The other night on my walk home, the moon was out and shining in its grandest fashion, lighting up the ocean water and headlining a revue of stellar talent – a sky filled to the brim with stars, packed and sparkling along the galaxy's core, then expanding out to far off island clusters unimaginable distances away from where I stood. After nearly a decade of living in a city, I enjoy how dark it gets at night here on Maui, and how bright the stars shine in return. One of the more fascinating aspects about the moon is how it seemingly hangs there is space, motionless beyond its own phases, always showing us a single side. The moon is rotating, only it does so at nearly the same rate at which it rotates around the Earth resulting in its one side always facing us, a process called synchronous rotation.
I can't help but think how peculiar it would be if the Earth was in a synchronous rotation with the sun. Rather than having our 24 hour days, time (at least as we experience it) would instead be frozen. The sun would simply appear at its particular location in the sky based on our location upon the planet, and there it would sit indefinitely. While we would certainly still have to come up with some type of mental convention or grid for organizing our time, some of the most defining features of our current system would be absent. Certainly laying down for eight or more hours at a time to sleep would seem peculiar with no cloak of darkness to guide us. A history professor at Virginia Tech, Roger Ekirch, suggests that prior to the 1800s, our ancestors often broke up their slumber into two sessions, first and second sleep. In between they would fill the time with everything from reading and writing letters, to sex and prayer. It was said the best time to conceive a child was after first sleep. In his research he found more than 500 references to segmented sleep in novels, diaries and letters. If humans can create alternative patterns given the same set of circumstances we share today only with longer and darker nights due to a lack of electricity, its easy to imagine how different life would be on a planet with infinite daylight. How does one organize time without all the guidance that a 24-hour clock provides. When I say lets meet next Tuesday at 2pm, I am describing a relationship from this moment to another, defined entirely by sunrises and sunsets – by an Earth that is spinning its way in a measurable fashion.
It makes sense that our days are defined by the rising and setting motions of the sun – at least it feels right. Combined with the fact that we sleep at night, each morning presents the perception of a new day. Sleeping is one of the few activities in which we have to pretend to do it before it truly happens - but from that moment we lay in bed and close our eyes acting "asleep" - its as if the outside world is somehow put on pause. The day, as far as we are concerned, is done. Of course, that is not the case, and often just as I am going to sleep here in Maui, my sister in North Carolina is waking up to start a new day. The "day" is an illusion. It feels real – it seems real – but it's just a mental concept – a thought.
A day makes logical sense because it's something you experience. The year is also an experience you can feel. Even here in Maui where the weather in generally perfect all the time, I can still feel the seasons. I can still notice the way the sun hangs lower in the sky, and how the days are shorter this time of year. It is winter, albeit a very mild one. And much like we break the day into hours and to minutes, it stands to reason that we convert years into months and to weeks. However, it's at the week stage that we create something entirely made up that truly defines a good deal of the experience of our life - the days of the week.
It wasn't enough to acknowledge that a week can be divided into seven day segments and provide them with just a number, we decided to endow these particular mental constructs with additional attributes not defined by nature, and to provide them with names like "Wednesday" and "Sunday". We gave them an order in which they exist – Sunday through Saturday if looking upon a calendar or Monday through Sunday if a typical working person. By creating defined work hours, we carved out a defined weekend and in the process provided each day with a "feeling" that week after week we experience again and again. We know how a Sunday feels different than a Wednesday, how a Monday is nothing like a Saturday.
Working for myself, I've tried hard to break free from this as much as possible, but obviously most of my clients exist within the traditional framework of 9-5 M-F, so I don't have unlimited flexibility as to when I work – but I certainly have more than most and take advantage of that.
I also recently changed the way I plan my week. As I've mentioned in prior posts, I'm a fanatical proponent of scheduling out your week – creating a clear plan for the things you wish to achieve, need to take care of, exercises/health requirements, even meals and social plans. Obviously things will change, but by having a defined path you're more likely to stay on target and keep up with your various goals. Recently though I changed the layout of my schedule to start with Saturday and end my week with Friday. While I realize this might seem like a completely useless designation, you'd be amazed at how much it reframes the week for you. First off, you begin the week with two full days to use as you see fit. Rather than starting your week on a Monday at work, make it your day. It's on that Saturday morning during coffee that you plan out the rest of your week. I also do a review of my finances during this morning life-planning session. It only takes about an hour to review last week's plan, make modifications as needed, plan some dinners (this is to make sure I'm not eating out at restaurants, but rather having the groceries I need to cook from home most nights) and do a financial review of the past week. Then the next two days are mine to not only tackle some of the goals I defined, but also prep for the work portion of the week with things like groceries, cleaning, etc. Yes, I realize these are common weekend activities, and it might seem silly to suggest I've changed anything by declaring they are happening at the start of the week rather than the end of it, but there is something mentally different about preparing for a week rather than cleaning up after it. While it might sound like it's only a turn of phrase to say Saturday is the start of the week, when you begin to put YOUR time as the top priority and the primary focus of the week, rather than as some far off reward of two days you're too exhausted to fully enjoy, you'll begin to understand.
By the time Monday comes around, you've had two full days to ideally tackle a lot of things from your list. You should be feeling good. It's not your normal "starting the week at 6am to commute to work"... you've had your YOU time, and you're ready. Today is Tuesday, and normally I'd be on day 2 of my week feeling like I have a ways to go. By shifting the week around I'm on day 4 and the week is more than halfway done. Again - perhaps a silly distinction, but it sure seems to work.
At my company I've also been a huge proponent of taking off on Friday whenever possible. I personally think working five days a week to receive two days off is an unfair racket, and I've blogged on this several times so I won't pontificate on the lunacy of how much of our life is dedicated to employment in this modern age. However, it's worth restating that by dropping the days of the week you work from five to four, you only lose 20% of your work hours. At the same time, by adding that day to your weekend to go from two to three, you receive a 50% increase in time off. A 50% increase in personal time for only a 20% loss in work seems wildly reasonable to me. I've also found that by getting more time off, you're far more productive in the remaining 80% of work time you have.
In the 1750s, in an effort to adopt the Gregorian calendar, England had to advance it's calendar and so Wednesday, September 2, 1752 was followed by Thursday, September 14, 1752. Legend says there were riots in the streets, with angry mobs demanding the return of the eleven days the King had stolen from them. Whether this is historical fact or just archival British humor is up for some debate, but the sentiment rings true. So much of our experience of time is simply how we think of it – which is ironic because we hardly think about time itself, at all. If you can begin to rethink how a day might take shape, what order a week might fall into, or whether you truly need uniquely feeling "days" at all and instead decide to simply "be here, now" – you'll begin to feel that tingling sensation one gets when they start to explore outside the mental constructs they inherited without ever questioning in the first place, and realize there is no "way".
"We are too often lost in the abyss of unawareness. We regularly miss the energy and blessing around us, and the importance of this very moment. It's at though we prefer to be elsewhere doing something else, as if we are living in distant time zones, hours behind or ahead of the joyous tick and bliss of Now. We have forgotten that the natural foe to life is not a distant death, but a present, in-the-moment detachment from living."
- Brendon Burchard, "The Motivation Manifesto"