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A Time Management System Based On Bhagwad Geeta – I

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन

मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भु मा ते संगोत्स्वकर्मणि

(Bhagvad-Geeta, Chapter 2, Hymn 47)
I have been a big failure when it comes to time management. The clothes would be piled up, the sink would be overflowing with dishes, and still I would be sitting on couch and watching TV.

Even when I was in school, I was a poor time manager. I used to plan a hell lot of studies, about 9 to 10 hours per day. Almost always, I used to finish barely half of what  I planned and used to go to bed feeling guilty and hoping to do better the next day.

Overall I managed good grades at school and good performance at job. But I always had this feeling that I am capable of more, only if I could get a bit more organized.

I tried some time management tricks. First it began with rigid plan. I was going to do thing A from 1:30 pm to 2:00 pm and so on. It bombed miserably. At 1:30 pm someone would call me and the telephone conversation would last for an hour. Then all the successive tasks got delayed. Sometimes I was plain flat bored. Since I could not predict my mood, my motivation level, and other interrupts, this did not work.

Then I tried some things suggested in Stephen Covey’s seven habits book. Some golden rules like “first things first”. Well, it sounded so perfect and so effective in the book. But it was difficult to put in practice.

Then I tried making a list of tasks on a post it note. It seemed like it worked for a while. But it was so easy to fall out of that habit. I read some more books and Internet articles on time management. Each one of them had merits. But overall it was difficult to create a effective habit.

I had always been avid reader of philosophy. I have read “Geeta-Rahasya”, (secrets of Geeta) by Bal Gangadhar Tilak a while back. In Geeta Rahasya, Tilak dwells on Bhagwad-Geeta (referred to as Geeta hereafter) philosophy for its practical application rather than its place in religion. Its an amazing read.

(While talking about Geeta, let me make it very clear that I look at it as a life guiding philosophical book. I do not look as something divine handed down by gods to humans. Instead I look at it as a work of some of the greatest minds in human history. Brilliant, but not superhuman. Inspirational, full of wisdom, but not divine.)

Recently I was reading another book on level 5 leadership by Jim Collins, and something he mentioned struck me. He talked about how the general wisdom to have precise, down to last detail, objective in place before beginning action, was counterproductive to action. From his observation, greatest leaders chose clear action plan leading to vague objectives over vague or complex action plan leading to clear objectives. Because no matter how hard you try, you cannot control the outcome of your actions precisely. This control over outcomes gets more difficult as your plan gets more precise.

So if you really cannot control it, well, may be you shouldn’t try to. You should only focus your attention on what you can control. The only you can control is your actions.

The chapter 2, hymn 47 mentioned above summarizes this very well. It talks about you have authority over only your actions.
The second part of this hymn discourages “action motivated from the desire of reward”. Often this is interpreted as selfless action, an action almost purely from philanthropic point of view. It’s dead wrong. This interpretation is merely because most of the times the people who interpreted Geeta were monks. Thus Geeta was always portrayed as a book to go to when you are ready to renounce the world. This lead everyone but monks away from Geeta. Little kids sometimes learn chapters in Geeta by heart, but rarely anyone delves in the meaning.

The way I interpret is that the action should be more motivated by love of doing that action right at that moment, rather than motivated by the reward obtained at the end. It can be selfish or selfless. That’s not the point. To give you an example, if you are a artist, say a painter, you should paint because you like painting, not because you are dreaming of making a lot of money by selling the painting. Joy of doing the action itself should be your reward. Obviously living life like this has some practical limitations. But this is where we should be headed to finally.

When I was creating a time management system for myself, I was always worried about what will happen if I don’t accomplish those things. I was motivated purely by the desire for rewards. It often resulted in fear and anxiety of losing the rewards. Sometimes I was motivated by guilt. Guilt of wasting time, or guilt of not doing enough. My previous systems consisted of prioritized tasks, scheduled back to back. Never did I stop and think whether I am liking what I am doing.

To follow the doctrine of Geeta, first and foremost goal of the time management system should be that you should enjoy creating a time management system at all. To achieve this, I started to doing exact opposite of managing my time. Normal wisdom dictates that I should create a list of tasks and mark them done as I complete them. Instead at the end of the day, I started listing what tasks I finished that day and crossing them out as if I completed them on plan. It’s like throwing a dart at a blank screen and going and putting a circle around where-ever the dart hit. Have you read Jonathan Livingston Seagull? There is a great advice the great seagull gives to Jonathan while talking about going from one place to another in a flash. “The secret of going there, is to realize that you have already arrived.” So in a way, secret of a successfully managing time is to realize that you are already managing it well.

This may sound weird, but it worked. It served two purposes.
First, it motivated me by showing me how much I achieved. I realized that even without time management system, I completed several tasks every day. Just that I did not count them as tasks. It changed my perspective of what is a task. Previously I counted only those things as tasks that showed tangible results. Like mailing something was a task, but buying stamps was not. Now I created tasks based on what I did, and not based on what I got. So calling friends and family became a task. Reading news on Internet became a task. These things serve a purpose in my life, they qualify as a task and completion of that task qualifies an achievement.
Second, this gave me a true, realistic picture of what and how much I was doing in a day. I was not as productive as far as “value adding” tasks was concerned. But now I started questioning “value”. And my productivity varied too. Someday I finished a lot of things. Some day not much. I was expecting far more from myself and planning far more for myself than I was really accomplishing on an average day. I was counting each day to be like my best productive day and that simply was not true.

For the first time, I felt good about myself while trying to manage my time. Additionally as mentioned above, it gave me glimpse into areas where I was really productive. And it showed me areas where I practically sucked. If I plainly dislike doing something, no time management system in the world can change it.

It took me a few weeks till this settled into a routine. Every day before I fell asleep, there would be a post it note next to my bed which had a list of all the things I did that day and had them marked “done”. If somebody were to walk in my bedroom just after my bedtime, they would have a feeling that I was really good in planning and executing tasks.

Now I was liking my time management system and I was getting into some kind of routine. I was getting insights into how my mind and body work. The next task was to build a structure that would not make me force to do anything, yet would help me manage my time well.



5 Responses

  1. Kedar,
    A very good read.
    I am coming here after long time, apologies.

  2. Kedar-
    Very cool idea, and I definitely agree if I hate doing something, I won’t do it no matter how many times I put it on my list- that is why my sink is always full of dishes and I just wash only what I need for each meal! But I think you are a little hard on yourself when you say areas where you sucked. Here is a nice teacher twist on it: “areas where you could use improvement”. 🙂

  3. I really enjoyed reading this. Especially, “Instead at the end of the day, I started listing what tasks I finished that day and crossing them out as if I completed them on plan. It’s like throwing a dart at a blank screen and going and putting a circle around where-ever the dart hit.” – I’ve personally experienced the teething troubles of time management – I used to end up making lists until my folks teased me about what a national waste of paper it was resulting in. I do still make lists, but do it in the middle of the day when I can list things I’ve already finished. Great stuff, Kedar! I am looking forward to the “continued…..” The Bhagwad Geeta is an attitude.

  4. […] A Time Management System Inspired By Bhagwad Geeta – II Posted on July 11, 2010 by Kedar (Continued from previous post…) […]

  5. nice one .. You have a different perspective.. It gives me great relief because I am also same type.. 🙂

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