There's a well-known productivity hack that you may be familiar with - adding on 15 or 30 minutes extra when you are blocking out time in your calendar, whether it be for a meeting, or for focused work on a project.
I use this technique often. Sometimes, I finish on time, and on rare occasions I'm a bit early, but more often than not, I need all of those extra minutes, and I'm glad I built in the cushion.
Why is this hack so necessary, and why does it work so well for so many of us? It's simple...we humans are generally very bad at judging the amount of time a task will take.
You probably know this to be true in your own life. You think you've allowed plenty of time to get ready for work, and then find yourself running to catch the bus. You tell yourself you'll just spend 10 minutes checking Facebook, and the next thing you know, an hour has passed. You decide to Marie Kondo the garage on a Saturday morning, but 8 hours later, you've got crap strewn all over the driveway, and it's time to start making supper.
But it's not just short chunks of time like this that we're bad at managing and estimating. It's also the longer stretches: the months... the years... the decades.
It's January 1. This is the year, you tell yourself, that you will quit smoking. You decide to wean yourself off gradually, so that by June 1st you'll be smoke-free. But there's still plenty of time to ease off, and January is a really stressful month, with all the holiday bills coming in. It's a crazy time at work, too, so you decide you'll start in February. The winter blahs hit in earnest, and despite your best efforts, you're still puffing away. Maybe when the spring comes, you'll be in more of a mood for healthy renewal? As the weeks tick by, you start to realize that June 1st might no longer be a realistic goal, so you move it back to September. And so on. December arrives, and as you go to pay for the latest carton of cigarettes, a wave of hopelessness and a feeling of failure washes over you...
You've been wanting to get a Masters degree for awhile now, but you put it off because life is crazy right now, and heck, there's still time, right? Another ten years goes by, and now the tuition is more expensive, and you think you should be saving every extra dollar to put in your retirement fund. So you put it off again, thinking you'll do it once you've retired - the fees will be lower and you'll have the time. But then you do retire, and you discover that you're somehow busier than you were when you were working full-time, and that dream of higher education vanishes like a puff of smoke.
I quoted Ferris Bueller a couple of weeks ago, and it's worth repeating here:
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
Not only are we terrible at assessing how much time we have to accomplish everything we hope for in our lives, but we're also basing our guesses on the assumption that we will live out the standard "4 score years and 10" (that's 90 years, for those who aren't familiar with the saying).
The cold, hard truth is, none of us knows how much time we have. Ideally, we would live each day of our lives as if it could be our last. But realistically, for most of us, going through each day thinking our death might be imminent would not result in a healthy mindset. But there's something to be said for starting each day with gratitude for the breath we've been given, and making a conscious decision to live that day with intention.
The first step, of course, is getting in touch with who we want to be, what we want to accomplish in our life, and the legacy we want to leave behind. If we don't know where we're going, we'll never know when we've arrived.
And the irony, of course, is that we can only figure this out by taking action. How many of us have chosen a particular educational path or career, only to discover that we have a violent dislike for the work? Sadly, so many of us give up at that point, resigning ourselves to a lifetime of toiling away at something that sucks the spark out of our soul. Instead of using this information as a GPS signal, telling us to change direction, we stubbornly continue, ignoring the GPS that's yelling at us to do a U-turn.
By the time we finally wake up and realize that we don't have to be locked into that initial path we chose at age 18, some of us have already convinced ourselves that we don't have enough time left to try something new.
We may not know how much time we actually have, but only if we keep putting things off, are we guaranteed to run out of time. Until we draw our last breath, there is time. I love this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, and refer to it often as a reminder that each day brings new opportunities for re-inventing myself:
I have a plan to get a tatoo on my forearm, once the craziness of COVID is past. It will be three latin phrases, laid out in the shape of an hourglass:
Carpe Diem. Tempus Fugit. Memento Mori.
Seize the Day. Time Flies. Remember That You Are Mortal.
It will be an ever-present reminder to me that each day is precious; a call to action, lest I ever become lazy or complacent about the gifts of talent and time that I've been given.
My wish for you is that you will likewise honour the hours; that you will be aware of your tendency to misjudge the time available to you; and that you will always seek to grow, learn and discover your purpose and the impact you are called to have in this world - what I call living a Momentous Life!
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