Time Management

Dec 04 2012

If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important and then give it all you’ve got. —Lee Iacocca

If you are having trouble getting things done, the last thing you need is to spend a week studying a book on how to manage your time. However, if you relish such exercises, the best book I have found is Improve Your Time Management by Polly Bird. The book lays out a solid plan, beginning with defining personal priorities and continuing through with time management, prioritization, procrastination, and information overload.

Here, I will use my gleanings from several time management books as a springboard for a set of hints that I have found useful in my own work over the years.

  • Determine to complete all tasks you are assigned on time
  • Compile a daily list of tasks to be achieved
  • Prioritize to focus on what is important
  • Set deadlines you can achieve
  • Focus on one task at a time
  • Allocate time slots for phone calls and e-mail
  • Break-up large tasks into manageable chunks
  • Take a short break every forty minutes or so
  • Get things done in spare moments (during lunch or while waiting in line)
  • Eat breakfast, avoid soda, get some exercise every day
  • Set clear objectives for meetings and stay focused

Think about time wasters. Interruptions can be a problem, especially for those of us (including students) who work at home. It is often hard for our family members to realize when we are focusing on a task that will be disturbed by an interruption. Every time we are interrupted it takes several minutes or more to refocus and get back on task. You may also want to do “mindless” tasks during the times when you know family will be interrupting you.

“Social chatting” that you initiate yourself can be controlled. When you set aside a time to work, spend your time working, not chatting or surfing or texting. If you think of something you need to do that is not in your current task list, write yourself a note and get back to work. Come back to it later, during the time you have set aside for such chores.

Sometimes you will find yourself unable to get started. Maybe you have a challenging math assignment that you dread. Get going by doing a few things that require less focus. Read over the assigned chapter or section of the book. Make a list of what you need to get done. Finish off some unpleasant task that is a little better than your math assignment. Soon, your brain will be “warmed-up” and you can tackle work that requires more focus.

The desire for perfection and excellence can keep you from getting work done. I am constantly frustrated by how poorly I write, especially in the first few drafts. However, I know from experience that I will get nothing written if I don’t start putting words on the page. I need to push myself to write, knowing that I can improve it later, if I have time to do so. If not, at least I have it done. The same applies to all assignments, except math problems. Never guess at the answer to a problem that has a definite right answer. For all other work, get it done, then make it better.

Special Hints for Working When Exhausted

Sometimes you just have to get the job done, even when you are too tired to do it. Try these hints in order, but never drive when you are tired.

  • Focus on the most important tasks that absolutely must get done
  • Minimize all distractions and resist the temptation to do something else
  • Go easy on coffee and sugar; avoid soda; drink plenty of water
  • Avoid heavy meals; eat fruit and nuts (apples, raisins, sunflower seeds)
  • Splash your face with cold water
  • Massage your scalp and hands
  • Get up and stretch; touch your toes; reach to the sky
  • Suck on (do not chew) a piece of ice
  • Take a short walk outside in the sun
  • Do not get too comfortable; work standing up for awhile
  • Watch a short and funny video
  • Take a power nap of twenty minutes (no more!)

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Time Effectiveness

Dec 03 2012

Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve. —Benjamin Franklin

I have been working with a great bunch of teens at Winton Woods High School who, with the approval and support of their parents, have chosen to be part of The Academy of Global Studies program. This highly effective program is associated with International Studies School Network and NewTech Network. In addition to four years of language study and community service, students participate in project-based learning and complete a capstone project. The program requires a level of commitment not expected for students in the traditional high school program.

We mentor in pairs. Along with my mentoring partner David Burns, who works as an admissions advisor at Brown Mackie College, I meet with nine students about bi-weekly to help them “reflect on their values, accomplishments, opinions and personal attributes.” Our small group is getting to know each other better and learning to care deeply about each other’s success.

We started doing some “visioning the future” exercises by asking what big goals the students had for their lives. One issue that came up again and again for these highly motivated Freshman was “how do we get all the work done that is expected of us?” They have been assigned work and they need to get it done. They do not have projects that can be set aside while they complete more important tasks. What they need is not so much “Time Management” as “Time Effectiveness.”

This has driven me to re-assess how I think about managing time. Kevin Jones, the academic supervisor of the program and a counselor at the high school, gave us some materials to help the students set goals and manage their time. Amongst the suggestions are:

  • Use your planner to keep track of due dates
  • Break large assignments into smaller parts
  • Look at how you spend your time and eliminate wasted time
  • Set aside a time and place to study and complete homework

And, the most important, “Be Positive!”

We could come up with a whole set of tricks, rules, and suggestions to make the most of the time students have during and after school. But what the students need first is a set of principles or values that will make their time more effective and ensure success in all they do. We can summarize these values under the heads of resolution, industry, and confidence.

Resolution means to decide what it is you want to do and determine to achieve it no matter what. Industry means to focus like a laser on the task. It is the willingness to put in the hard work needed to accomplish your purpose. Confidence is unbounded optimism in your power to get the work done. It is that special something that some people have that makes their resolution and industry successful. It is the attitude that says you cannot possibly fail.

The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me. —Ayn Rand

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The Vital Life by Ralph Waldo Trine

Dec 01 2012

How can I make life yield its fullest and best? — Ralph Waldo Trine

This 1896 book, revised in 1899, lays the foundation for “True Greatness, Power, and Happiness,” as the author claims in the title. Our desire for “The Vital Life” has not diminshed since the time the book was written, nor have our answers been any clearer than those provided by Ralph Waldo Trine. It was his first book, written when he was thirty years old.

