After my early February blog post about the “busyness” epidemic in our culture, I received emails from some of you. One particular email captured a common sentiment:

“How can I flourish in a culture that tells me I can’t succeed unless
I surrender to a constant and accelerating stream of demands?”

As valuable as books about time management can be, they only inspire incremental efficiency gains. They are not fundamental game changers. Likewise, the latest and greatest “to do” and project management apps can help us work smarter but don’t move us toward more purpose, meaning, and wellness.

We need two things to flourish beyond the “quick fix”: 1) a paradigm shift – changing our relationship with time and our definition of success; and 2) a clear-minded awareness of what we’re actually up against when it comes to living with intention. I’ve recently found helpful insights and transformational solutions in three books. By way of introducing the authors, I admit that this reads like the start of a bad joke:

“So, two journalists and a Zen priest-turned CEO walk into a bar…”
…or in this case, “…walk into my blog.”

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
This book is predicated on the idea that our lives are astonishingly short – if we live to be 80 that’s about 4,000 weeks. It’s simply not enough time to get everything done! So, we’re left with a central question: How do we make the most of the time we have? This book is profound, humorous, and disruptive in the ways it challenges the basic choices most of us have made about our “get it all done” relationship with time. More importantly, it offers a set of new choices that help us forge a pathway toward what Burkeman describes as “less frenetic doing and more wonder.”

Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention – and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari
It’s one thing to be clear about what matters. It’s another to sustain the focus you need to do what you say you will do. It turns out that blaring devices, addictive apps, and chronic sleep deprivation (only 15% of Americans wake up feeling refreshed!) are only part of what throws us off course. Johann Hari provides a stirring analysis of twelve societal, cultural, and economic factors that hijack our attention and pull us away from meaning and purpose. Understanding what we are up against as individuals and as a society is the way we find our way toward flourishing. Hari quotes the philosopher Krishnamurti who said: “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted in a profoundly sick society.”

Less: Accomplishing More by Doing Less by Marc Lesser
Written by the Zen priest turned MBA CEO, this book begins, as one might expect, with a parable about a man riding very fast on a horse. As he rides past his friend who is standing on the side of the road, the friend yells, “Where are you going?” The rider turns and yells, “I don’t know, ask the horse!” Lesser explores five self-defeating habits (fear, assumptions, distractions, resistance, and busyness) and suggests a way to approach our days so we experience more ease, more composure, and better results.

Bonus Read: As many of you know, I’m also a big fan of Essentialism by Greg McKeown. This book made my head explode… in a good way.

Have you read anything that guides you toward a new way of thinking about how you invest your time, energy, and attention? Please share title/s in the comments below…

Image Credit: Debby Hudson on Unsplash

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