Time is money! Time is fleeting! Time is precious!
These platitudes are a mantra for modern life, spurring us on, breathless and flustered. Words I am all too familiar with are “over-committed” and “over-scheduled.” We as a society are actually now guilty of overbooking our children’s schedules! As I am writing this I’m waiting in a doctor’s office. I just asked the receptionist how many people are ahead of me so I could gauge if I’m going to need to rush to my next appointment.
We have so much to accomplish in a day or a week and there never seems to be enough time. Authors sell books on time management, life coaches encourage prioritization and everyone seems to have a calendar overfilled with back-to-back appointments. Well, almost everyone.
It may come as a surprise to you that some of the most productive people have empty schedules. It sounds counter-intuitive, however, a highly productive person keeps control of their time, and never lets other’s desires set their agenda. In 1991, Warren Buffett met Bill Gates. (I found it interesting that neither were particularly excited by the prospect of meeting yet they ended up enjoying themselves and had a great conversation.) Buffett shared a secret with Gates in that meeting. He opened his black leather planner and revealed that almost all the pages were blank. Drake Baer’s article, Why Productive People Have Empty Schedules, quotes Warren Buffett as saying, “You’ve got to keep control of your time, and you can’t unless you say no.”
Don’t take it from me, take it from Warren Buffet and learn to say “No.” I don’t mean “no” in the sense of being difficult, but in being able to focus and put energy where you desire. Only you can be your best timekeeper. I know this, and it’s something I have truly desired to achieve. It pains me on some level to admit that I have yet to be the master of my own schedule.
One of my greatest desires and aspirations is to help people transform their lives. But in my desire to help people, I often put their agenda before my own. I end up saying “yes” to everyone and often neglect myself in the process. It turns out that saying “no” does not come easily to me; it is a real challenge.
I think I have finally figured out why I am constantly busy and why my day planner looks like it had a fight with a pen and lost. In anticipating the birth of my fourth child during the week of my due date, I didn’t mark ANYTHING down in my planner – not one thing. When my due date came and went, 5 days after the fact, I sat on a Sunday evening and took a gander at my schedule for the coming week. It was completely empty. My reaction to find a week with no commitments, meetings or responsibilities made me feel uncomfortable, not HIGHLY PRODUCTIVE like I hoped it would, or should. I panicked a little! To me, no commitments = no accomplishments. What am I going to do all week?! It’s so laughable, because believe me, it’s not as if I have a shortage of things to do, read, or work on.
Looking at those empty pages seemed to dredge up the feeling that if my day wasn’t planned and organized, it meant I would miss out on the day and its opportunities, when really the opposite is true. Days where I wake up, and subsequently need to rearrange or cancel meetings in order to accommodate something I really should be spending my time on are usually my most productive. In fact, I wrote this blog post because I had nothing scheduled on my planner for the day.
The challenge of an empty calendar forces me to be quiet; it leaves no room for the push and pull effect from the outside world, which is what I have coincidentally mistaken for being “successfully productive.” One of my greatest fears is that life will simply pass me by, without ever having manifested what I came to this world to do. But there is one thing in life we can never get back – time – and more often than not, I find myself spending it on things I need not do.
Time is a non-renewable resource. You can’t turn back time, you can’t create time, you can’t save time like rollover minutes on a mobile phone plan. Time is a valuable commodity and learning how to use it wisely is worth the effort. Wasted time equates to wasted opportunities. In life we have many opportunities, but not as many as we think we will have. In fact, a recent study asked participants what they thought they would have more of in the future, time or money? Nearly all participants responded that they felt in the future they would have ample time. It’s part of our psyche, putting off things for another day because we have a misguided belief that we have all the time in the world. Sadly, we don’t. We have a finite amount and I endeavor to use it wisely every single day.
In truth, using my time wisely goes beyond just saying no. The question is what are we saying no to? For instance, I want to be present and dependable for my students and those that need help in the world. But how about saying no to distractions, like socializing, texting, incoming calls, or knocks on the office door? Am I creating or just exchanging time spent with people when I should be thinking, creating, dreaming, being spontaneous and going where the Light leads me versus where I planned or think I should go? For the record, I find the most inspiration in moments of spontaneity. The minute I am free from routine, I access incredible pools of productivity and creativity.
There is a recent school of thought encouraging people to maintain complete focus during their most productive times much like surgeons do in the operating room. Can you imagine someone going in for a triple bypass, and midway through the surgery the doctor decides to take a tea break and go for some fresh air? Or better yet, while operating gets a text message and replies to it? OF COURSE NOT. Imagine employing that same ethic to your work or goals. It’s been proven that doing so not only increases job performance, but job satisfaction too. I can promise you that while I was in labor I did not email, text or answer any phone calls. My most important task at hand was that of bringing life into the world – of creating – and nothing was going to distract me from that.
When we look at our lives we usually assess them in weeks, months and years, but in truth we’re meant to focus on days. Each day has a specific energy and purpose, which each of us is meant to achieve. This purpose, this energy, is something I will refer to as a spark of Light; kabbalists teach that a person is given an exact amount of days to perfect that spark, so we shouldn’t waste the time we have.
The truth is, all creators, artists, innovators, and successful people spend their days and nights on the work of creation. There is no such thing as an overnight success. Success is an up-all-night expense, and time is our greatest currency. If we spend it wisely, and embrace spontaneity we open ourselves up to unknown and endless possibilities. When I spend time fearing not having enough time, I simply waste the time I’ve been afforded. One of my favorite sayings is, “We have enough time, but not enough time to waste.” So let’s use our time as wisely as possible, setting our goals with intention.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
The single most powerful thing you can do is to spend your time wisely, like the limited resource that it is. Guard your time, because you will always want more than you have. Set goals for yourself, this week block out an hour a day. Next week grow your resolve and block out even more hours. Schedule nothing. Use this time for spontaneous and meaningful work.