By: Dr. Mike Olpin
When I was fourteen years old, I went to California with a group of kids my age. We went to Santa Monica Beach to see the ocean. None of us had been there before so this was a real treat for us. When we got there, we decided to try bodysurfing. We saw others doing it and it looked fun and much less difficult than regular surfing. Soon we learned how it was done and found ourselves out in the water preparing for the waves to come our way.
When a large wave approached, I started swimming as hard as I could, hoping to time it perfectly. I found myself riding the wave in toward the shore. Suddenly, the wave pulled me down, headfirst into the sand under the water.
I hit with a strong force, but I was okay. I gathered myself and came up for air only to have another wave pound me again. Down I went to the ocean floor. I lost all control. The only thought that came to my mind was that I needed to get above the water to get some air. I struggled and finally made it to the surface. Gasping for air, another wave knocked me off my feet and sent me quickly back down to the sandy sea floor.
This struggle with the sea lasted two more waves. At that point, my energy was spent. Fortunately, the waves had pulled me close enough to the shore where my friends, who saw what was happening, quickly dragged me to safety. I rested for quite some time until I regained sufficient strength to go back out into the ocean.
When people tell me about their days and about how they spend their time, it sounds a lot like my experience that day in the ocean. Wave after wave of stressful events knock them off their feet. They are barely able to come up for air when another “wave” hits them. Soon, they wear out, fatigued from the constant daily battle.
In the present moment, we are always free to choose what we do. You may think that you have to do something, but you don’t. Nobody is forcing you to do anything at any time. There are consequences for what you do, and you may not want those consequences, but you always have a choice about what you do.
When I mention to my students that they always choose how they spend their time, they become uncomfortable. They are not accustomed to having that much freedom. I tell them that they don’t have to be in class, they don’t have to go to work, they don’t have to eat lunch at a certain time, and they don’t have to sleep the same hours of the night that “normal” people sleep. They really don’t have to do anything. They always have a choice about what they do with their time – always. We say that we “have to” do something or we “have to” be somewhere, but we don’t. What we do with our time is always our choice.
Now that we know that we always choose how we spend our time, we also realize that we also always receive the consequences for how we chose to spend that time. Those consequences can be good or not so good depending on the choices we make.
The real problem most people have with time management is not the amount of time they have to spend, but how they spend the amount they have.
Here is one of the most important things you can possibly do to get out of the pounding surf and really manage your time. Keep an up to the minute time log for at least one day.
Think about it, no quality plumber would go in and start replacing pipes before he knew where the leaks were, right? So it is with our time. When I ask my students to keep an up to the minute time log for just one day, they come back absolutely amazed because they now realize where all the time leaks are and it becomes a lot more obvious how to fix them.
Even though keeping a time log is one of the most important, eye-opening activities a person can experience in time management, some people will not do it.
Why? It may be that when people are faced with the reality of the amount of time they waste, they realize that they will have to be responsible for that time from here on out. People, who want to stay stuck, don’t want to change. They want to blame something that is “out of their control,” like not having enough time in the day to do everything they “need” to do.
The thing they don’t realize is that they need to figure out how much time they actually have before they can decide how they will spend it the most efficiently. Time logs help to figure that out.
Take the challenge. Keep an up to the minute time log. Keep a paper and pencil with you all day. Every few minutes, or every time you change activities, write what you have done and how many minutes you were at it.
Be sure to include computer time, talking on the phone, texting, making meals, flipping through the television channels, making dinner, driving, doing homework, cleaning, getting ready for bed, or if you are like my wife, the time standing in a room because you forgot what you were going to do when you got there. I think that happens to everybody.
The most important thing to include may be transition time. That is the time it takes you to move from one activity to the next. Transition time is similar to being in survival mode, like when I was recovering from one wave and just before I was going to be hit by the next. There is a lot of time and energy wasted without a lot of productivity during transition time. This may be time looking for your keys before you leave somewhere, the time in between eating a meal and beginning your homework, or the time after the television show is over and you actually turn off the lights and go to sleep.
Be brave. Be honest. This is one thing that can get you out of being stuck in the “doldrums” and on your way to becoming a productive, happy, less stressed person. If you have the courage to really see where the time leaks are and become responsible for fixing them, you will have an excellent foundation for the other principles in time management yet to come.