"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives," wrote Anne Dillard. "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" asked Mary Oliver. Life is a journey through reality and time in search of meaning.
Time as a Competitive Weapon
Successful firms and people use time as a weapon.
"If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you're competing against a lot of people, but if you're willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you're now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We're willing to plant seeds, let them grow -- and we're very stubborn. We say we're stubborn on vision and flexible on details." -- Jeff Bezos
Three behaviors/beliefs that are common to most successful individuals and firms:
The power of compound interest/compound improvement. The most powerful concept in gaining wealth or knowledge is continuous growth over a sustained time.
See early what others see late. Almost every successful person or company recognized a trend when it was a little stream rather than a gushing river and then committed to align with it.
Persistence. They just keep on going through adversity and setback and they remember Queen Elizabeth the First who said, "Time dissolves more problems than man solves."
Time and Productivity
Here are five ways to make time productive.
1. Eliminate: Many people recognizing the limitations of time tend to try to do as much as possible. They multi-task and run around in a frenzy. Usually all they achieve is more multi-tasking and more frenzy. Doing more stuff is not the same as achievement. Activity is not productivity! Showing how busy you are does not show how important you are.
2. Focus: The key to doing less is to focus. The two key filters are:
a) Comparative Advantage. Spend your time doing things that you can do better than most people. Some focus areas are easy like being a spouse or a parent, since you should be able to do this better than other folks. However, for many of the errands you run and the assignments you take on at work, it is important to ask if you can outsource or delegate or find a colleague who is better than you.
b) Positive Outcome. Where you can choose you should only do things which give you a positive outcome. Either you 1) earn a financial reward, 2) learn something new, 3) help someone else or the team get better or 4) experience feels good. If it is not one of those four outcomes and it is avoidable, why are you doing it?
3. Scale: You can scale yourself and your impact and therefore save time. Two ways to do this is to use "leverage"and "momentum."
Much of what we do as white-collar workers is to think, communicate and sell. Basically with a few exceptions our success is based on how we are as communicators and sellers of ideas and points of view in building and motivating people and teams.
a) Leverage. Today technology and scheduling allow people to leverage. You can use social media, good writing and speaking skills to reach many people that you need to communicate and sell your thinking to. You are not limited to small meetings and groups. You can decide if you are senior to gather folks at the right conference or meeting versus repeating yourself again and again.
b) Momentum. The trend is your friend. To not waste your time, you need to understand the underlying trend that is driving your firm or your business and, in most cases, align with it. The world is going global. The world is going digital. Every company has a built in DNA. If you are going to go against the flow prepare for much loss of time and grief.
4. Do new things: The essence of life is new experiences. Often what we remember, and which gives time certain elongation and depth are new experiences. These do not just have to be travels or new relationships and new jobs but could be as simple as walking down a new street, eating at a new place and going to a new cultural event. If there is a way to tattoo the moment into your memory you should try to.
5. Give your time to others: One of the best ways to use your time is to use it not on yourself but on others. Nothing is as rewarding as helping other people, mentoring younger people, and forgetting about yourself in your time equation.
And in the end, it is the time that you do not measure that is the most meaningful and possibly productive of all.
Time and Success
A definition of success is the ability to spend time the way you want to spend it or gives you joy. To be free to use your time to pay attention to what matters and what matters to you.
Or as the late David Foster Wallace said in his mind-shifting talk "This Is Water":
"The important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing."
Time and Loss
If there are three realities to life they are learning, love and loss. Not everybody succeeds at learning or love, but everybody gets a graduate degree in loss and a doctorate when people very close die.
Joan Didion wrote books on the loss of her husband (The Year of Magical Thinking) and her daughter (Blue Nights) which are read by many dealing with loss.
She wrote of the fragility of life, noting that her husband died while eating dinner: "Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends."And on the loneliness afterwards: "A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty."
As time moves forward and people, places and hopes come and go people are shaped by what is no more: "We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day is not at all."
But in the end Didion notes we go on by forging new stories and finding new places and to begin forgetting: "We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were."
But one must forge ahead …
"Do not whine ... Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone."
To college graduates a few years ago she made the case for living deeply: "I'm not telling you to make the world better, because I don't think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I'm just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave's a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that's what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it."
Time and Life
Franz Kafka wrote: "The meaning of life is that it stops."
Most of us can calculate the robust and healthy days left if we are lucky by subtracting our age from 80 (around which much begins to go wrong physically and sometimes also one may see a diminishment in mental faculties leading to a much more constrained life) and multiplying it by 365 days.
If you are 60 you have less than 7500 days. If you are 40 you have 15,000 days.
So, when someone asks you to do things without some form of fair compensation (it does not have to be money but could be learning, experience or the joy of helping) or does not respect your time, do remember you are the one paying for their disrespect and their cheap valuation of your life!
Time and the "Ordinary Day"
In the future the ritual of the ordinary day will be special, just as we have come to realize after months of a new way of living that the simple pleasures of free movement, meeting friends, sitting in a crowded bar and watching a sports game were so special.
Life does not have to be lived forward and understood backward if we decide to pay attention. Be aware of the fading moments of now. Look around you. Watch the special quality of light or listen to the hiss of the air duct. Treasure the conversations and even the repetition and lack of differentiation of day after day.
Because one day it will not be so …
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