Wisdom//

On Coping with Stress and Making Time

‘Your control over your time is taken away from you, because you have allowed it to happen. Keep free time for yourself.'

I was, by now, doing well professionally. I had gained considerable credibility and achieved a fair amount of success in the field of human resources. My professional foundation was growing stronger. My colleagues liked me and my bosses were appreciative of my abilities. I was getting the right assignments and being rewarded with appropriate increments. There was within me a sense of satisfaction and achievement. And yet… 

And yet, it was a struggle, a daily struggle. My meditations were helping me to keep much of my negativity in check, but stress was increasingly creeping up on me. 

Perhaps, there was simply too much that I had to do. Too much that I was expected to accomplish on a daily basis. The phone never seemed to stop ringing. The number of members in my team had increased and so, inevitably, had the interruptions to the work I set out to complete every day. Demands on my time and energy were stretching me beyond reasonable limits. All the business heads appeared to have a chip on their shoulder where I, a proactive HR head, was concerned. Things would have been worse but for my meditations—the one that involved breathing out negativity and the loving-kindness meditation. Continuously applying all that Gautam had taught me, I worked hard to bring out my best and remain unfazed by the chaos around me. My efforts bore fruit, earning me credibility, along with the strong backing of the group CEO. 

Even as I started reading up on the problem and exploring the stress factor on my own, a great longing rose within me to spend some time in Gautam’s calming presence. I was confident that he would enable me to understand myself better and reach out in the right direction to find a practical solution and apply it in my life.

We arranged to meet at a restaurant…When Gautam and I were seated across each other and had placed our order, I let it all out. I told him how I was beginning to discover that success at the workplace wasn’t an end in itself, as most of us assumed. Happiness was not about being employed, getting a good performance review, enjoying a heap of professional perks or being rewarded with an enviable year-end bonus. So all that I had regarded till now as my life’s goal wasn’t quite so. What was the point of it all, if I was still feeling unhappy and stressed out? 

Gautam heard me out calmly and intently, as always. 

Gautam helped himself to a few mouthfuls of food before resuming. ‘Stress is a habit,’ he stated. ‘Even in a common environment, this habit varies from person to person. For instance, I wonder if you have observed that team members reporting to the same boss tend to respond to the boss’s personality very differently. The boss is common to them all. So are the channels of working and interaction. Now while one or several of the team members may identify the boss as the cause of stress, remember that not all are responding to the same boss in the same way. Everyone is responding differently to the same apparent source of stress, the so-called stressor.’

I looked up from the list of stressors lying on the table in front of me and asked Gautam, ‘But how can I stress-proof my life where lack of time is the issue? There are timelines at work that I must meet and incessant demands on my time made by others both at work and at home. And what about finding time for my own needs? Don’t I need time to sleep, exercise and meditate? If I am to become fit and healthy, don’t I need to devote some time to that? Time is the biggest stumbling block in my efforts to manage it all. It is a finite measure. And once a day is over, it is over. There’s no going back to complete jobs that were left unfinished due to lack of time. How do you advise me to manage the situation successfully?’ 

Gautam was clear in his advice. ‘Management of time depends entirely on your own will,’ he said. ‘It depends on you. On what is important to you. Not on what you say is important to you. You will always find time for what is an absolute priority for you. But if you haven’t learnt to identify it, you will never find time for it. 

‘Stress also comes from multitasking, from trying to balance too many things at once. The feeling of being overwhelmed intensifies when you try to store all the tasks that you must accomplish in your memory, instead of recording them in writing.’

‘Your management of time becomes easier when you feel in control and have broader goals to focus on. Goals are long-term targets; tasks are short-term ones. Once your goals are clear and written down, the tasks—in other words, the steps that lead to your goals—are in greater focus. These tasks are your daily checklists. And I don’t mean mental checklists. That will not help in reducing stress. Checklists should be in black and white on a piece of paper—or in a tab or notebook. But always in writing.

‘Your control over your time is taken away from you, because you have allowed it to happen. Keep free time for yourself. Keep time for contemplation. Keep time to play and not think at all. Keep time for doing something you enjoy on a daily basis.’ 

In his unhurried way, Gautam was covering a lot of bases and my fingers were flying over the pages of the diary to note down all the points he was making. There was so much information coming my way, all precious nuggets of practical wisdom, and I was racing to collect and record them all.


(Excerpted with permission of Hachette India from Buddha at Work: Finding Balance, Purpose and Happiness at Your Workplace by Geetanjali Pandit. You can read Part 1 of this series here, and Part 2 here)

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- Marcus Aurelius

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