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It’s About Time

by Bob Doman

How long is a day? How long is a minute? How long does it take to make a bed, take out the trash, make a sandwich, or eat a meal? I’m sure you can all answer the first two questions, or at least you think you can; and I suppose that you could give a fair guess as to how long it takes you to do many common tasks. But I would bet that you would be off in these estimates by a fairly substantial percentage. Let’s try to understand a day and look at these pieces a bit more closely so we can start thinking about time in perhaps a different and more productive way.

How long is a day? Since we’re all smart, most of us answered 24 hours. Perhaps a few of you smarter (or smart aleck) or Simply Smarter folks thought 1,440 minutes; and a few of you with perhaps some nerdy tendencies might have even answered 86,400 seconds or one three hundred and sixty-fifths point something of a year, of course allowing some fraction of a day, that I’m not about to bother calculating, for leap year. But I suspect for most of you, while you’re moving through your day, that you’re not thinking about any of these numbers. I suspect that most of you are thinking about your day as morning, afternoon, and evening and perhaps if you’re having a tough day, you throw in that sleeping part that you may already be looking forward to as you work your way through this article.

But there are some of you who do not think of your day in these three or four chunks, but rather in smaller increments. Recall the old saying, “If you need something done give it to a busy person.” We might want to tweak that a bit and say, “If want something done, give it to a productive busy person.” I suspect that most of you feel you are really busy, but productive? Why do these productive, busy people get it done? I propose it’s because they look at and think about their day and time in smaller pieces and perhaps even schedule those pieces.

Back in the eighties when I was working like a young nutcase trying to help kids and change the world, I was productive from generally around 6 a.m. until 2 or 3 a.m.. My day was so scheduled that you could have asked me at any given moment what time it was, and I would have been able to answer accurately within a few seconds. I often got through those long days with mini power naps, and I could fall asleep within a couple of seconds and wake up typically one or two seconds before my scheduled wake up time. I really had a good handle on time. Part of what helped me fine tune time was doing live radio and TV shows.

Back then I did a lot of radio and TV, which really helped develop my time perspective. How long is a minute? Sixty seconds. And how long is sixty seconds? When doing live radio or TV, I learned very quickly that the programs start on a specific second, commercials happen at specific seconds, and the show ends on a specific second. When I did these shows I would have a clock with a very prominent second hand to watch and/or someone off to the side, making all kinds of motions, gestures, and facial contortions trying to keep me apprised of the time and on target. To make it challenging, the host would inevitably throw a question at me to end a segment. When I first started doing these shows I would be nervously watching the clock, and when asked a question with less than a minute left, I would look at the host and quickly answer the question, then look up at the clock. More often than not, there would still be something like 45 seconds left. Wow—a minute is a long time. I felt like I could have recited the Gettysburg Address in that time. (Which I, in fact, just timed and can do in a minute—who would have thought?) So one minute is a long time, and there are 1,440 of them in a day. Now I am not proposing that you run your day with a second hand; but I suspect we can do better than morning, afternoon, and evening, or worse yet “tomorrow.”

As an exercise spend a little bit—a very little bit—of time and make a list of common jobs and tasks that you do on a very regular basis and estimate how long each job takes. How long does it take to make a bed, empty a dishwasher, prepare sandwiches, take out the trash, etc.? Write down your estimations. Then over the next couple of days, time how long these tasks actually take and compare them to your estimations. You may be surprised. You may find that you actually spend a lot more time thinking about finding time for things than it would have taken to have just done them in the first place. Armed with this new insight, make yourself a chart of a day, breaking the day down into 15-minute pieces. If we allow eight hours for sleep, that leaves you with 64 of these 15-minute huge chunks of time. Now with your chart in hand and your new time perspective, start filling in your chart for your next day. Start by chunking things into 15-minute groups, putting those things that absolutely have to be done, like meals or whatever, into the appropriate time slot. After you fit in all of the absolutely-must-be-done items, then add in the really-really-need-to-do items. Good. Now you have probably filled in eight or ten of your 15-minute blocks. That only leaves about 56 empty blocks. Okay, so let’s move into the really-need-to-do items, followed by the like-to-do items, and the items you meant to do the day before but didn’t get around to. Do you have space for the things you meant to do but didn’t do last month? Still have some empty spaces? How about scheduling in a nap, time to read, or a workout? Wow—could you actually have some free time? For many of you, this will be an enlightening experience. For some others you may have actually discovered that 64 blocks are not enough. If that is what you learned, then you too have learned something very important. You can’t do it all. In order to get your child’s program done, you need to get help, you need to delegate, you need to evaluate the importance and results of the various things you are doing, you need to prioritize. Is your plate is too full? Talk to your coach, and let’s modify what you are doing. (Do you really need to spend time traveling across town for the questionable whatever?) But for most of you the good news is that it is possible to create enough time in your day to do what needs to be done.

Get ready—your life is about to change!


Reprinted by permission of The NACD Foundation, Volume 24 No. 3, 2011 ©NACD

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