A bit more time management, plus the Cherry, hung with snow

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Cherry blossom in my garden 18.04.17
I don’t know who created the management theory that time is elastic, and that you can fit in whatever you want to fit in, but it’s not true. It is true that time changes as we experience it, but there are still only 24 hours in a day, 168 in a week. but there are two types of time: there is time-experience which speeds up or slows down depending on the amount of  flow-concentration-energy you are putting into whatever is happening, and there is clock time, which ticks on whatever is happening.

Three thoughts I’ve picked up on this topic which have been helpful have  been (i) how slowly time would go if you were sitting on a hot stove (thanks Gay Hendricks in The Big Leap) (ii) how you’d find time to deal to deal  with a flood in your house, whatever was happening at work (thanks Laura Vanderkam at TED). These thoughts are both about priorities and pain – it hurts if you don’t attend to either of them, and so they shoot to the top of the list of priorities. Time management isn’t about  time  so much as what matters most.  You can’t do everything. Unless perhaps your name is Tim Ferris but even then… from Tim Ferris I picked up the third thought: (iii) it matters how you start your day. I used to know this once, but somehow  over the last twenty years had forgotten. Writing this blog every day is helping me remember. I’m giving an hour a day to reading, and writing about a poem. That’s seven hours reading I wasn’t previously doing. This choice has made me happy (and only a little bit late on a  couple of occasions).

Perhaps some of our inability to manage time comes from the refusal to accept the necessity of choice, and the subsequent inability then to act on such (unmade, perhaps unacknowledged) choices. Time management might be more helpfully called choice management. No poem does the simple sums about time, life and choices better than this, from A. E. Housman:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Believe me, this is a scary poem to read when you are sixty-one! That middle stanza is remorseless.

I do hope to live beyond 70, but everything now frankly  feels a blessing: I know quite people of my age who have died. So I’ll stick bravely with Housman’s computation and recast it for myself: Now, of my threescore years and ten, / Sixty-one will not come again… only leaves me nine more! Ouch and aieee! Why the hell would I be  doing anything that wasn’t vitally important to me? Have I seen the cherry blossom?

I run out into the garden for another look.

Last time I read this poem was in an NHS addiction service centre, sometime in the last ten years. I thought then it was a bit of a risky poem to take, given quite a lot of us in the room were over 50, and I guessed that like me, quite a few people might feel (a little) frightened by the poem,  after all we’d all wasted quite a lot of time one way or another. But I thought you might only be a little frightened by the poem. And indeed, there’s something so tender and quiet in its tone, something so strong in its resolve, that no one was scared, and everyone agreed they would go for a walk and look for cherry blossom this week. Does making that choice affect one’s chances of recovery? I think every strong choice affects one’s chances.

I find the poem’s sums strengthening. You could ignore or not notice the first stanza, yeah, yeah, blossoms, again, so what. It’s a normal verse about normal blossom. you are in a normal state of mind as you read it. But the killer second stanza, quite unexpected  – yet not really unexpected, is it? Because the key thing about cherry blossom is its transience, it’s there and gone. Fifty chances to see it? That’s not enough!

‘Fifty springs are little room’ and I sure as hell don’t have  fifty ahead of me. Maybe twenty, maybe none for all I know. Therefore I finish writing a little early today, so I can get to Calderstones Park before I need to be in the office. I will go walk around and see the blossom. What could be more important?
See the late, great Denis Potter, two months before his death, discuss this blossom with Melvyn Bragg, here.