A couple of weeks ago, I managed to find the time to take a course on time management.
A professor from the business school, well-versed in time/efficiency strategies and equipped with all the latest technology to help him maximize every waking minute, showed us how to capture our thoughts digitally; how to translate that sound file to a text file; how to use project management software to make every moment productive; how to use a digital book reader to carry 50 — yes, FIFTY — books with us at all times.
All this was meant to be instructive, I think, but when he began extolling the virtues of being able to carry all these books with me in one small device about the size of a trade paperback, I balked.
See, here’s the deal. I’m aware that there is a TON of information out there that could be of some interest to me. Sometimes it seems like all day long that’s all I do — cruise along the periphery of all that might be helpful, worthwhile, or instructive. I touch this vast body of knowledge here and there, often tangentially, trying to make a judgment on the fly. Is this worthwhile? Is this important? Is this something I should try to store in my permanent memory?
As a result, there are an awful lot of days in which I feel like I go full-speed all day long and, when it’s all said and done, I’m not sure that I’ve accomplished a single meaningful thing. It’s all a bit of a blur actually. I’m busy, yes. But am I spending time on the things that matter?
Truthfully, I can’t answer that with any more certainty now than I could before I took the course.
I don’t really need a better way to manage my time. I need a better way to assign value to my time. I need a better way to tell the difference between what is important and what is urgent.
Think about this for a minute (especially those of you who wear one of those Star-Trekkish Bluetooth earphones all day) — when your phone rings, how often is it really important? When your computer signals an incoming email, how often does your prompt attention really matter? When you’re asked a question, how critical is it that you answer right away?
Many years ago, in the days preceding the birth of my now 14-year-old son, I carried a Motorola cell phone about the size of a brick to a class I was teaching. I remember how it sat there alongside the lectern, announcing its own sense of importance. I knew then that if it rang, it would be important. If it rang, it would mean that my wife had gone into labor and I would need to abort my delivery of pearls of wisdom, and make haste to the delivery of my child. THAT’S important.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Luddite. I don’t despise technology. It’s just that I want it to make my life easier. And with all due respect to my business school professor friend, does regarding every piece of information that comes my way or every thought that crosses my mind as important make my life easier?
I don’t think so, but I’m a little too busy to sort it all out.