Monday, July 5, 2010

Time Management and Inevitably Large Rocks

First, I’ll recap my favorite time-management object lesson:

Object Lesson About Priorities of Life
"Okay, time for a quiz."

A large jar set on a table.

About a dozen fist-sized rocks - carefully place them, one at a time, into the jar.
When the jar is filled to the top and no more rocks will fit inside…

"Is this jar full?"

Reach under the table and pull out a bucket of gravel. Dump some gravel in and shake the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

"Is this jar full?"

Reach under the table and bring out a bucket of sand. Dump the sand in.

"Is this jar full?"

Grab a pitcher of water and pour it in until the jar is filled to the brim.

"What is the point of this illustration?"

The truth this illustration teaches us: If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all."

What are the 'big rocks' in your life?
· A project you want to accomplish?
· Time with your loved ones?
· Your faith?
· Your education?
· Your dreams?
· A worthy cause?

Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first, or you'll fill your life with the little things that don't really matter and you'll never have time to spend on the big, important things.

Put the BIG ROCKS first or you'll never fit them in at all.
What are the 'big rocks' in my life?
Put those in your jar first.

Does that sound familiar?

The lesson tells us how to manage the rocks, but leaves to us to decide which ones are big, and which little.

I’ve read umpteen books on How To Write. Most of them have a section on Finding Time To Write. (Finding, making, begging, borrowing, stealing, etc.)

I always pay close attention when I read those sections, because by nature (I have a forgetful, laid-back personality) and circumstances (I homeschool my five little kids) I don’t have a lot of “free” time. Practically none, as it happens.

Usually the advice leads out with a redefining of “free time” and a Get Real pep talk that includes points like Stop Watching TV, Quit Knitting Afghans, and You’re Sleeping Too Much; Get Up Early And Write Then.

Well, I wasn’t going to let a couple of hours of sleep come between me and success at a lifetime goal! I happily set my alarm, humming to myself.

The first few days were great! As it turns out, lots of motivated motivators agreed that I slept far too much and told me that early morning is best for reaching all sorts of personal goals. Every day began with 45 minutes of exercise, a personal devotional, and an hour of writing.

Yeah, it was all great, until I started falling asleep at the wheel.

One of the problems with falling asleep while driving—besides the obvious ones, I mean—is that only the first few shocking mid-drive wake-ups send adrenaline shooting through your body, doing for free what most people have to pay good money to Red Bull for. After that, human adaptability soothed me into thinking “This is the new normal.” Which is more shocking, just not in the immediate, biological sense.

This was how I learned that deciding which rocks were big and which were little was not entirely up to my conscious self. Oh, sure, I could say I didn’t need to sleep, and tell myself "Pain is weakness leaving my body!", but my body got the last laugh and took the sleep when it needed it.

How much sleep I needed (63 hours a week, give or take) wasn’t up to me. Where the sleep happened, that was up to me.

I’ve been finding more examples of rocks that I thought were little that are actually big. My husband and I need at least 4 hours together a week. That’s a weekly Big Rock and non-negotiable. Either we plan a date and have fun, or we forget about the date because something is “more important” and end up fighting for at least four hours, usually on Sunday morning right before church. How much time: Inevitable. How we take that time: up to us.

I need at least 7 hours a week of time to myself, which I know sounds unaccountably self-indulgent. I realized I could either plan to spend an hour a day in meditation and writing, OR I could think I was being selfish, be tough and ignore it, then realize

1. I’d spent the last 20 minutes walking into every room in the house trying to remember what I’d gone in there for;
2. I couldn’t ask one of my kids if they knew what I was doing because I couldn’t remember their name, and
3. I wanted chocolate. I wanted it bad.

Also, there’s the spontaneous fits of crying, which unnerve dogs, husbands and the UPS man. Yup. Me-time is non-negotiable, if only because without it everyone else-time breaks down.

So how do we fit writing into all this?

If some of us find it hard to justify time spent on basic biological necessities like sleep, how do we find, make, beg-borrow-steal time to write?

Good question. And like most good questions, all I can tell you is how I found my answer and hope you'll find yours.

It’s true that we all do waste time we could spend writing, but what I’m calling for here is a redefinition of wasted time. Time to rest and goof off are not little rocks, though that’s how it works for some superpeople among us. (If you’re one of those superpeople who can schedule 16-hour days, every day, more power to you. You don’t need my advice. In fact, you're probably not even reading this, knowing that there are more profitable ways to spend your time.)

But for some of the rest of us, our minds need to rest, either while we’re asleep or awake. If we don’t allow for that, our minds will take the rest they need, usually -maddeningly- when we need our frontal lobes most. Minds are stinkers like that.

For me, the typing part of writing is half of Writing. The other half has me watching clouds and bugs and lying in corpse pose, though I don’t always admit that to actual productive human beings.

Fun is a Big Rock.

To recap: There are some rocks in our daily jar that we’d like to call little rocks, so that we can choose Writing as one of the Big Rocks. Well, some Big Rocks are involuntary and inevitable and can’t be renamed or cast out so easily.

Among those inevitably large Big Rocks is the need to feel mentally awake or spiritually fulfilled every day. If you use this time for writing, then out of necessity, writing will have to be an enjoyable thing. Not easy, enjoyable. It's different.

That’s a great thing, because when we enjoy something, we’re more likely to make a long-term or even lifetime habit of it. And isn’t that really the goal?

1 comment:

Virginia S Grenier said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing.