A few months ago, racing thoughts started to plague my mind. The second my eyes opened each morning, it was like my brain was rapidly downloading a long to-do list, and no matter how many different techniques I tried (breathing exercises, night journalling, creating a tech-free zone), I couldn't calm my mind. When a publicist reached out to me about a new book by "urban monk" Pedram Shojai, The Art of Stopping Time, I was at my wit's end—I would have tried anything to regain a sense of control.
Shojai, an ordained priest of the Yellow Dragon Monastery in China and host of The Urban Monk podcast says my experience isn't unique. "I found most of the people I was trying to help were stuck and suffering from what I've come to call 'Time Compression Syndrome.' People are so time-deprived that they can't be present in a room with you," he says of the motivation behind his new book. "I realized that we're facing a new epidemic—one of consciousness. People are too stressed to think clearly, make good decisions, or enjoy a simple meal."
So I set myself a challenge: Each day, I'd stop in the park near my office and spend five minutes reading a new chapter of the book. Each chapter, or "gong," is just a few pages long and offers a small, manageable teaching, aimed to forge a new habit. "Micro habits are the key: Take something you are already doing and suggest a new way to try for just that day. No pressure—let life show you proof," says Shojai. Now, three months in, I feel more in control of my schedule and time.
Want to try the routine? Set aside five minutes each morning to read one chapter from the book and resolve to put it into practice that day. Here are three consolidated chapters to get started.
Day 1 Do a "Time Audit"
Today we do an audit of where our time goes. Like being in debt, the first step to cleaning up a problem is to know where the losses are. Start by looking at your calendar. Is it an accurate reflection of how your day rolls out? If not, how can you line it up with reality? Where are there blocks that flow off into random uses of your time?
From there, set a timer to go off every 15 minutes. Once you hear it, stop and jot down what you did in the past 15 minutes. Get as detailed as you need to, and jot down or star where you think you may be inefficient. Repeat this process for the entire day, from waking to bedtime. This may seem like a pain, but you'll end up finding some valuable data in here.
Today, look for places where we seem busy but don't net results. What can you do to get more efficient at work or chores so you could have more dedicated relaxed time in the day? None of this means you have to become a robot and march through your day. It is simply an exercise in awareness.
Day 2 Move Beyond People Who Drain Your Time
Today we deal with the "time vampires" in our life. You know who they are. They are the people who through conversation, drama, neediness, or some genuine problem, latch onto you and take you away from your plan for your day (or week or life). The time together becomes wasted and doesn't serve us (or them) when we feel tired, stressed, edgy, or even upset after hanging out with them. Your time is the measure of your life force, and it's all you have. Spending it recklessly with people who don't serve and support your mission in life is an easy way to feel empty, drained, and derailed.
Make a list of the people you spend the most time with. From your family to people in your carpool to co-workers to random people you bump into, take an aggregate look at where your time goes in an average day. Ask yourself where you may be trying to be polite a little too often with your time. Do you entertain conversations or interactions that don’t serve you?
This doesn't mean avoiding genuine conversations that fill you and enhance your day, and it doesn't even mean cutting out all but the most critical interactions. It means holding the line and taking your time back. The challenge in front of you is that most people are stuck and need someone to be stuck with. That way, it's less lonely.
Find the places where you feel your time is being sucked and start pulling it back. It may feel awkward at first, but this practice will change your life. It is your time. Stop leaking it away to nonsense.
Day 3 Make Time in Your Schedule for You
Today's lesson is simple. Make a list of all the things you want to do for yourself. This should include exercise, personal time, family time, reading, yoga, massage, or whatever else you keep telling yourself you want to do. Jot down these items.
Take a look at this list and see if it's complete. Make sure it reflects your desires for self-care. If you did these things, would you feel complete in life? Would you be rested, calm, fit, and happier? What else would need to be there in order to feel that way? Write it down. Next, sort these items into the order of importance you'd put them in. The most critical one should go on top and then down from there.
Now let's do a quick reality check. Open your calendar, and look at your schedule this week. How many of the items on your list are reflected on your calendar? If you're like most people, practically none of your self-care items shows up on your calendar. That says something to the universe and your inner self—namely, that you don't prioritize these things.
Here's the rule: If it's important enough to you and your life, then it should be on your calendar. Look at what happens to your time. The world will always serve up items, tasks, events, calls, meetings, or drama to fill your time. Nature hates a vacuum. Your schedule will get gobbled up by the chaos all around you unless you step in and own it. Honor your appointments with yourself, and you'll reap the rewards.
Up next: The easiest way to relieve holiday stress.