My 3 Time Management Questions

Time management is tricky, but when the daily decisions about my time are grounded in values, I get the most out of each day. I’ve learned to ask myself three questions about life’s decisions, big or small, and when I act on the answers, I never regret it.

1. Does it pass the Bus Test?

When I have options to choose from and I’m flummoxed as to which way to go, I ask myself, “If I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow, which option would I regret NOT doing as my life flashes before my eyes?” Then I go for the one that I’d want to remember in that final moment.

I suppose it would also work by asking what memory you want to have when you’re 100 years old.

2. Is this the very best thing I could be doing right now?

Sometimes life has clear-cut times and places that are set aside and better than any alternative. Any Sunday morning at 11:00 AM, for example, the very best place I could be is in church. Rarely could anything outrank that. (I did make my family miss church seven years ago, for example, to attend my brother’s wedding, an even high priority.)

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“It All Matters”

          It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing.

          What is most beautiful is least acknowledged.

          What is worth dying for is barely noticed.

–Laura McBride, We Are Called to Rise

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The Depth of Time and Detail

I don’t remember individual tweets, blog posts, or status updates for very long. I do remember individual novels, vacations, and relationships.

Time and detail matter.  They have depth, and weight, and life.

And yet, I also feel the cumulative substance of the more ephemeral experiences in which I habitually engage: meals, sunsets, church meetings, and exercise, for example.

But even after years of overindulgence, reading tweets, blog posts, and status updates have very little cumulative substance.

A ton of feathers may weigh the same as a ton of bricks, but years of sunsets outweigh years of tweets.

I want to read the complete works of Charles Dickens. I want to spend years exploring and gardening the same patch of homeland. I want to be married to the same woman forever.

These are the kinds of things that take a lot of time and involve deep detail.  They do matter because they have matter.

(Inspired by Katrina Kenison’s introductory essay to The Best American Short Stories 2006. Copied from my journal entry, 1.24.2015)

How Family Dysfunction Hurts Education

Three examples from my experience as a teacher:

1. A young man struggles with his work at school because his divorced mother has a hard time getting him to school.  His father tries to facilitate contact with the teachers and get his work made up, but it’s just too overwhelming.  Despite the student loving his school and wanting to thrive there, he ends up having to switch schools in the middle of the year.

2. A young woman is very successful at school, until her mother starts hitting her in fights.  The student has to move in with her aunt and, like the young man above, switch schools in the middle of the year, losing a leadership position at the school she’d attended for years.

3. A young woman has difficulty focusing on maintaining her grades while her mother has to move their family frequently to avoid her father, a drug user who, since getting out of jail, is harassing them.

Cherry-picked worst-case scenarios from over the years to make a point?  I wish.  I saw all three of these things happen in just the last two months.

Family structure and stability are so crucial to success.  That’s common sense, and it’s also supported by mountains of research.  Still, we don’t talk about it anymore because it might be inconvenient for some adults, or hurt our feelings, or be politically incorrect.  And kids just keep paying the price for it…

 

Will Liberals Agree to Call These Things Crazy?

I want to ask every progressive in America, especially those now in or seeking political office, to commit to the following ten-point statement:

I will not at any time endorse or participate in any social movement or advocate any legislative change that promotes:

• Legalizing incestuous relationships
• Legalizing polygamous relationships
• Legalizing sexual relationships with, or depictions of, minors under the current age of consent
• Granting animals any new legal rights currently reserved for humans
• Granting governments any new power, outside of taxation, to arbitrarily seize money held in accounts and investments of private citizens
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Motivation, Excuses, and Bukowski

I had a project due in my high school classes last week, and several students didn’t have it ready, with excuses like, “I was busy.  I have stressful stuff going on.  I have other classes, too, you know.”

At one point, I gently asked the class at large, “Is there anybody here who doesn’t have stressful stuff going on, and a busy schedule?  Anybody have no problems in life, and hours of free time every day?”  Of course not.  “So why is it that everybody else gets their job done? Because they choose not to let problems get in the way.  Because we all make our priorities.”

The difference is commitment, investment, and internal motivation.

