6 Time Management Tips from the Buddha

Among all the substances we misuse and abuse, the greatest is time. Time is life; we squander it at our peril. Killing time deadens ourselves.

Almost everyone I encounter complains that they don’t have enough. But where did it all go? Why aren’t our labor-saving devices and faster means of travel and communication liberating us? Or at the very least, providing us with more leisure to accomplish the things that we want and need to do, or letting us simply slow down and enjoy what we’ve worked so hard for?

Does anyone have time today? I do! During the 40 years I’ve spent studying and teaching Buddhism, and in the process of writing my new book, “Buddha Standard Time: Awakening to the Infinite Possibilities of Now,” I’ve learned how to find, make, and keep time.

Actually, it’s not time we lack; it’s focus, awareness and a sense of priorities. We must change the space of the pace — wake ourselves up by shifting to another way of being. We have all the time in the world. It’s up to us to choose how to use it.

Create Some Space in the Pace

Re-mindfulness — remembering to remember, being mindful, returning to the moment, not living in the past or future — is the core of the Buddha’s path to awakening and enlightenment. This doesn’t mean being narcissistic or regressing to a teenager’s self-conscious whine of “What about me?” But rather recollecting ourselves and staying constantly aware of what we’re really doing right this minute.

Time-sickness is rampant today. People say they want to slow down and live more naturally and in a healthy and sane manner, but who knows how to actually do so, has time-medicine available, and is also ready, willing, and able? “Buddha Standard Time” offers a potent dose of tools and techniques, tips and pointers to heal this affliction. Awareness is the essential ingredient in this great journey, delivering to us the bigger picture as well as minute details along the way.

Catch Yourself Before Things Catch You

Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” The choice is yours. You can learn to catch yourself before things catch and entangle you. Try to apply remindfulness — intentional and nonjudgmental consideration — to everything you do, say, and think, before you blindly react.

In other words, pause and consider. Do you really want to play another game of Angry Birds, or would you rather giggle with your children for five minutes? Watch a rerun of a television program that wasn’t that great the first time, or spend half an hour meditating? Bury your head in the Internet, or put it on the pillow and get a good night’s sleep? With a mere moment of lucid attention we can increase the quality of each minute, each hour, and ultimately our lives.

Conscious Reframing

Sometimes it only takes a simple re-framing of our mental outlook to change our lives. I remember discovering that I could consciously and intentionally turn the interruptive chore of walking the dog twice a day into my time, and it became the best hour of my day. My loyal blond canine companion, Lili, taught me to re-frame dog walking as meditation. I could be with nature; befriend the world, my neighbors, and myself; develop a more inclusive attitude; and even get a little exercise. All it required was a small adjustment in consciousness and perspective. I call this conscious re-framing. It’s easy, free and extraordinarily rewarding.

Mindful Anger Management

Learn to utilize what I call a “wedge of awareness.” Impose your consciousness between thoughts, words, and actions — outer stimuli — and your inner reaction. If someone cuts you off in traffic, consciously stop and let it go; don’t cling to rage as you drive and allow someone else’s action to steal your time. This simple practice of equanimous detachment — it’s like returning to the breath again, again and yet again in meditation — can be extremely helpful because it liberates us from regret, anger and guilt and ultimately frees our time. It is the heart of what I call mindful anger management and can be applied to emotional processing of any kind.

Does it deserve my time?

A simple question, but asking it will help you convert time wasted into time well spent. Why don’t we save and invest time as carefully as we do money, since it’s far more valuable and irreplaceable? Instead we often let time slip away. We squander, waste and kill it. We would all do well to consider the balance between our actual needs and mere greed and indulgence. How often do we say yes to something we don’t mean? Say yes to yourself instead, by gently saying no to unreasonable demands and expectations.

Time is what we make of it. Our time is our own. Does watching TV or surfing the net for hours on end really make us happier or better people? We live in the over-information age, but knowing the world and others is mere knowledge; knowing oneself is wisdom. Let’s look and inquire deeper.

Take the Time to Make the Time

I find that I can have all the time in the world if and when I focus and pay attention to what is most important and actually needs to be done, and maintain heightened present awareness in the course of what the Buddhists call right work. So when people ask me, I generally advise them to take time to make time for their best selves and their genuine values and priorities. Intention is everything: intend to attend. Be where you are and not where you ain’t — dwelling on the past and future.

Time is an excellent servant but a poor master; you have to take time to make time, by intentionally creating some space in the pace. It’s now or never, as always. Who can afford to wait? Better to wake up to our lives, by thoroughly and uninhibitedly engaging in what we’re doing right now, mindful of our words, thoughts and deeds.

Living intentionally with conscious awareness can be hard, but it’s a good hard, although reverting to habit is so much easier. It’s helpful to practice remembering to remember, to recall what you’re doing while you are actually doing it. Take a breath break to fresh your present awareness, come back home to the present moment and start again — awake, lucid, focused, calm and energized.

Using these nowness-awareness techniques has helped me to awaken and find myself in the sacred zone of Buddha Standard Time, the holy now, more and more each day. They can help you too, right now. Who can afford to wait?

Lama Surya Das is the author of the recent “Buddha Standard Time: Awakening to the Infinite Possibilities of Now” (HarperOne, May, 2011), as well as the bestselling “Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World,” and 10 other books.

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My latest article in The Huffington Post – Mindful Anger Management and the 6 Rs of Intentional Responsiveness

We live in a violent, strife-filled era. Even Buddhist monks are prey to intolerance, nationalism and violence. Terror and fear surround us. This provokes all kinds of difficult feelings and emotions, especially anger and hatred. Yet it’s not what happens to us but what we make of it that actually makes all the difference. Just because the wind is blowing doesn’t mean we have to be blown away by it, or even driven helplessly in that direction; we can certainly learn how to understand the situation better and even to navigate and reset our sails. This is the secret of self-mastery, autonomy and freedom.

