“What’s the best use of your time right now?”
It was a question coined by one of the early “time management gurus” Alan Lakein. It has since become a mantra for people concerned about the use of their time.
Lakein was fanatical about time use. He refused to own a television because it “wasted” so much time. (When men landed on the moon, he rented a TV for the night but returned it on Monday morning without delay.)
Lakein pioneered not only the quote but the idea that a person should assign a priority label to each task he or she wanted to accomplish. Hence, the A-B-C system used by many and advanced by Stephen Covey as well.
The question is fascinating. What is the best use of your time?
That’s hard to answer because it is so subjective. Is it making minutes stand at attention? Is it squeezing more stuff into smaller bits of life until it is packed like a college coed going off to school?
Some pack days with meetings about topics that will shrivel before planning even gets started. Some “are about to get ready to get started to begin” and rearrange their paperclips in a desk drawer. Others grab a quick peek at Facebook and the hour vaporizes into the ether.
There are some tests for what is the “best use of my time right now?”
The 10-Year Rule
This standard asks, “will it matter in 10 years?” Most worries are about “10-minute” things. If you cannot remember it at the end of the day, should you do it at all?
The Talent Rule
Some things need to be done, but not by me. I once learned how to change oil and spark plugs in my car. I could do it but, as evidenced by a sludge-soaked body at the end, I was not good at it.
I take my car and get someone else to do it now. (Actually, technology vaulted my feeble knowledge, and I stay away from engines.)
The Goal Rule
Am what I am going to do “move the needle” on something I want to accomplish. That is a good way to look at things as long as…you have the right goals. Too many people have climbed the ladder only to find it leaning against the wrong wall.
Samuel Johnson, the prolific English writer, told a story in his diary. In it, he described a day…a wasted day.
“Took my son fishing today. Totally wasted day.”
Years later, the son, who also kept a diary, had written on the same day, “Went fishing with my father. What a wonderful day!”
What is the best use of your time? For me, it comes down to three elements.
When you do the right thing with the right people at the right time, you are using time well.
I discovered this in retrospect.
In December 2012, I had vacation time to take. In the two weeks of that time, I and a lot of things I wanted to do. On Monday, I went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at a local cemetery.
On Tuesday, I went to see my father, who lived in an assisted living center. He and I both needed a haircut, so I took him to the barber.
When we returned to his room, he wanted to write his Christmas checks to his children (me included) and grandchildren. I wrote the checks because he struggled with handwriting. He signed them. He had it all ready to go as we put them in the gift envelopes.
As I left, I told him, “see you later.”
That night, with plenty of vacations days left, I got into bed, and then the phone rang.
The assisted living center called and said something was wrong with my dad. I dressed hurriedly and went and discovered him in distress. After a call, the paramedics came and checked his vitals. The ambulance rushed to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a massive bleed due to a sudden stroke. In 45 minutes, he died.
The rest of that week was fogged with preparations, visitations, and a funeral. It was capped off by Christmas.
I opened the envelope which contained Daddy’s check. I looked at his signature and realized this was the last thing we did together.
It was then I knew the answer to the Lakein’s question. When I could have done so many things on Tuesday, I was doing the right thing with the right person at the right time.
Does that answer the question?