I have a terrible, terrible obsession with productivity.
I follow countless productivity blogs, have fifteen apps, and have all my tasks sitting squat and ugly on screens all around me. How can I better use fifteen minutes? Thirty? How can I bill my clients more accurately? What’s due from this retainer client, or that one? Everything is so bloody monitored and controlled and it STILL spirals away from me.
Why? Because the more I obsess over and dissect something, the smaller it gets. I don’t have less time – I have the same 168 hours a week as everyone else – but I think I do, and so the irritating cycle goes on. More importantly, though, it also leads to the fracturing of our attention.
The real impact isn’t on our time, but on our attention. When we scatter our attention across a thousand micro-activities, we prevent ourselves from engaging deeply or thinking properly.
Ultimately, all we have is time confetti – fractured, tiny and useless bits of time that aren’t long or leisurely enough to do anything with. As mentioned on 99U:
Schulte hones in on an the idea of “time confetti” – a fragmentation that impacts our health, quality of life, productivity and creativity. This fragmentation amounts to “contaminated time” that prevents pure enjoyment, relaxation, focus, and mindfulness:
Which leads me round to the idea of time management and training. Ultimately, good management of our time is a discipline, not an addiction. Too often I see people complaining that they don’t have time to run, or read a book, or whatever, but they’ll piss away their time watching that rape-fest Game of Thrones. But splitting time down to 15 or 30 minute increments and expecting meaningful, long-term progress is just as unhelpful. Making time for training is important: setting time aside to run like it is a meeting is one of my secrets to a consistent running schedule.
But karate, well, it doesn’t work like that.
Sure, on the surface, 90% of students just have to set aside two, maybe three hours a week to go to the dojo, train with other people and then go home. Rinse and repeat. But for anyone who wants a black belt, who wants to unearth the thousands of gems and techniques, to mine down through the layers of history and understanding and find themselves at the beginning and end of it all – that does not happen in quantifiable time. No productivity app is going to make anyone’s kata better.
Part of my instructor’s journey means getting up at ass o’clock on a Friday morning and working on one thing for around 90 minutes while the real instructors correct me. (I have spent entire sessions working on one kick, much to the chagrin of my teachers.) It sometimes means spending entire weekends training, or teaching. It means practicing kata all alone, because so much progress relies on doing your own homework and then returning to the dojo for correction.
For the Western mind, which demands that every thing is quantifiable and easily packaged and presented, this is anathema. Martial arts means working steadily in a thousand directions with no clear time frame, or even a very clear goal. I have so many questions, which keep creating more questions. The answer, so often, is ‘how long is a piece of string?’ or ‘your mileage may vary’, because there is no one answer. If there was, it would be a sport.
Clock watching should never be a part of your training. Our dojo doesn’t have a functional clock for that very reason. It is perpetually stuck at 9:45. (It confuses visiting instructors.) I know Sensei did this for the straightforward reason of stopping the kids from clock watching when they should be training. But I like to find the metaphor in things. I, like a broken clock, am right at least twice a day, and I believe that training is timeless.
Also, that clock is, like, really high up on the wall.