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The Emperor's Appointment

One of the interesting paradoxes about time management and creativity is that we can often be more productive and creative when we do nothing than when we do a lot.

Or to put it differently, when we pause in our busy, hectic, time-filled lives and let things catch up.

Hirohito's Appointment

The story is told that when Emperor Hirohito of Japan travelled, his every day was planned down to the last minute. On one occasion, he was scheduled to meet with a delegation of monks and tour a local Buddhist temple for exactly ten minutes. The Emperor and his entourage entered the temple precisely on time, but the building was empty and the monks were nowhere to be found. The aide responsible for setting the Emperor’s schedule alternated between desperately searching for the missing delegation and making panicked excuses for their absence, but the Emperor simply stood in the centre of the room and said nothing. Exactly ten minutes later, the Emperor indicated that it was now time to leave. On their way out of the temple, Hirohito turned to his aide and said "I enjoyed that appointment very much – please schedule me another one tomorrow."

Be Idle Sometimes

When we plan every waking minute with purposeful activity, we run the risk of crowding out moments of insight, joyful "Ah-ah" moments, and the fun of playing around idly and purposelessly just to see what might come of it. In most organisations, there is nowhere in the schedule for such moments. And as a result, creativity is less than it could be.

Time and the Four Elements

On our ManageTrainLearn Time Management courses, we use a model of time management based on the Four Elements of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air, each one a symbol of four aspects of time and task management. We show our delegates that they are most productive when they devote roughly equal amounts of time each day to each element. And Air is the element and symbol for doing nothing.

Dr Nathaniel Branden is a psychotherapist and philosopher who has sold over 4 million books on personal development and creativity. He says, "It is generally recognized that creativity requires leisure, an absence of rush, time for the mind and imagination to float and wander and roam, time for the individual to descend into the depths of his or her psyche, to be available to barely audible signals rustling for attention. Long periods of time may pass in which nothing seems to be happening. But we know that that kind of space must be created if the mind is to leap out of its accustomed ruts, to part from the standard and generate a leap into the new."

In the coming week, why not find space in your busy day for your mind and imagination to just float and wander and roam and listen to the barely audible signals speaking to you? You might be surprised what you hear.