Three Steps For Better Time Management

You can have it all. You really can. You just can’t have it all at the same time.

Ethics teacher Frank Bucaro says when you are born, the hour glass of time is tipped over. The sand begins to run from the top to the bottom.

And so it is with the time in your life. You can’t shove the sand back up. You can’t stop it from running down. You can’t make the hole smaller. All you can really do is take a screwdriver and ram it through the hole to make the sand run faster. So you had better use your time wisely.

Well, there are some things you can do about your lack of time. As Bob Burford says in his book, “Half Time,” time management “is more than slowing down or being able to control your date book. It has to do with a mind-set, an inner compass that is fixed on those things that define the true self.”

To be specific, to have a life that feels a bit less overwhelming, to be a bit less busy, to manage your time… and thereby your life… you need to do a few things. Here’s what I recommend:

=> 1. Take time for what’s important.

It’s the biggest time management mistake that most of us make. We don’t take time for the things that are really important.

I know. I made that mistake for way too long. I would put off my kids’ requests, telling them I would “catch them later.” And I would tell my wife, “Someday, we’ll have more time.”

Well those times never came. I learned the hard way. But I learned. You either make time for what’s important… or you don’t. It’s that simple. We need to take a lesson from the mayonnaise jar and the cup of coffee.

One day, a professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large, empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “yes.”

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things — your God, family, children, your health, friends, and favorite passions. If everything else was gone from your life… but these things still remained… your life would still be full.”

The professor continued, “The pebbles are the other things that matter… like your job, your house, and your car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he said, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.”

“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18 holes. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal.”

“Take care of the golf balls first… the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

Now you may be smiling, and you may be thinking that’s a cute story, but you may also be wondering, “What are the things that are most important to me?” You’ve got to…

=> 2. Be deliberate in your search for what’s most important.

Take time to think and pray. Take time to be quiet as you consider what might be the most important things in your life. A little constructive meditative time never hurt anyone.

But also take time to consider your answers to these questions — questions recommended by Burford.

* Am I missing anything in my life right now that’s important to me?

* What am I passionate about?

* Who am I?

* What do I value?

* What do I want to be doing in ten years? In twenty?

* What gifts has God given me that have been perfected over time?

* What gifts has He given me that I am unable to use?

* What would I be willing to die for?

* What is it about my job that makes me feel trapped?

* What realistic changes can I make in my employment?

* Would I be willing to take a lower-paying, less-stressful job in order to be happier and closer to my true self?

* What steps do I have to take to make sure the rest of my life is better than the first part?

You might consider writing your answers in a notebook. Just open your mind and heart and let the answers spill on to the page. Forget about grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Just write, write, and write and you will be amazed at how much you learn about yourself.

=> 3. Pay attention to the signals others give you.

In addition to your private soul-searching for what’s most important, pay attention to the signals others are giving you. And they are giving you some cues.

Unfortunately, some people get so preoccupied with their job, a hobby, or somebody else’s problems that they overlook those cues. In my “Journey to the Extraordinary” experience, I’ve heard people share several examples. One woman said, “I could shave my head, and it would take my husband three days to notice. I do something dramatic to get his attention. All he thinks about and all he seems to notice is his job.”

Obviously the husband was overlooking his wife — which, on my scale, should be more important than his job. He was missing the signals she was giving him.

The classic song, “The Cat’s In The Cradle,” says it very well. The son keeps asking for some of Dad’s time, but Dad keeps telling him “later… some other day.” Eventually it’s too late, and Dad loses the relationship with his son.

So I ask you, “What signals are other people giving you? What are they trying to tell you? And, are you getting it?” If you’re paying attention, you will get greater clarity as to what’s most important.

Or do people have to hit you along side the head before you “get” it? Do people have to go to desperate measures to get your attention? Or worse yet, have they given up trying to get your attention?

Are you like the young, successful executive who was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar?

He was watching for kids darting out from between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something. As his car passed, no children appeared.

Instead, a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door! He slammed on the brakes, backed the Jag to the spot where the brick had been thrown. The angry driver jumped out of the car, grabbed the nearest kid and pushed him up against a parked car, shouting, “What was that all about and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing? That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why did you do it?”

The young boy was apologetic. “Please, mister. Please. I’m sorry, but I didn’t know what else to do,” he pleaded. “I threw the brick because no one else would stop.”

With tears dripping down his face and off his chin, the youth pointed to a spot just around a parked car. “It’s my brother,” he said. “He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair, and I can’t lift him up.”

Now sobbing, the boy asked the stunned executive, “Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me.”

Moved beyond words, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He hurriedly lifted the handicapped boy back into the wheelchair, then took out a linen handkerchief and dabbed at the fresh scrapes and cuts. A quick look told him everything was going to be okay.

“Thank you and may God bless you,” the grateful child told the stranger.

Too shook up for words, the man simply watched the boy push his wheelchair-bound brother down the sidewalk toward their home.

It was a long, slow walk back to the Jaguar. The damage was very noticeable, but the driver never bothered to repair the dented side door. He kept the dent there to remind him of this message — “Don’t go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention!”

Action:  Set aside 10 minutes a day for the next 7 days and think about your answers to the questions I listed in point 2. And begin to write down your answers.