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"I once read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand serendipity? One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental sagacity (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for, comes under this description) was of my Lord Shaftsbury, who happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Clarendon's, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table."
Horace Walpole
January 28, 1754
Serendipity, Wikipedia

Source: Michael Olpin, Associate Professor, Health Promotion & Human Performance, Weber State University, Ogden, UT

Inherent in the Lifebalance approach to time management is the idea of serendipity. The English writer Horace Walpole first coined the term serendipity to describe the quality which, through good fortune and sagacity, allows a person to discover something good while seeking something else. He developed this word and definition after reading a Persian fable called the Three Princes of Serendip.

The Three Princes of Serendip

The story tells of three princes who went into the world to seek their fortune. None of them achieved what they were seeking, but they each got something else, something better. One found love, one found beauty, and the third found peace. “These three men, while traveling through the world, rarely found the treasures they were looking for, but continually ran into other treasures equally great or even greater which they were not seeking. In looking for one thing they found something else, and it dawned on them that this was one of life's sly and wonderful tricks. When they realized this, they got an entirely new slant on life, and every day resulted in a new and thrilling experience.”

The essence of this principle is that the happenings that you never expect are actually the things that are supposed to happen. Other definitions for serendipity include:

  1. The ability to make happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.
  2. The gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought.
  3. An unexpected discovery of something worthwhile during a search of an expected something worthwhile.

Keys to Serendipity

There are several key parts to serendipity.

The first is that we need to be working toward something. We need to set some goal(s) for ourselves and be moving in the direction of them.

The second feature of serendipity is that we need to be aware, to be alert, to be observing things in order to realize the so-called “happy accidents” that occur as we are on the way to our original goal. If we aren't tuning in to what is happening, we will miss things like beauty, spontaneous moments, new and even better goals and directions, opportunities, and needs of others as they arise.

With serendipity, we can have both worlds – the jet and the hot air balloon. We still set goals and work toward them. But the flexibility of serendipity allows us to be open to spontaneous events as they occur. We don't treat interruptions as annoying, but instead, as opportunities to “discover something good” that might add to our joy and fulfillment.

Too much planning can make the actual experience of living almost anti-climactic. Too much thinking about a thing removes us from it – we become observers, analysts, spectators, or critics rather than participants. If we can approach life more as an experience which contains vast variety and infinite potential for surprise – we will find ourselves dealing less with “success” and “failure” and more with progress and growth. If we have to think about every detail of our lives, we ought to think about them after they have been lived (when we can learn from experience) not before and during (when the very thought may intercept or alter the experience).

Approaching life as an experience makes us, moment-to-moment, more aware of what is happening and of what we are feeling – and less aware of what we plan to have happen or wish had happened. Thus we see opportunities we could never have planned and realize far more serendipity than we otherwise could. Goals can co-exist with experience – they can shine like beacons and allow us to see our experiences more clearly in their order and light.

Applying Serendipity

Knowing about serendipity and applying the principle in daily life are two very different things. Serendipity is not a common way of being for most people in our culture. We tend not to think and act this way. We can learn to move in this more balanced direction. This activity can help get you started.

Start your planning time by drawing a line down the middle of your daily planning page.

  • The left side of this page is our traditional scheduling of activities and planning items to do that day.
  • The right side of the page is left blank. This side will be filled, during the day or at the end of the day, with those unanticipated needs, unforeseen opportunities, and the unexpected moments that come up during the day. These are the items that we could not have planned for, but turn out to be as valuable, or more valuable, than the things that we had planned.

We have to be in pursuit of something (left side of the page) and we have to be aware, sensitive, and observant of those other/better things that we didn't plan for (right side of the page). The left side of the page contains our plans and schedule. The right side of the page reminds us to be playful, spontaneous, take risks, and be serendipitous.

With this type of flexibility automatically worked into our days, we create a new definition of a perfect day. It used to be that a perfect day was one where our high priorities, our “A” items were checked off the list. Now a perfect day will still include that, but additionally, we jump the line to do the serendipity things as well. Living in this more flowing and balanced way involves intentionally changing the way we function throughout the day. From the outside, it may not appear that we are doing anything differently, but inside, we manage things in vastly different ways.

Lifebalance and awareness of serendipity do not mean no plan and no goals. The guiding principle is this: Be strong and fixed on the destination, but be creative and flexible on the route.

Cultivating the quality of serendipity

  1. Slow down – Hurry tramples watchfulness and thoughtfulness. Smell the flowers, feel the sun, pause to breathe. Notice the needs of others and try to feel empathy. Sometimes relaxing your pace can lengthen your stride.
  2. Welcome surprises and anticipate them – Look for them. Expect them, relish them. Surprises don't knock you off course. They reveal new destinations and new directions.
  3. Enjoy the journey – Now; look for and find joy today. Life is not a dress rehearsal.
  4. Simplify and set your own standards – the trading of time for things is usually a bad deal. When the things are the expensive trappings of style, image, and impression, the trade-off is a disaster. Trying to impress others with the newest and costliest car, fashion, brand name, address, toy, or trend is the depth of bad-deal trade-offs and the height of self deceit.
  5. Make goals without plans – while goals are an indispensable part of serendipity, tight, detailed plans are not. Spend your Sunday Session and other “thought time” conceptualizing your goals, and laying out a general road map toward them, but acknowledging that your actual route will be some combination of the schedule and the surprise.
  6. Split page scheduling – Left side gets the lists, right side gets the day's serendipitous after it happens notes. i.e., a new acquaintance, a fresh idea, a child's question, an unexpected opportunity, a friend's need, a chance meeting, a beautiful sunset. These right side things are far more valuable than your listed items.
  7. Add playfulness and humor to a part of each day – lighten up and allow yourself to make mistakes, to enjoy the more humorous parts of life, to laugh like a child.
  8. Be spontaneous – balance planning with flexibility and spontaneity.
  9. Take risks and follow your feelings – the dullness of our comfort zones lulls us into a false sense of security. Living fully involves taking risks and enjoying the surprises of what might come with the risks.

You can clearly see that the Lifebalance approach to time management is significantly different that the ABC123 and Quadrant Planning methods.

Yet all three methods can be effective in helping individuals accomplish their goals, manage their time, and relieve their stress. Next, let’s look at a variety of tips on how to overcome procrastination and eliminate time zappers.