The Ancient Greeks had two different concepts of time — and the second could change how you organize your day
If you’ve encountered languages other than the one you grew up with, you’ve likely discovered a word that captures an idea that doesn’t quite translate directly into your own language.
I like it when that happens. It introduces me to a new way of thinking, to a concept I hadn’t considered in the same way.
The ancient Greek language has two different words for time.Chronos refers to the kind of time we measure by the ticking clock. It’s the time we use as we try to meet deadlines, make it to appointments, or go to bed at a decent hour. We cite it in numbers: 8:45 a.m., 4:15 p.m.
Kairos, on the other hand, has a spiritual implication, a sense of significance. It represents time “in the moment,” giving everything into that moment and receiving everything it has to offer. On Kairos time, you are truly present, not rushing toward the next thing.
Which type of time energizes you? Which drains you? And most importantly, which is your default setting?
Most of us operate in Chronos time, particularly at work. We have meetings that begin promptly at a certain hour (although they might not end as promptly), reports due on a certain date, and a time on the clock when we get to go home for the day.
I can certainly be energized by this type of time. I like structure and predictability. I like it when I know what to expect and try to structure my day around those expectations.
But if you believe strongly in the purpose of your work, it might benefit you to leave time for Kairos in your day. That’s where inspiration strikes — the time you have to you lose yourself in the moment and uncover new ideas and creative solutions.
Unfortunately, you can’t always schedule deep moments of reflection and purpose in your day. But there are some things you can do to prepare yourself for a “Kairos moment” when it comes:
• Continually reflect on your purpose: know the why of your job.
• Create space in your calendar: as practical as that sounds, you need time to think, reflect, and be inspired. You may not have profound moments in your first attempt at Kairos time, but that’s not the point. The point is beginning a practice of reflection, daydreaming, or reading something totally out of your field and being inspired by the application it could have for your work. You can’t predict it, but you can enable it.
• Physically mark off space: Kairos can occur in everyday life — you can suddenly lose yourself in a moment, for sure. But it’s difficult to experience Kairos in the midst of chaos. Find a space that inspires you and allows for quiet and reflection.
I’m motivated by getting things done. But I’ve realized that I actually get more significant work done when I block off time to allow Kairos to unfold. When I remove myself from the distractions and deadlines of Chronos time and settle into a quiet space, I can experience Kairos time.
Kairos time requires rethinking our modern conceptions of efficiency and “getting things done.” But if you focus on effectiveness over efficiency, you’ll realize that Kairos time helps you achieve your goals and prevents you from burning out and losing the passion you have for your work.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not suggesting you throw out Chronos time completely! We need structure in our day, and I certainly don’t appreciate meetings that go on forever (nor have I ever felt a spiritual significance in them!).
Try building some Kairos time into your workday, and see what happens. You will find yourself refreshed, inspired, and ready to put your talents to work making our world a better place!
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