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“Choose the Bigger Life”

This mantra is a phrase from Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Happier at Home.  I found the book decent enough (the part that stuck with me the most was the advice to clean our houses with the goal of clear horizontal surfaces in mind–that really is what we think of as clean, isn’t it?), but the best part of it wasn’t part of it at all.

It was Laura Vanderkam’s review of it on her blog last August.  Her post, “Don’t keep it simple,” includes such wisdom as this:

But here’s a different question: what are you saving your energy for? There’s another image in Happier at Home of someone saving her expensive truffle oil for a special occasion, only to see it go bad in the bottle. Children won’t get to repeat a childhood. Someday, sooner than we’d all like, the friends who could come over for dinner will not be available to do so. The years pass by and the somedays become no longer. So spend out now.

Yes.  Every Autumn I fall into a work coma, where the new school year dominates my time and energy, and everything else suffers.  It’s productive, but miserable.

This year, I’ve been trying to “choose the bigger life.”  I’ve only had middling success.  Still, I have dedicated a little more time to worthwhile things, and making work time more focused, and I’ll keep working on it.  The results are worth it.

Time Well Spent & Not So Much

Last Friday I jotted down some notes after work, to help make the best of my weekend.  They’re worth recording.  The idea was to reflect on what activities are most fulfilling to me in the long run–what makes me feel best in the hours and days afterwards, and provides the best memories–and which ones end up being a waste of time.

Making a list like this is highly recommended.

 

TIME WELL SPENT

  • reading books and magazines
  • playing outside the house with my kids
  • writing (journaling, sometimes blogging)
  • exercise (jogging and yoga are longtime favorites)
  • talking to my wife about our day/week / whatever
  • cleaning / organizing the house
  • temple work
  • scripture / gospel study
  • taking a bath
  • alas, grading papers

 

NOT SO MUCH

  • idle online surfing (including Facebook)
  • some blogging, especially @ politics
  • most TV
  • anything that doesn’t measure up to standards endorsed by my church
  • eating junk food / fast food

 

Freedom Vs. Charity

Our political impulses might be boiled down to these two competing priorities: freedom vs. charity.  Our devotion to freedom is to guarantee the unimpeded right to pursue our own lives as we see fit.  Our dedication to charity is to foster the well-being of our communities as much as possible.

The problem is that to absolutely favor freedom is to leave those in need of charity out in the cold, but to exclusively prefer charity is to infringe on the autonomy of others’ freedom.

However, consider this:

When freedom is the priority, private charity can and will still thrive.

When charity is the priority, private freedom always gets circumscribed.

Discuss.

 

 

Why Liberals Should Like the Tea Party

There is a difference between policy and principle.  People of bright minds and good faith can disagree about policies, but principles are usually pretty universal.  Nobody is really anti-liberty, or anti-charity, but between policy and principle is priority, and that affects how the latter is realized as the former.  That’s where people on the political spectrum differ.  Focusing on foundational principles, though, will help us build on common ground. 

A good example might be what seem to be the most disparate groups in American politics today: the Democratic Party and the Tea Party.  Since the emergence of the Tea Party about three years ago, liberals and their friends in the media have often and openly vilified these conservatives, and largely acted kinder towards the mainstream Republicans that they had previously contested with in the court of public opinion.  Maybe it’s an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” thing. 

This is unfortunate.  The Tea Party and many liberals have something in common here.  Why does the Tea Party exist?  Because they feel that the mainstream Republican Party has failed them.  (Consider how many mainstream Republicans have jumped on the anti-Tea Party propaganda bandwagon so the kids at the cool table will like them.)  They needed a homemade outlet to protest the betrayal of conservative ideals in exchange for political success. 

So some of their principles might include empowering citizens in their right to petition for redress, and calling for an end to waste and corruption by those in power, by demanding accountability from leaders.  Aren’t these things good people of all political stripes can get behind?  Yes, we can and should debate each other vigorously about fiscal policy, and all kinds of policy, but can we at least recognize when there are underlying principles that we share?

The Biggest Way In Which We Fail Students

As an elementary school student, a teacher once told me, very politely and apologetically, that I couldn’t have something reasonable that I wanted in class because that would mean that other students would be entitled to the same thing, which would be bad for the class.  I’ve long since forgotten exactly what the situation was, but I remember the lesson–sometimes, things which might be justified must be denied because of the precedent that would be set. 

