Learn how to create a balance in your time and work by applying the theory of the Four Elements — earth, fire, air and water — to the way you manage your time.
Here is a model of time management, that, although highly original and innovative, is based on a theory that is several thousand years old. The theory is the theory of the Four Elements. According to the Ancient Greeks, all matter in the universe was comprised of just four elements: earth, fire, air and water. These four elements are not just real. They’re also symbolic. And they represent the four key elements of time management. When you hold these four elements in balance through the tasks you perform, you bring to your life a rich, varied and harmonious pattern. Let’s see exactly how.
1. Earth Tasks The Earth element represents the source from which we obtain our nourishment. It is the basis on which everything else is built. It is the rock, the core, the groundwork. Earth tasks are those tasks in our life that have to be done if we are to survive. They include sleeping, eating, and bodily needs. In an organizational context, they are the routines, systems, and rituals around which work is organized. As such, Earth tasks are essential, if sometimes dull.
Spend up to a quarter of your day on Earth tasks. Do them when you want a break from thinking, creating, and relating tasks.
2. Fire Tasks The element of Fire represents the creative spark in us. When this spark is lit, it can produce something uniquely special that adds to our lives and the lives of others. Fire tasks include any inspirational, dynamic, spontaneous, and productive work, such as developing new ideas, working on projects, taking risks, trying out something new, developing ourselves and innovating. While we connect with Earth tasks through our lower bodies, we connect with Fire tasks through the heart and belly. Without Fire tasks, your life is repetitive and circular. With Fire tasks, you move ahead and fulfil the potential you were born with.
Spend up to a quarter of your day on Fire tasks. Do them when you want a break from routine, thinking, and relating tasks.
3. Air Tasks The element of Air is associated with any activity that involves thinking. As such, it is often thought of as any non-doing activity. Air is the most elusive of all the elements. Air is everywhere and nowhere, yet it is impossible to grasp and contain. Air tasks include any pure thinking activity, such as goal-setting, planning, decision-taking, problem-solving, creative thinking, analyzing, and learning. It is also the time we need to spend in our lives for renewal and recuperation. For many people who see work as constant activity, the Air element is a reminder of the need to switch off. Without Air tasks in your life, work becomes a struggle. With them, it becomes effortless.
Spend up to a quarter of your day on Air tasks. Do them when you want a break from routine, creative, and relating tasks.
4. Water Tasks Water is a metaphor for working with others. Like water, time with others is a connecting process. Just like our relationships, water may be still or turbulent, trickling or rushing, bubbly or calm, shallow or deep, active or passive, destructive or playful. While essential for getting things done, time with others can also be one of our biggest time robbers. We can achieve nothing without others. But if we are not careful, we can achieve nothing because of others. That’s why, like water, this aspect of time management is best when controlled and systemized.
Spend up to a quarter of your day on Water tasks. Do them when you want a break from routine, thinking, and creative tasks.
Balancing each day’s activities is not simply a sensible way to live. It is also healthy, productive and enjoyable. To follow an intense period of planning (Air work) with a physical task (Earth work), then to follow that with time on a project (Fire work), followed by time with colleagues (Water work), is to create a rich and whole texture to the day that somehow feels right. That’s why the theory of the Four Elements, as old as it is, still has so much relevance to our lives today.