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     Volume 6 Issue 47 | December 7, 2007 |

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A Roman Column

The 48-Hour Day!

Neeman Sobhan

I am trying to live it-- the forty-eight hour day! Some days when I watch TV with one eye while reading a book with another, at the same time balancing my laptop on my, well, lap, while cradling the phone against my shoulder, half-listening to a friend's story of woe with my voice on automatic pilot interjecting a timely 'really?' 'I know!' 'poor you!' etc. and my feet stroking my neglected and sulking dog who cringes because he can't recognise his mistress through the face-pack drying on her, well, face, I realise that the twenty four hour day simply doesn't fit my life anymore. There are just not enough conventional hours in a day for me to do all the things that I need to or want to do. So, I have custom designed myself a larger day with more creative hours in it.

Just as in the animal world, one Dog year is equal to two Human years, in my life one normal hour can be equivalent to two hours, its value and potency doubled. On a day of creatively deployed efficiency, sixty minutes of my day can feel like a hundred and twenty. Stretching time, by no stretch of the imagination, is a new concept, but stretching the imagination in different ways to get more mileage out of the same quantity of sand pouring through the hour glass of our lives is an authentically individual exercise, and in these frenetic times, an essential one.

It's not just about multi-tasking--every one does that! It's also about attitude. It's about telling oneself that every new day has to be lived uniquely, challenging the conventional norms of schedule that society or our habits impose on us. So, if one day you need to get up at three in the morning to start cooking ahead for a dinner party that you couldn't avoid throwing that very evening of a busy day at work, well, that's your way to cope! If someone says you are crazy to go to bed at seven p.m and wake up at one-thirty a.m to do your laundry and ironing, or to finish writing an article, so be it! How you budget your hours is your choice, as is, where you spend it!

I treadmill at 'odd' hours, and pray in the car. I do domestic chores in the dead of the night and nap during my lunch break at the university. I listen to Ted Hughes recite while cooking, and do thirty leg-lifts while chopping vegetables. I edit my work while walking the dog; and I plan my week and plot my stories at the doctor, the vet and the hairdresser. I do my nails and make-up while being driven to dinner parties half way across town; and I check my email during parties in my own home when guests are having too much fun to notice the hostess's absence! Above everything, I wake up early and get a head start.

And then….oh! bliss!… I reward myself with a day when the tail stops wagging the dog, when dog time turns human, and the sand dribbles again in a deliciously slow, sixty minute hourglass. All the maneuvering of tasks within the past forty-eight hour days now bear fruit so you can lie back and relish these moments when most of your chores are done, leaving few impending commitments, and time is deemed by you to be not of the essence.

Time, actually, is not of the essence. What is of essence is our own spirit, the quality of our lives, and what or who we deem important in it. Once we prioritise our needs and desires we can use time to serve us in a manner so that we have free moments when we can enjoy our priorities with guilt-less pleasure. Freeing oneself for leisure requires efficient and creative organisation to finish off ones duties, however onerous, in the shortest of time.

One can organize ones day and ones duties by thinking of every hour as an endlessly stretchable element. It requires imagination and skill to find nooks and crannies within ones day to multi-task -- without forgetting to make room for the emotional needs of oneself and ones close ones. A day can be just full or it can be fulfilling. It can be just a twenty four hour day or it can be a forty-eight hour one in terms of satisfaction and value. It all depends on us.

It's a bit like that story of the professor and the pebbles which is now called the 'pickle-jar' theory of Time Management. Everyone these days has heard every story, but this one can bear retelling. A professor wanted to give his class a lesson in life and showed them an empty glass jar, asking if it was full or empty. The class yawned: 'Empty!' The professor filled it with medium sized rocks to the brim and asked if the jar was empty or full now. The class shrugged: 'Full!' The professor now filled the gaps in the rocks with small pebbles, and asked the same question. The class now sat up and said, '…umm…I guess it's full now.' The Professor said: 'Sure'? The class nodded while the teacher started to pour sand into the jar. Eyes twinkling he turned to his students and said, 'And now?' The class got the message. The perceived capacity of any jar depends on the person who fills it and what he puts in it.

The pickle-jar of our everyday can hold more than we think it can. Small tasks, medium pleasures, large goals, tiny rewards, an outpouring of joy, invisible dreams and solid achievements, all can be made to fit into it, if we really want to make the effort.

Prioritising our daily 'to-do-list' can be a primary step in elasticising time. Another is, delegating duties, getting help from others. But the most useful practice for me was acquiring the wisdom on: what is essential to our and our family's wellbeing; what would further our life's goals and sense of fulfillment; and what things amount to a waste of time and energy. It was also about knowing how to differentiate between what is important and what is urgent! At first, I, too, thought that the 'urgent' was sacrosanct and more time-worthy than the merely 'important'! I felt truly wise the day I realised the truth of a quote attributed to Eisenhower: What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.

Often, we fill our day with only short-term urgent things while the quietly important long-term matters are overlooked, neglected, or sacrificed. Of course, in this department we look guiltily only at our relationship issues, involving old parents, family, friends, social obligations etc. But, one of the most 'important' things, often never labeled 'urgent' is--- oneself!

The other day, a holiday, I had to unavoidably go out to meet someone for an hour. I had to leave the lunch table which I had filled with my cooking, making the usual effort towards a happy family time. I excused myself for the hour, and my family in a good, post-luncheon mood waved me off saying they would clear up. Having arrived at the café, I got an SMS from the person I was to meet, profusely apologising for not being able to meet me after all. I looked around me. The park nearby was sparkling in the sun; the Pines were whispering in the breeze. I now had an hour when I was not expected back. I bought myself a gelato and went to sit on a bench. It was a new place, both the park and also the moment of total detachment from routine. I was finally doing an important and urgent task: I was making time to be alone with myself! For half an hour I just sat and sat doing nothing but enjoying my own company till it was time to go home, with my pickle-jar filled to the brim. That was a forty-nine hour day!


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