In high school, a science teacher once scheduled an activity important to the class at the same time that another important activity was scheduled for a popular student club.  Students couldn’t do both, yet both activities were good and valuable, and many students went into a tizzy, asking the teacher to change the day and time of his activity.  He declined, explaining that the real world does not rearrange itself so that people can get to do every worthwhile thing they want to do–priorities must be set, and sacrifices must be made. 

He was absolutely right.  That was a crucial life lesson. 

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The Hypocrisy of Bleeding Heart Teachers

I’m talking to you, Wisconsin.

I bet the union thugs shutting down learning in Wisconsin, taking students out of school for political reasons the kids don’t even understand and sabotaging the process of education, are the same teachers who usually claim to “love” their students, being extra kind to them and making sure that class is fun. 

I’ve known tons of teachers like this. They look at their work as a “calling.”  They likely embrace all the latest watered-down edu-fads sponsored by the experts, and look down their noses at the cynical conservative teachers who are just here to do an important job and do it right. 

The thing is, teachers who revel in the warm, fuzzy side of the profession are rarely the selfless shepherds of youth they want you to think they are.  They’re in love with an image of themselves as the cherished, inspiring heroes of society. 

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Political Baloney Detector

In The Demon Haunted World, scientist Carl Sagan described a “baloney detection kit” that he would have liked to see taught in school, with such tools as skepticism and logical fallacies to help people keep from being suckered.  It’s a great idea, and I’ve employed something similar in my readings of current events in politics.

I won’t succumb to the pressure to declare myself “independent” or “moderate,” those new buzzwords that constitute the cool meme in the political mainstream; I’m a conservative through and through.  That being said, though, that hardly means that all people or parties calling themselves that are always correct.  As I employ my Political Baloney Detector, I can spot cheap shots and see many public statements and actions for the transparent pandering they are. 

Here’s how it works: whenever a politician criticizes someone with a differing view, I ask myself how authentic the complaint would sound if the roles were reversed.  By this method, I can almost always see the playacting, and the smoke and mirrors, and not get distracted from real issues by these silly tricks.

Don’t get me wrong–many things of substance get said in our public realm, by both sides of the aisle, but they also each spew enough manure that it’s useful to be able to discount it quickly.  If a statement addresses a legitimate issue, then it needs to be analyzed and discussed on its merits, measured against principles (and that’s what our conversations should really be about–the political principles that we give priority; that’s where our disagreements come from), and I think that such a focus is important enough and demands enough energy that we owe it to our principles, if we’re serious about them, not to let ourselves be taken by the cheap tricks along the way. 

Two examples:

In December, Democrats in Congress said they’d be willing to work on Christmas to finish their work.  Continue reading

Teachers and the Ninety and Nine

I’m haunted by the Biblical story about leaving the ninety and nine sheep safely in the fold to go rescue the one lost sheep:

How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?

And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.  (Matthew 18:12-13)

As a teacher, does this mean that I should ignore the students who are succeeding and more self-sufficient and spend my time trying to “save” struggling students?

Certainly, this is the mainstream philosophy of public education: I had plenty of professors in college who told prospective teachers, “Don’t worry about the smart kids–they can take care of themselves.”  On any campus of which I’ve ever had any substantial knowledge, the number of programs targeting (and the amount of budget invested in) the needs of high achieving students was dwarfed by the gargantuan industry that is remediation, credit retrieval, and discipline, among plenty more.  A case can be made for these priorities; after all, there are (sadly but honestly) far more kids in America today on the left side of the bell curve than on the right. 

However, mere majority shouldn’t dictate our standards.  Might it not better serve the long range interests of our nation by agreeing to raise the bar and fully develop the potential of those with the most of it, rather than focusing almost exclusively on making minimal gains with the very lowest skilled?  How well would any hospital operate (to borrow a metaphor from Walter Williams) if the vast majority of effort was spent on emergency cases nearing terminal status, and letting the stable patients fend for themselves? 

Still, this doesn’t help me in the classroom, for surely the Savior’s injunction means something to me; it must apply somehow. 

I think I’m figuring out a way in which it does. 

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