“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” Albert Einstein
We manage time, waste time, spend time, save time. We wish the time would come. We wish the time would pass. We see time fly. We feel time drag. We watch clocks and carry calendars, creating the illusion that we somehow control time. Yet all the while moments flow forward like a mighty river that cannot be stopped, harnessed, or re-routed.
Time goes on. Yet we don’t always live that way, but when we stop to reflect, we know it’s true. We can’t stop clocks or stretch an hour. Within time’s movement we do the best to manage ourselves—not time. To get the most out of the minute is to prioritize our actions. What is most important? Minutes add up to hours. Hours add up into days, and time moves on. The average person in the U.S. will live 28,689 days. This focuses on vita brevis—the “brevity of life”. As Andy Rooney once said, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.”
But caution! Happiness doesn’t come from watching the clock. Happiness comes from working it. How do you work it? By doing what it does—keep going. How do you keep going? By managing your priorities. Are you doing what’s important to you? Most people use their schedules to let other people set their agendas. Your schedule should reflect what’s important to you. Don’t schedule your tasks. Schedule your values.
Don’t let feelings dictate life management. Feelings are a poor guide. Feelings are responders and are untrustworthy. We know that bad can feel good. We also know that good can feel bad. We’ve all experienced feeling good about wasting time, knowing that we did something less than good, only to discover that the good feeling was temporary. We’ve experienced the opposite as well—doing what is a priority and good even though the feelings weren’t great at the time. But feelings eventually responded and we felt good!
Maturity is coming to an understanding that our actions can lead to two extremes. Actions can lead to radical breakdown, or to innovation, creativity, and breakthrough. Our priorities place us somewhere on that continuum. When we have a sense of mission, we can prioritize our lives to get the most out of each moment of each minute. When we understand that the trajectory of our lives leads to either breakdown or breakthrough, we are motivated to operate from a platform of priorities and not feelings. Priorities are good leaders. Feelings are good responders.
So time management is really an issue of productivity—making the best use of time1—and priorities—making a distinction between the important and the urgent. It is helpful to look at time, not simply as an expenditure, but as an investment. When your hourglass runs out of sand you can’t flip it over and start again. Don’t spend it. Invest it.
There are two extremes. You can squander it, or become a slave to it. Both of these scenarios lead to stress and anxiety. The investment of time is not about panic. It’s about pace. You prioritize and go at your pace. The snare is to allow all the technological additives of our fast track world drive you. We are bombarded with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, the countless emails, etc. Master them. How? By living according to your priorities. Do not let them master you. Know when to use them and when to ignore them. Occasionally turning off and tuning out could be the best use of your time.
One great antidote to mastering the technology around us is the discipline of being still. Being still is never urgent, but it is definitely important. It’s an important investment—not a waste of time. In fact the important is rarely urgent.
As time passes, it is so easy to simply drift along. You know what that’s like. You place your beach equipment in a selected spot. Then you go out for a swim or to catch waves. You are unaware that you are ever so slowly drifting. You are unaware of the passing of time. Then suddenly you look up and don’t see your home base—your beach furniture. To your amazement you discover that you are several hundred yards from your original spot.
Life is like that. It passes and we look up and realize how far we have drifted. Without focusing on priorities it is easy to drift through life—sometimes aimlessly, and sometimes with other things controlling us. Bottom line? You get what you focus on.
Managing priorities assumes you understand what’s important to you. At the end of the day I do a mental exercise. I ask, “What did I do well?” Then I ask, “what could I have done better?” If what I could have done better keeps showing up again and again, then, number 3, I get some help!” We all need help in certain areas. The key is to identify what those areas are. Don’t let them linger in your life and build up residue. Don’t let them get the best of you. Successful people are simply willing to do what unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do.
See it. Own it. Solve it. Do it. And get the help you need. That’s what successful people do. You are your calendar. Your calendar is the only thing that doesn’t lie.
Life has no reverse gears, no brakes, and no warranties. Therefore decide what you want to do with it. It’s your gift. Use it wisely.
1”Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the best use of your time.” Apostle Paul, Ephesians 5:15-16