05/28/2013 10:32 am ET Updated Jul 28, 2013

How to Practice Asteya: Non-Stealing of Others' Time

Asteya is a Sanskrit word that means "non-stealing." It's one of the 10 yamas and niyamas of yoga -- ethical guidelines that yogis strive to embody and practice, on and off the mat.

And like most yogi-centric ideas, it's got several layers of meaning and depth.

On a surface level, practicing Asteya can mean literally not stealing money out of someone's pocket. It can also mean not hoarding materials you don't need, mindlessly consuming natural resources, coveting other people's possessions, or appropriating other people's ideas.

But one of the most interesting interpretations of Asteya is the notion of not stealing the most precious and non-renewable resource of all: time.

With each passing year, my life seems to accelerate. I'm highly conscious of how little time I have left to do the work that needs to be done. I'm highly conscious of how little time I have left with my parents -- a few decades, a couple dozen Christmas dinners, and a handful of vacations together, if we're lucky. I'm highly conscious of how easy it can be... to waste time. Mine, and others.

Here are a few thoughts on how to practice Asteya -- non-stealing of other's time -- in your work and communication.

  • Write short, concise, elegant emails. Most working professionals receive upward of 100 emails a day. If you're going to add to the queue, strive to be precise.
  • Think before you reach out for "help." Can the answer you're seeking easily be Googled? Do you really need assistance? Do you have a specific question, at all?
  • Consider not speaking. "Open your mouth only if what you are about to say is more beautiful than silence." -- Arabic Proverb
  • Show up on time. Model punctuality and inspire others to do the same.
  • Don't commit to projects that you have no desire to complete.
  • Make it easy for people to help you. If you're reaching out to someone to request a favor, tell them exactly what you need, and when, and why.
  • Make it easy for people to understand you. Nothing steals away time like struggling to decipher what someone is trying to say!

    If you tend to be overly-wordy, pretend as though you're appearing on a morning talk show and only have a few moments to captivate your audience. If you tend to use a lot of convoluted jargon, pretend that you're speaking to a very young child.

  • Try to avoid changing your mind mid-stream -- especially if your new choice creates a significant inconvenience for others. If you must shift gears, do it fast and do it right.

It's been said that "all the wealth of the world will be drawn to one who has mastered the practice and discipline of Asteya." How do you practice Asteya in your everyday life? How do you inspire others to practice it, too?

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