Posted by: genevievetaylor | November 29, 2008

Building Personal Sustainability – Pruning your time

When it rains, it pours.

Over the last several months, we have had an abundance of blessings – my sweetheart and I have purchased a fixer-upper house, and have been in the throes of ripping out carpet, ripping down wall paper, painting, putting in new flooring, moving, and finally, hosting 17 people for Thanksgiving. Rewarding, and highly stressful (they say moving is amongst the most stressful events in a human beings’ life.) This along with the challenges all of us have faced over the last few months of anxiety over the elections, massive fluctuations in the market, and watching people lose their homes, their jobs, and at times, their communities. (Christopher, my sweetheart, is in the financial sector – you can imagine the stress that creates.)

So how, in all of this, does one maintain one’s own sanity, health, good temper – essentially, one’s personal sustainability?

This has been an important question for me (floating amongst all of the other important questions, like what paint to use, or, how will the market affect our clients?)

It has not been an easy one. In fact, as I sit here, writing for the first time in two months, it is clear to me how fast all of those good habits of meditation, writing, exercise, good food, and time with friends was thrown out the window.

Can we always do everything? No. So, how do we choose what is most important?

I lived on an organic fruit farm for about a year and a half, through two pruning seasons. And during that time, I learned how to prune grapes – they had about 20 varieties of heirloom table groups that were just stunning in their variety and flavor.

Pruning grapes turned out to be one of the most challenging and rewarding tasks I took on, and is a metaphor I refer to a lot when I am having to focus on what’s most important.

Imagine a grape vine, bare of leaves. Every vine has about 25 woody “shoots” or spurs, that are growing from the vine, looking like a crazy bush of muppet rastafarian hair. Your job is to take this vine and these shoots from 30 to around 10. So, how?

Grapes before they are pruned

Grapes before they are pruned

The first step is to use simple processes of prioritization – is the shoot oriented correctly, is it big and healthy or small and puny, is it diseased, is it spaced well? After clipping those off down to the vine, that leaves you with about 16 big, healthy shoots, just waiting to burst forth with leaves and juicy grapes the next year. But wait – you still need to take 6 off!

And this is the hardest part of the process. Because, at this point it is pure judgment call. You don’t know if one will do better than the other, or will stay healthier longer. For some reason, that first year, it was agonizing for me – what if I chose the wrong one – and marred the plant, or worse, killed the plant by taking off too many? It took me forever to get through a row, and although my farm-mates encouraged me to just “make a decision, already!” I found that my concern slowed me to a snail’s pace.

I have the same habit in the rest of life – I am so in love with opportunities, that “clipping a shoot” literally feels like I am killing an opportunity? And the same line of questions runs through my brain – what if its the wrong one?

Grapes after they are pruned

Grapes after they are pruned

The second year, though, I went out there, with the benefit of having seen the results of the first year’s pruning. The places where I had pruned more intensely were fine – in fact, they were vigorous and healthy. Guess what – I hadn’t killed the vine! It helped to see the logic of pruning, the results of my efforts, and how I could fine-tune the second time.

I found that not only was I faster at pruning, but that I was able to teach others, and feel confident doing so; I saw the plant in an entirely different way – more about cultivating grapes, than cutting off woody stems. I became (almost) as fast as the good folks who had been doing it for years.

The whole point of pruning is to be able to send more energy to the things that you know are most important. It is, literally, to cultivate the best possible opportunities to grow the best possible grapes, when they are still months and months away from growing.

These last few weeks, I have had to prune, at least temporarily, so that my finite time, energy and resources could go to the things that were truly most urgent AND important. The results? I sit in my warm, new home, relaxing this Thanksgiving weekend. My sweetheart and I are even more in love. And I am learning to be increasingly efficient AND effective with my time. Some of the pieces I have pruned from my life are not doing so well – but surprisingly, some of the other pieces I have pruned are doing much better without my attention; it has allowed other leaders to step up, and for me to recreate my role in those projects.

Pruning does not always result the way we wish it – but by keeping your eye on your job of cultivating what you want to achieve, as opposed to focusing on what throws itself at you, it becomes easier and easier to prune, year by year.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when one must become very, very clear on priorities, to get through a particularly challenging time. I believe our nation is in the midst of such a time – where we have to remember what is important, what will keep us going in the long term, and we have to choose where we want our finite resources to go. What an opportunity to cultivate clarity!

Winter-time, with its short, cold days is a time that lends itself to introspection. The next few posts I will do will be on managing time, cultivating clarity, and remembering what is truly most important. Much of this is based off of the training that I do in time management. May you find it useful.

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