I lived in the city of Toronto for over 60 years before finally moving to New Brunswick. For the last 23 of those years I actually lived in a condo in Markham, a city in itself, immediately north of Toronto.
There’s a walking trail back of the condo in Markham that winds its way leisurely around a pond, through fields, wooded area, along a river, eventually emerging 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 even spotted the odd deer peering through the early morning mist.
But surprising at it may seem, I 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 was tempted as well whenever I saw 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, I feel 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 handheld device as you drive through the countryside. Skim through e-books 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 capture e-mail at the beach. Make every vacation a working vacation, every social event a networking opportunity and every airline 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 this we simply displace something else or ruin what that hour already had to offer.
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.
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 devices 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. Life 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.
A year ago today I decided to get off the fast track and moved to a small town in New Brunswick. Initially, I was more impressed by the impact of nature on my health and well-being. And the sheer joy of picking wild blueberries and fishing unlimited trout streams. But then I became aware of a change in the pace of life. Only the tourists seem to be in a hurry. I noticed that when others walked, talked and drove more slowly, I tended to do likewise. And yet my productivity – in terms of my writing – increased instead of decreased. My blood pressure dropped an average of 10 points, and I felt more energetic in spite of my age.
I have written in past blogs about my 80-minute commute in Toronto versus my 8-minute commute in Sussex, New Brunswick. And I have mentioned the research that proves beyond a doubt that a greater connection with nature and more interpersonal relationships actually increases personal productivity. They are up there with exercise when it comes to longevity. I now include a slower pace of life as one of our top benefactors as well.
If you are a participant in the rat race, consider getting off that track. You don’t actually have to leave town as I did. But 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 who enjoys it the most. Don’t live speedily; live abundantly.
Time management is not doing more things in less time. It is doing things of greater importance in the time that we have. And who is to determine what is important? It’s your call. 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 at Unionville ten minutes earlier.