by Jim Denney, author of Walt’s Disneyland and Writing in Overdrive “Walt Disney was more important than all the politicians we’ve ever had. They pretended optimism. He was optimism. He has done more to change the world for the good than almost any politician who … Continue reading Walt Disney Made Me A Better Writer
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.
Excerpted and condensed from 21 Great Leaders: Learn Their Lessons, Improve Your Influence by Pat Williams with Jim Denney (hardcover). Also available in Kindle edition.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929. His father, “Daddy King,” was a Baptist minister who taught young Martin to resist segregation.
Once, Rev. King, Sr., took young Martin to a shoe store. They sat down in the front of the store. The young white shoe clerk said, “I’ll be happy to wait on you if you’ll just move to those seats in the rear.”
“There’s nothing wrong with these seats,” Daddy King said. “We’re comfortable here.”
“I’m sorry,” the clerk said, “but you’ll have to move.”
Daddy King took Martin by the hand and they walked out.
“This was the first time I had seen Dad so furious,” Martin later recalled. “I still remember walking down the street beside him as he muttered, ‘I don’t care how long I have to live with this system, I will never accept it.’”
An exceptional student, Martin skipped the ninth grade, and went straight from the eleventh grade to Morehouse College without formally graduating from high school. He was a college freshman at age fifteen. He graduated from Morehouse in 1948 and went on to Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. He earned a Ph.D.in systematic theology at Boston University and became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, at age twenty-five.
Dr. King was inspired by The Kingdom of God Is Within You, a treatise on nonviolent resistance by Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau’s essay “On Civil Disobedience,” theologians Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, and the life of Gandhi, who employed nonviolent resistance to achieve India’s independence. He played a key role in the 385-day-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, December 1955 through December 1956. The boycott began when Rosa Parks, a secretary of the Montgomery NAACP, refused to obey a bus driver’s order that she give her seat to a white passenger. During the boycott, Dr. King was arrested and his house was fire-bombed.
His leadership during the boycott elevated him to national prominence.
Communicating the dream
There is much we can learn by studying the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You can hear the rhythms and the inflection of his rich voice echoing in the words on the page. In “Paul’s Letter to American Christians,” November 4, 1956, Dr. King imagined a letter the apostle Paul might write to the church in America. He delivered this message at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama. Here’s an excerpt:
America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress. . . . You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live. You have allowed your mentality to outrun your morality. You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but . . . you have failed to make of it a brotherhood.
Notice the counterpoint of ideas in this passage. The rhythms of these contrasts make Dr. King’s message even more powerful and convicting.
In “Loving Your Enemies,” November 17, 1957, Dr. King expresses his views on nonviolence. He delivered this message at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama:
This morning, as I look into your eyes, and into the eyes of all of my brothers in Alabama and all over America and over the world, I say to you, “I love you. I would rather die than hate you.” And I’m foolish enough to believe that through the power of this love, somewhere, men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed. And then we will be in God’s kingdom. We will be able to matriculate into the University of Eternal Life because we had the power to love our enemies, to bless those persons that cursed us, to even decide to be good to those persons who hated us, and we even prayed for those persons who despitefully used us.
Loving our enemies is a constant theme in Dr. King’s sermons. He weaves the timeless teachings of the Sermon on the Mount together with eye-opening original phrases such as “matriculate into the University of Eternal Life.” The combination of old and new, familiar and startling, forces us to think deeply about what it means to love our enemies.
“Eulogy for the Martyred Children,” September 18, 1963, is the message of comfort Dr. King delivered at the memorial service for three girls — Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, and Cynthia Diane Wesley — who were killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. A fourth girl, Carole Robertson, was memorialized in a separate service. The church was bombed on Sunday, September 15, 1963 — less than three weeks after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King’s eulogy helped accelerate passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Here’s an excerpt:
God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city. . . .
Death is not the end. Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance. Death is not a blind alley that leads the human race into a state of nothingness, but an open door which leads man into life eternal. Let this daring faith, this great invincible surmise, be your sustaining power during these trying days.
In “How Long, Not Long,” March 25, 1965, Dr. King again shares a vision from his heart. Standing on the steps of the State Capitol in Montgomery, immediately after the Selma-to-Montgomery March, he says:
However difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.”
How long? Not long, because “no lie can live forever.”
How long? Not long, because “you shall reap what you sow.” . . .
How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
How long? Not long, because “His truth is marching on.”
The rhythm of the words lifts our hearts and makes us feel empowered and emboldened. In our public speaking, we need to choose not only our words but the cadence of our words. How our words sound is almost as important as what they mean.
In “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” April 3, 1968, Dr. King delivered his last speech. He spoke at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, the headquarters of the Church of God in Christ. He closed with these prophetic words:
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!
The following evening at about six p.m., Dr. King was on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel, along with other members of his entourage. He turned to music director, Ben Branch. “Ben,” he said, “make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.”
Then a gunshot shattered the calm evening. Dr. King fell, mortally wounded.
But his dream lived on.
Martin Luther King, Jr., changed the world with the sound of his voice and the force of his convictions. He changed the world through the power of his unconditional love.
Learn from Dr. King. Lead like Dr. King. Tell the world about your dream of a better future. Change the world through the relentless power of love.
“And so I say to you today, my friends, that you may be able to speak with the tongues of men and angels; you may have the eloquence of articulate speech; but if you have not love, it means nothing.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.