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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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)

A Teacher’s Week

I’m still tired.  Last week was a big one, work-wise.

For my main teaching job, I show up by 7 AM, and the last class ends at 2 PM.  That’s a 35-hour week.  Not bad.  Most years I sell one of my two prep periods and teach an extra class–it lowers class sizes for the school and boosts my paycheck–but this year my school didn’t do that, so I have even more productive time during the school day (but, alas, a lower salary).

I also teach part time at UNLV–usually two freshman writing classes per semester.  This time I have those classes on Tuesday and Thursday, from 5:30 until 8:15.  On those nights, I get home around 9:00.  I use the time between the two schools for office hours–grading papers, mostly.

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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

 

Managing Time When You Don’t Have Much Left

To start a unit on time management with my Leadership class this week, I showed them Randy Pausch’s lecture on the subject.  First, I had to show them his Wikipedia page to explain why he was famous, then I told them about The Last Lecture, and then I showed them a clip of his cameo in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek.  I pointed out to them that most lectures on time management don’t get 1.3 million hits on YouTube–this guy was someone special.

I know it’s over an hour long, but it’s worth your time.  It’s a “greatest hits” condensation of every useful strategy you’ve ever heard, and it’s delivered with more wit and grace than it’s fair for any one man to have.

 

Recommended Reading: The Last Lecture

You’ll notice that this post is being filed under “living well,” rather than “language and literature” or “arts.”  Don’t let that fool you into thinking that I recommend this book merely as inspirational fluff–despite the gushing tributes this book has received since Professor Randy Pausch’s untimely death two weeks ago, The Last Lectureis not primarily designed to choke you up and give you a warm fuzzy feeling, nor is it a pity party for Dr. Pausch. 

In fact, even though it’s far closer to the truth, I think we’d be wrong to characterize it as a “seize the day” manifesto for making the most of our lives.  Certainly most people will look at it that way, and they’re not entirely wrong to do so, but The Last Lecture has much more in common with Life’s Little Instruction Book or even The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People than it does with, say, Chicken Soup for the Soul or I’m OK, You’re OK.  It’s not inspirational–it’s didactic.

Pausch is a teacher, and throughout the book he explicitly tells us that he is using this opportunity to teach; he’s teaching his children how to live well and, through that project, us as well.  I picked up The Last Lecture wondering if it would have been such a big deal had not the author been dying; as I read it, I realized that it probably wouldn’tbe such a big deal if the author weren’t dying, but not for the reason I’d feared.  This book is absolutely not a sensationalist exploitation of a man’s own death; if not for Pausch’s cancer, I wonder if most readers would have been bored. 

Dr. Randy Pausch, 1960-2008 <i>Ave Ate Vale</i>
Dr. Randy Pausch, 1960-2008 Ave Atqe Vale

Pausch only mentions his disease relatively rarely, and only then to help illustrate a point about something else he’s already telling us.  In fact, the book would work just as well if he never mentioned it at all.  The Last Lecture is a practical, sober, down to earth manual of ideas not for feeling good so much as for being productive.  Granted, that productivity is meant in terms of relationships as well as career goals and general self-improvement, but we sell this wonderful little book short if we only view it as a sappy ode to “living in the moment.”

For example, there’s a chapter about Alice, a free online download that Pausch helped develop that teaches people how to program animation.  Being fairly computer illiterate myself, I was happy to learn about this and have already set it up on my own hard drive.  He also has some good advice about using Girl Scout thin mint cookies to help people be productive with you, and to build relationships by expressing gratitude.  It’s a great idea, and next year I’ll stock up on those cookies. 

There’s even a chapter on time management (see, I told you it was like The Seven Habits). 

But if it’s not a syrupy Hallmark card, neither is it a cold-blooded textbook.  Pausch has an engaging, accessible style that lends itself well to this kind of counsel; at one point he writes, “this is just the stuff that worked for me.”  No heavy-handed pontificating here.  His many anecdotes are clever and his constant self-deprecating humor is often laugh-out-loud funny. 

So when you read The Last Lecture, you might need a box of tissues, but I sure didn’t.  What I did need was some paper for taking notes on Pausch’s many great ideas for working hard and enjoying it, and an eraser to get rid of the scribbles I made while laughing at his story of painting his childhood bedroom…very poorly.

This book is a testament to how much Pausch achieved in life, and how he did it.  The book itself is a worthy accomplishment, one whose lessons are worth imitating, and a monument to a life well lived.

First Half of 2008 Considered

Here we are, halfway through 2008.  Most of what I would call “New Year’s Resolutions” I keep drawn up on a little chart that I have posted in my planner, in my car, and at home (I actually see the one in my car the most–how sad).  Here’s the basic outline (each year, I fill in the boxes with a new goal or two):

 ROLES AND GOALS – 2008

 

ROLES

DAILY

WEEKLY

MONTHLY

Discipleship

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Husband and Father

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bishopric counselor

(calling)

 

 

 

 

Teacher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self-Improvement

WKDAY

MORNING

 schedule

WKDAY EVENING

schedule

 

WKEND MORNING

schedule

 

SHARPEN THE SAW

 

TO READ

list

 

It needs a little revision: my morning routine is fairly regular, but I’ve never been solid with weeknight routines; I’m just too tired by then. 

Also, I added an update for each goal on my 43 Things page.  I really like this site and hope it motivates me to keep working.  I’m a little discouraged that I don’t have more significant progress to report on much of anything, but I don’t want to give up on anything.  There’s too much good out there to let any of it pass me by.  I’d identify my priorities for the near future (meaning the rest of the year) as goals 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 11, 17, 27, 34, and 36. 

With any luck, I can cram enough living for ten lifetimes into just this little one…

New goal for July: each night, say a prayer of nothing but gratitude.  No requests at all, just thank you’s.