Not a Moment to Waste
People say time is money. I say time is life.
When you pick up a paycheck, you are making a life-and-death transaction. You are trading a chunk of your life, your finite mortal existence, for a medium of exchange called “money.” Over the span of your lifetime, you will have only a certain number of heartbeats, a certain number of seconds, a certain number of years. When they’re gone, they’re gone.
Ever hear someone say, “I’m just killing time”? What are they really saying? “I’m killing myself.” Because time is all you have, and when it’s gone, you’re dead. When you kill time, you kill yourself, moment by moment, second by second, a little bit at a time.
“People with a keen sense of the preciousness of time are a valuable resource,” my friend Pat Williams once told me. “They are the leaders, the go-getters, the entrepreneurial spirits. They’re the people you can count on to get the job done. People who understand the value of one tick of the clock are the ones who make the world a better place.”
Pat, the co-founder of the Orlando Magic NBA franchise, offers this basketball analogy. “In our game,” he said, “time is everything. You’ve got four twelve-minute quarters to get the job done — forty-eight minutes to shoot more baskets than the other guy. As soon as the ball is inbounded, the shot clock starts ticking. You’ve got just twenty-four seconds to shoot, or the ball turns over. And you don’t have the luxury of taking a nice, leisurely shot. Usually, you’re double-teamed, and you’ve got to find some way to force the shot while that clock is ticking down. It’s not easy — but there’s no finer feeling in the world than beating the buzzer and making the pressure shot. It’s the same way in life.”
Time is irreplaceable, life is precious. We don’t have a moment to waste.
The myth of “when I have more time”
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say, “Someday, when I have more time . . .” I used to say that myself. Now I know better. I’m never going to have more time than I have right now.
People always think there’s a magical “someday” out there when they will be less busy, when there will be fewer responsibilities and demands on their time, when the pace of life will slow down to a leisurely crawl. But if you truly want to make your dreams come true, you can’t wait until “someday.” You have to do it now.
My friend Phil Brewer, a counselor and leadership trainer, told me about a trip he took to Europe in 1977. “I went to Switzerland and interviewed several writers and thinkers, including Paul Tournier, the great Swiss psychiatrist,” he told me. “And there is one statement Dr. Tournier made that had a profound impact on my life.
“He said, ‘People are always looking for the right time and the perfect place to write, to paint, to accomplish some goal. They say, “I have to be in the mountains, I have to be on the coast, everything must be just so.” But if you look at all the great achievements of history, you’ll see that they have largely been done in cold, cramped, unpicturesque conditions.’
“Those words hit me right between the eyes. It took me years to fully absorb the great truth that Dr. Tournier had given to me. I’m still absorbing it. I think he saw in me a perfectionist streak that so often keeps me from starting a project until ‘just the right moment.’ I want a cup of coffee, but I want to drink it on the beach in Maui.
“The point is this: If you’re going to write the Great American Novel, then write it. Don’t put it off until everything’s just so. Do it, and do it now.”
Practical tips for putting more time in your day
Effective time management begins with personal responsibility. You and I are each responsible for the way we invest our time. We can’t expect anyone else to organize our schedules or remind us of our goals. You own your own day, and I own mine. You and you alone are responsible for how you invest your time — or how you squander it.
In this two-part blog post, I’ll offer some tips for magically putting more time in your day. Here’s the first one:
First: Organize and prioritize. In order to achieve your most important goals, you must prioritize your time. First order of business: Make a list. Call it a “Things To Do” list or a “Priorities” list. I keep mine on a clipboard that hangs on the wall next to my computer. Every time I think of a new priority, I add it to the list.
I break my list into three categories:
- Priority 1. Long-range dreams and goals.
- Priority 2. Urgencies and emergencies.
- Priority 3. Nonessentials.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these priorities and how to manage them:
Priority 1: Long-range dreams and goals. This is the category where you list such things as that dream house you want to build or the novel you want to write — whatever it is that will take you where you want to be in life. Priority 1 items are essential, but not necessarily urgent. It’s where you put your grand dreams, your hopes for the future, the projects you want to accomplish, but which tend to get crowded out by urgencies and emergencies.
Priority 2: Urgencies and emergencies. This is the category where you list the things that need to get done right away, like preparing for that presentation at the office next week. Or renewing your driver’s license. Or filing your 1040. Or scheduling that root canal. Or cleaning out the garage so you can put your car away at night.
Priority 2 stuff doesn’t really enrich your life or move you toward your dreams and goals — but not getting your Priority 2 stuff done can really make a mess of your life. These chores may not enhance your life, but they are always urgent and necessary.
Priority 3: Nonessentials. This is where you list things that need to get done, but which are medium to low priority. Often these tasks are the smallest and most easily accomplished, like “Email Joe and Mandy” or “Take down Xmas lights” or “Call Congressman Fogbottom, give him a piece of my mind.”
Once you have your list of priorities, allocate time accordingly. If you know you have nine hours to spend today, then allocate the appropriate amount of time to each priority. You can allocate it in any way that makes sense to you. Personally, if I had nine hours to divvy up, I’d probably do it this way: Five hours to Priority 1 tasks; three hours to Priority 2 tasks; and one hour to Priority 3 tasks.
Break down big, intimidating projects into bite-size, non-threatening chunks. For example, instead of putting “Write the Great American Novel” on your list, break it down into smaller component tasks: “Outline plot,” “Write character sketches,” “Research background and setting,” “Write Chapter 1,” and so forth.
Group together activities that are logically related, and do them in batches for maximum efficiency. If you have a half dozen letters to write, write ’em in a row. Maximize effectiveness by minimizing transition time, decision time, and down time.
Don’t procrastinate. Start now. Do one thing at a time, finish it completely, then move to the next item.
Organizing your priorities is essential to putting more time in your day. A surgeon was once asked what he would do if he only had five minutes to perform an operation to save a patient’s life. His reply: “I’d spend the first two minutes planning the operation.” Time spent planning and organizing your priorities is time well invested.