“When you do the things you need to do when you need to do them, the day will come when you can do the things you want to do when you want to do them.” (Zig Ziglar)
The one thing that I have, that only I can manage, is my time. It cannot be replenished, it is a truly non-renewable resource. Every day I am face with a series of 86,400 decisions on how I will use each second of the day. Will I use them to do work, to visit with friends and family, to lay lazily and watch television, to sleep, or something else? I have leisure time activities that are precious to me. I love to camp with my wife and friends, I have television shows I enjoy, reading expands my mind and horizons, and so on.
There are also things in my life which I need to do, even must do. These are things that have deadlines and contain elements that are not among my favorite things. When I work on those things first, it leaves me time later to do the things that bring me joy and happiness.
Some years back I taught a class on Time Management for Busy Teens. In that class I talked to the teens about the need to have a plan for how they would spend their time. The target audience was High School juniors and seniors. They were high achieving students who had many demands on their time between school, extracurricular activities, home life and even jobs. Countless were the descriptions I heard about days that went from 5:00am until 10:30 or 11:00pm, just to get through the things they “had” to do. To help make my point about time management, I used the following example I had once read, and we acted it out in the class.
I started with an empty fish bowl, and a pile of fairly large rocks. I had one or two of the students come up and put the rocks into the fish bowl. It was a tight fit, but if they worked at it just a little, they could fit all the rocks in the bowl. I asked the class if the bowl was full, and all agreed that it was.
Next I had another pair come up and gave them a bag of fish tank gravel. I told them to pour the gravel into the bowl until the bag was empty. They would need to shake the bowl to get the gravel to settle to the bottom, but eventually they could get all the gravel into the bowl. Again, I asked the class if the bowl was full, and all agreed that it was.
Finally I had a student come up and handed him or her a pitcher of water. I told the student to pour the water in until it reached the top of the bowl. When the water was poured in, I asked the class again if the bowl was full. One more time all agreed that it was.
When all this was done I asked the class what the lesson was here. I would get answers like “you can always fit more in,” or “sometimes what seems full can handle more.” After some discussion I would pull out a large, silver-painted rock and ask them how they could fit it into the bowl, and how difficult it might be. They agreed that it would be very difficult, and a lot of things would have to be taken out. The process would be messy indeed.
After all this we discussed what this meant for our time management. After some discussion we would eventually get to the conclusion that in time management, like filling a bowl of rocks, you have to start with the big things first. If you don’t, then it is a messy affair trying to fit them in later.
To me, time management is a constant evaluation of what the big rocks are, and getting those into my days and weeks first. After that, the smaller rocks can be squeezed in. The good news is, I have some ability to control which are the big rocks. I get to assign their size and weight, not just by how much time they take up, but by how valuable they are to me. It is with all this in mind that I plan my days, my weeks, my months and my year. I do not try to “squeeze in” vacation time. I plan it in advance and work the rest of my life around that plan. In 27 years at my job I have never left vacation time on the table, because I always made a plan to use it fully.
I do differ with the notion of this quote. Perhaps because I know it came from a business consultant and motivational speaker, there is a tone within it that things like vacation and recreation are things that I “want” to do and are somehow less important than the things I “need” to do. I don’t just hope for the “day to come” to do them, I plan them just as I would any other part of my life. But, maybe that is just a matter of semantics.
In my life, I put equal weight on vacations, family time, visiting with friends and the like as I do on things like getting objectives done at work. All of them are big rocks for me. One of the principles I also taught the busy teens was that you have to have balance in your life, and that YOU get to decide what the balance point is to make yourself happy. I live by this idea to the best of my ability in my life, and always am searching for the perfect point of balance.
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