream: A Guide to Transforming Your Career (Helios Press)