I personally have found that fear, anger, impatience and irritation are like an affliction, and a serious impediment to open communication and healthy relationships of all kinds. Discovering methods to deal with these challenging emotions is essential in leading a healthy and well-balanced, happy and harmonious life. I believe that it is important to realize that anger has its own function, intelligence and logic, and we should not entirely try to suppress or eradicate it — even if we could. Anger is not synonymous with aggression and violence, at least not yet. It is a feeling and emotion we can learn to simply experience, feel in our body, and process, before deciding what if anything to do about either now or later. After much trial and error, I have come up with my own self-awareness practice for regulating strong emotions, which helps me be more patient and authentically responsive through six steps to mindful anger management and intentional responsiveness. Conscious, intentional, principled responsiveness is far from that blind reactivity that so often leads us to regrettable actions.

Mindfulness cultivation is a spiritual practice that an act as pacific medicine for all that afflicts us, a soothing balm for our troubled times as well as the antidote to illusion and confusion. The virtue of patient forbearance and acceptance is one of the most helpful virtues when it comes to finding peace, harmony, and insightful wisdom in life. Anger is one of the most virulent poisons disrupting our happiness, serenity, and also our effectiveness.

Buddhism teaches that there is neither good nor bad, only the wanted and the unwanted. Shakespeare also expressed it: “…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” The Buddhist virtue called kshanti means patience and forbearance even in the face of harm. It also includes learning to develop acceptance, openness, tolerance and a more broad and long term view of things, uncoupled from temporary pleasures and pains, losses and gains, praise and criticism. Anger can make us sick; patient forbearance heals our hearts. In this practice, we can learn to remain centered in the eye of all such storms and disturbances, which are actually only temporary weather conditions. Even emotional flux and flow are merely intermittent internal weather conditions, temporary and dreamlike. To practice patient forbearance in the face of upset, disappointment, or irritation simply ask yourself: “How much will this matter to me several months or years from now?” Then repeat the mantra, “This too shall pass.”

Patience means not retaliating with anger for anger, or harm for harm, and voluntarily bearing up under difficulties in order to live more harmoniously as well as progress on the path of spiritual awakening. Everything can become grist for the mill of awakefulness. The real question is how to actually be able to cultivate such patience? How to slow down our conditioned knee-jerk reaction to unwanted and provocative stimuli while speeding up our conscious mindful awareness? How to mind the gap between stimulus and response, to contemplate various actions rather than just falling into the habitual conditioned reactions? Finding this gap takes clarity, resolve, motivation and practice. It takes mindful awareness and alert presence of mind — paying attention, moment by moment — the antidote to sleepwalking dreamily through life.

We can find this clear open space and conscious awareness through practicing what I call the Six Rs of Intentional Responsiveness: recognizing, recollecting, refraining, relinquishing, reconditioning and responding. In combination, these six gestures of freedom are like a cool, fresh breath of mindful awareness, helping us to relax and let go, releasing a great deal of built-upon negativity amidst the tumultuous bumper car ride of stressful modern living. They can profoundly free us from falling into all kinds of regrettable reactivity and the inevitably undesirable outcomes usually caused by impulsively retaliating in kind to anger and harm — what is usually called giving tit for tat.

My Six Steps to Freedom and Intentional Responsiveness

1. Recognizing: Notice with equanimity a familiar stimulus that habitually pushes your hot buttons and triggers an unfulfilling, retaliatory response — such as harsh words or unfair treatment, which might very well provoke retaliation in kind. Stop for a moment, however brief, simply to breathe, collect yourself, reflect, and relax.

2. Recollecting: With re-mindfulness, remember the downsides and disadvantages of returning hatred with hatred, anger with anger, harm with harm. Buddha said, “Hatred is not appeased by hatred. Hatred is appeased only by love.” And recollect the upside — the significant advantages — of practicing patience, forbearance, tolerance and stoic acceptance of karma and its repercussions. In this second step, find and mine the sacred pause. Rest in it. Breathe, relax, center and smile. Take a breath break; do yourself a favor.

3. Refraining and restraining, through reframing: See things through the other’s eyes/point of view; cultivating feelings of genuine compassion for those who harm you, knowing that they are merely sowing the seeds of their own unhappiness and bad karma. Examine things from the others’ perspectives: Turn this over like a gemstone to see all sides, recognizing others’ predicament, mentality and suffering. To take it one step further, practice recognizing the adversary or critic as a teacher, a friend, an ally in helping us develop patience and overcome unconscious, habitual, and unproductive reaction patterns. The most difficult person or situation can become our greatest teacher, our greatest opportunity.

4. Relinquishing: Give up habitual conditioned reactivity and let go of impulsive urges in favor of more consciously chosen intelligent responsiveness. Accept the fact that such urges arise, don’t suppress or indulge them. Let them be without acting on them, reflect upon them, and watch them pass by and dissolve. Change is the law. It’s not outer things that entangle us; it’s overmuch attachment and fixation which entangles us.

5. Reconditioning and deconditioning habitual reactivity through remindfulness: Recall the entire situational dynamic you have now reviewed, while refraining, relinquishing and reflecting on how little it will matter in a few months and years, and letting go of unwholesome reaction patterns.

6. Responding appropriately, intelligently, consciously, choicefully — proactively, rather than reactively: In some cases, this may translate into doing nothing or in other cases responding with equanimity; ultimately making wiser, more skillful decisions based on conscious awareness and experience.