»The 40 ticking clocks remind me of my responsibility»
Interview : Mathias Morgenthaler on Saturday January 13th 2018
A handstand in the morning, an ice bath at the early evening and a gaze to the stars before bedtime: through such rituals Anna Jelen structures her days. The time expert recommends only checking the mails twice and to concentrate on three important tasks per day. And she swears by hourglasses because those remind her of the value from the passing time.
Ms. Jelen as a child you already recognized that you had a special relation to time. How does this express itself nowadays in the age of nearly forty?
ANNA JELEN: For a long time I couldn’t imagine reaching such an age. Today for once I think that it may be possible to become 60- or 65 years old but I am still much more focused on the moment than others are. Seneca warned us not to live as if we would have another 1000 years to live. That sounds banal but I see so many people that almost work themselves to death in hope for an uncertain future. Many of them never reach this future – because they die before or because they always postpone the essential things.
So seize the day, enjoy the moment as Horaz challenged us to do?
I don’t recommend only living in the moment – if we would only focus on that, we wouldn’t have any motivation to build something and to work towards something in medium term. We can’t live permanently as if we would be dead tomorrow but we also shouldn’t cherish the illusion that through good time management we could manage our time problem. If we don’t learn to say “no” more often and focus on a few important things, writing our own book of life, we eventually will burn out and miss our life.
So you don’t think much of classic time management techniques?
In such ways we will become more efficient but this is no escape from the deeper dilemma. Together with the sociologist Hartmut Rosa I am convinced that there is no individual time management problem but a structural social challenge that forces us to rethink. The acceleration of social change, rhythm of life and technology is creating a worldwide time crisis. In addition there’s the explosion of possibilities which makes us more free but also increase the time pressure. We can’t handle all of this through classic time management. Because this doesn’t change anything from the oppressive feeling of not having enough time and that our time would run out. As long as we hear the clock ticking we are alive and have time at free disposal. The essential question is how do we handle this time and for what are we using it. We are living in a global time crisis and nobody is talking about it.
What are you doing in detail to prevent the useless passing of time and a too tight schedule?
Everyday I focus on creating moments which I remember with gratitude at the end of the day. This requires a clear structure and discipline in developing and following some rules. For example: I almost never start my day without my morning ritual. In the first one to two hours I activate my body and align myself. Starting with exhausting exercises like the handstand; later on I enjoy my tea ritual, lose myself in vitalizing readings and afterwards I start my visualization walk which centers alone around one question: “How do I want to feel at the end of this day?” Everything else derives from this. The secret is limitation – we should make “not to do”-lists instead of way too long “to do “- lists which frustrate us. I never intend to manage more than three important topics per day, so I say “no” to the majority of possibilities. I also calculate many time buffers for the case of unexpected events. Because of this morning alignment I start the day with vigour and eagle eyes and prevent myself from loosing myself in work or scattering.
You spread your message via videos, you are active on social media – how do you keep the focus?
The videos are a story on their own. At the beginning of my self-employment I had a hard time bringing in personal experiences next to my expertise. Sometimes during the first break participants of my seminars asked me what my name was and why I am so much concerned with the time. For me this was unimportant, I wanted to stay in the background – although that didn’t go in accordance to my family values at all: my parents are bon vivants that encouraged me to be proud of myself. One day a coach told me: “Be careful that your modesty won’t cost you your head one day.” After the difficult start into self-employment I slowly learned to communicate on a personal and for myself coherent level. And because my husband dreamed of being a director in his earlier days we add up pretty well as a film crew. Social media can be a good tool for communication with clients and interested people but I also had to become very disciplined in this field.
How does this work?
Regarding my intentions there is no reason to check the mails more than twice a day. My mail assistant informs everybody that there is no direct answer to be expected and that it will take two or three days time to answer. I know from many clients that they check their mails and social media accounts already a dozen times between 6 and 7 a.m. and even keep on checking them between 11 and 12 p.m. .Today you can protect yourself with the help of programs from such nonsense. By seeing how teenagers are non-stop active on half a dozen channels I start to worry. We shouldn’t believe that they can handle this without any problems just because they grew up like this. A little while ago a girl told me: “I know that I would be a good painter.” She felt her talent and the desire but because of all the Instagram, Netflix and Facebook she didn’t find the time to make something out of this. I hear such things in many talks. If you let yourself constantly seduce and distract you will lose the ability of concentration and dedication. And at the end of your life you will think: “Oh, would I just had have…”
You protect yourself with numerous clocks from too much distraction or from losing yourself in work.
Yes, at the beginning of my self-employment it sometimes happened to me that after hours of working in the office I fell asleep on the floor in a mixture of euphoria and exhaustion. Now I use numerous hourglasses with running times between 3 and 30 minutes to visualize the passing time and to protect myself from self exploitation. I posses more than 40 other clocks that are all ticking in a different rhythm and from which none of them shows the correct time. They remind me of my vividness and my responsibility.
What’s your evening ritual?
I take many breaks during the day. Closing the eyes for 30 seconds, breathing consciously, drinking a tea, going for a walk, such things – it keeps me fresh. Since two years I have an evening ritual which I watched older people do in Sweden: I take an ice bath – that’s good for the body and marks the transition between work and spared free time. We like to cook together, exchange views, listen to music. Considering social contacts my slogan is also: less is more. And at the end of the day I drink a tea on the balcony and gaze with a telescope to the stars – if the weather allows it. That allows me to gain a view for the whole picture and it lets me fall asleep peacefully.
In the next time you won’t be able to sit on your own balcony so often. What’s the intention of your world tour “Let’s talk about time”?
Last year my husband and I started visiting different countries, therefore we learned to know different time cultures and I could share my experiences. We have been to Stockholm, Bangkok, Zurich and Berlin – now we continue our journey in Vienna, Hamburg, Gothenburg, Munich, San Francisco, Portland and New York. I receive many mails from all over the world because of this project. People from every continent share their time stories and tell me about their stress but also about magical moments. Maybe this will become a book project. On top of the thematic interest, for us this has also been a decision for more spared life time. My husband took the risk of quitting his job and going on adventure trips with me.