To Do

“time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future” Steve Miller

“But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do once you find them”
Jim Croce

“Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care?”
Chicago

“So I ain’t wastin’ time no more
‘Cause time goes by like hurricanes, and faster things”
Gregg Allman

You can be pretty, you can be popular, you can be rich. You can even be a rock star, adored by millions. But no matter your place on this Earth, you will have the exact same 24 hours, or 1,440 minutes, or 86,400 seconds that everybody else has. No one gets more, no one gets less. And there never seems to be enough time, regardless.

So we devise schemes to “manage” time, doing our best to eke out the best use of every last second:

  • Daylight Savings Time – as the proverb goes, only a fool would think he could cut off the bottom foot of a blanket, sew it on top, and have a longer blanket.
  • Multitasking – many of us think we do more by, well, doing more. But studies show that multitasking actually leads to a decrease in productivity plus compounds errors and reduces quality of work.
  • Skipping lunch – you do what you want, but I’m sticking with eating! Again, loss of real productivity. Plus you’re hangry. And nobody got time for that.
  • Cutting back on sleep – the early bird gets the worm, but the early worm gets eaten! Besides, my neurologist prescribed CPAP with a minimum of seven hours, or I fail sleep. And she went to medical school.

Personally, I never gave time much thought, even though the music I listened to seemed to be overly concerned with it. I just went to work, clocked in, did what they assigned, clocked out, and went home. My biggest complaint about time was wasting it sitting in Washington, DC rush hour traffic for hours. I did not have a plan for what to do with those hours, other than to start drinking beer sooner, so my carpool buddies and I would pick up a six pack and multitask our way down I-95. Time problem solved.

But later, after I was a responsible married man with kids and over 30 years old, I went to work for a ministry as member services director. I had to plan meetings, conferences, travel, benefits, correspondence, publications – so much to do! And, like most non-profits, so little funding and staff to get it all done. A six pack was no longer an option – I needed tools.

Enter Day-Timer. In the age before smart phones and personal computers, this company offered well-researched solutions to better manage time. I went to a seminar and learned that, while managing my time didn’t give me more of it, I  did get more important things done. Prioritizing, scheduling, list making all became the norm for me. And, extra bonus, the simple act of checking off a To Do item released endorphins in the brain to make me feel better. Suddenly, I ain’t wasting time no more.

My first Day-Timer was the simple give-away planner that the ministry handed out at conferences. The boss was adamant about taking control of your waking hours, and people like free stuff, especially under-paid pastors. The goal was simple: failing to plan was planning to fail, so here is a tool to get you started. And a successful leader meant a successful organization meeting goals. All that from a $2 cardboard leatherette-encased yearly planner.

I wanted to fail even less, so I invested in a sleek, genuine leather pebble-grained ½ page size daily planner, with my name on the front in a gold badge. It had the month tabs, handy charts for time zones, useful phone numbers, business card holders – in short, everything I needed to get organized and stay on track. Did I really know what time it was? Yes, yes I did. I could look at my page, cleverly broken down into time increments, and know exactly where I should be and when. I was winning time, at last.

Of course, being an American, I knew that bigger was better. So I stepped up to the full-size, black-leather, seven-ring beast of a Day-Timer. I would go to meetings and note with smug distain the little freebie year planners, the cute pocket Day-Timers, the ½ page weekly books, and know that I was fully in charge of my time. Large and in charge was I, and maybe I couldn’t make more time than the other guys, but I could sure as heck micro-manage the hours I had in glorious 8.5 X 11 one-day-per-sheet glory.

Then came the technology boom, and the digital age was poised to give us even better use of those 86,400 seconds we all had issued to us every day. And it happened fast, devices piling up, a techno-battle for the savvy time managers buck. Leaving the PC behind (even laptops were too cumbersome at this point), we had a steady stream of devices:

  • The Palm Pilot – my first foray into the digital planning realm. This thing even had a tiny keyboard. It was a clunky little beast, but I was finally digitally in charge.
  • The Blackberry – I remember when the head of Crye-Leike, Realtors told us this was the future of business. He said you need to own one of these or get left behind. He was right about a lot of things; the Blackberry was not one of them.
  • The iPhone – this really was the future (still is) and the first truly intuitive, reliable digital device I ever owned. But time was still slipping, slipping into the future
  • Top Producer – as a busy agent, this expensive subscription software was going to maximize my time. By utilizing all of its myriad features, I would have more time than I knew what to do with. Prospects, transactions, listings, buyers, loans – all I needed in the palm of my hand (Palm Pilot – get it?) and maybe I wouldn’t have to work 80 hours a week. I am quite sure that product cut me back to about 78 hours, not including the time it took to use it.

Finally, I had had enough. I dragged my old black behemoth Day-Timer out of storage, bought a refill (to this day, they still make paper refills) and got back to paper. I remembered my seminar, I recalled the satisfaction of writing out my To Do list, of scheduling appointments in the little spaces set aside in 15-minute increments, the rush of endorphins as I checked off the boxes after completing an item. Time seemed to slow down a little, the frantic pace was reduced. I was a rebel in a digital battle zone. I went to a meeting at the Realtor association and an agent looked down smugly at my Day-Timer and said: “do they still make those?”

But do you know what, in the effort to “save time” and the non-stop rush into the oblivion of success, I had decided happily to go back to basics.

At an annual goal-setting meeting with the training coach at Re/Max, I was asked to present my written plan for the coming year. Now, they had already had us sit through an expensive seminar, there was all kinds of math involved about maximizing contacts/calls/visits/mail to achieve X. And she wanted to see it. Being self-employed (the reason I got into real estate in the first place) and knowing I was not beholden to her schemes, I slid a piece of paper cross the desk with my business plan. It said, simply:

  • Come to work
  • Sell houses
  • Go home

She was appalled and said: “Kenny, that’s not a business plan.”

But that year I was the Top Producer (independent agent) of the firm. Without the software, without the frenzy, without the latest gimmick.

Now I am retired from all that – no worries, right?

Wrong.

I have found a To Do list is imperative. If not, I find the words from an old song to be true:

“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day,

Fritter away, the hours in an offhand way” Pink Floyd

I could sit here and watch Wheel of Fortune all day, shuffling around in week-old flannels, wondering if it was shower day yet, thinking about what’s for dinner. Or I could make a plan, redeeming the days as Paul wrote to both the Ephesians and the Colossians.

Don’t be concerned – I didn’t get out my Day-Timer (I still have it, almost 30 years later). I didn’t invest in new technology. I simply used the Note app on my iPhone (still the greatest advance in civilization since the wheel) and make a simple bullet point list of things I COULD do that day, if I want to. No pressure, just some ideas to keep me on track. Even when I have little to do, there is satisfaction in noting it, and the endorphin rush of checking it off.

Failing to plan is planning to fail. I did not fail at ministry management, I did not fail in the car business, I did not fail at real estate. So I have no plans (pun intended) to fail at retirement.

“To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1

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