Trine was heavily influenced by the thinkers of his time, especially his namesake, Ralph Waldo Emerson, “that great and sweet soul who when with us lived at Concord.” He also talks of Jesus, who is the first man who comes to my mind when I think of what the “Vital Life” might mean.

Curiously, I began editing this book the morning after watching the movie Gandhi. When we think of modern examples of the servant mentality promoted by Trine, this great man comes first to mind for many of us. What was most amazing about Ghandi was the calm he maintained in the face of injustice and insult. His concern was not for his own welfare, but for that of his people.

The selections from Trine’s What the World’s All A-Seeking you will find here are those that tell us how we might live such a vital life. I have skipped out his speculation on the nature of the godhead and the soul and minimized some of the by-ways he took along the way. For the book contains the thoughts of a young man on the nature of God and spirit.

Rather, we dwell on the thesis that the vital life is the life of service. Such a life must be driven by an inner power that the Christian calls the Holy Spirit. We do not have enough strength, on our own, to live such a life. As we learn from the One Who was Servant to all, “the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.”

Trine urges us to be servants and to tap the strength that is within us to accomplish great things for the world. That power, which we all have, is but a seed planted in us by God. That seed gives us an inkling of the even greater power of the Holy Spirit, Who dwells within the one who believes. As Trine counsels, “go each day into the silence, there commune with the Infinite, there dwell for a season with the Infinite Spirit of all life, of all power; for you can get true power in no other way.”

I pray that you find his observations thought-provoking and useful in your quest for the good life.

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NanoWrimo 2012

Nov 01 2012

I will be spending the month of November working on a book, with the preliminary title: An Ecology of Peace. You can follow my progress by clicking the link.

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Love and Service

Oct 31 2012

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

Where in all the world’s history is to be found a more beautiful or valuable incident than this? A group of men, self-centred, self-assertive, have found a poor woman who, in her blindness and weakness, has committed an error, the same one that they, in all probability, have committed not once, but many times; for the rule is that they are firsi to condemn who are most at fault themselves. They bring her to the Master, they tell him that she has committed a sin,— ay, more, that she has been taken in the very act,— and ask what shall be done with her, informing him that, in accordance with the olden laws, such a one should be stoned.

But, quicker than thought, that great incarnation of spiritual power and insight reads their motives; and, after allowing them to give full expression to their accusations, he turns, and calmly says, “He among you that is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” So saying, he stoops down, as if he is writing in the sand. The accusers, feeling the keen and just rebuke, in the mean time sneak out, until not one remains.

The Master, after all have gone, turns to the woman, his sister, and kindly and gently says, “And where are thine accusers? doth no man condemn thee?”

“No man. Lord.”

“And neither do I condemn thee: go thou, and sin no more.” Oh, the beauty, the soul pathos! Oh, the royal-hearted brother! Oh, the invaluable lesson to us all!

I have no doubt that this gentle, loving admonition, this calling of the higher and the better to the front, set into operation in her interior nature forces that hastened her progress from the purely animal, the unsatisfying, the diminishing, to the higher spiritual, the satisfying, the ever-increasing, or, even more, that made it instantaneous, but that in either case brought about the new birth,— the new birth that comes with the awakening of the soul out of its purely physical sense-life to the higher spiritual perception and knowledge of itself, and thus the birth of the higher out of the lower, as at some time or another comes to each and every human soul.

And still another fact that should make us most charitable toward and slow to judge, or rather refuse to judge, a fellow-man and a brother,— the fact that we cannot know the intense strugglings and fightings he or she may be subjected to, though accompanied, it is true, by numerous stumblings and fallings, though the latter we see, while the former we fail to recognize. Did we, however, know the truth of the matter, it may be that in the case of ourselves, who are so quick to judge, had we the same temptations and fightings, the battle would not be half so nobly, so manfully fought, and our stumblings and fallings might be many times the number of his or of hers. Had we infinite knowledge and wisdom, our judgments would be correct; though, had we infinite knowledge and wisdom, we would be spared the task, though perhaps pleasure would seem to be the truer word to use, of our own self-imposed judgments.

The most truly successful, the most powerful and valuable life, then, is the life that is first founded upon this great, immutable law of love and service.

— From The Vital Life by Ralph Waldo Trine

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Deep and Genuine Love

Oct 30 2012

The question is sometimes asked, How can one feel a deep and genuine love, a love sufficient to manifest itself in service for all? — there are some so mean, so small, with so many peculiar, objectionable, or even obnoxious characteristics. True, very true, apparently at least; but another great law of life is that we find in men and women exactly those qualities, those characteristics, we look for, or that are nearest akin to the predominant qualities or characteristics of our own natures. If we look for the peculiar, the little, the objectionable, these we shall find; but back of all this, all that is most apparent on the exterior, in the depths of each and every human soul, is the good, the true, the brave, the loving, the divine, the God-like. That never changes, the very God Himself at some time or another will show forth His full likeness.

And still another law of life is that others usually manifest to us that which our own natures, or, in other words, our own thoughts and emotions, call forth. The same person, for example, will come to two different people in an entirely different way, because the larger, better, purer, and more universal nature of the one calls forth the best, the noblest, the truest in him; while the smaller, critical, personal nature of the other calls forth the opposite. The wise man is therefore careful in regard to what he has to say concerning this or that one; for, generally speaking, it is a sad commentary upon one’s self if he find only the disagreeable, the objectionable. One lives always in the atmosphere of his own creation.

Again, it is sometimes said, “But such a one has such and such habits or has done so and so, has committed such and such an error or such and such a crime.” But who, let it be asked, constituted me a judge of my fellowman? Do I not recognize the fact that the moment I judge my fellow-man, by that very act I judge myself? One of two things, I either judge myself or hypocritically profess that never once in my entire life have I committed a sin, an error of any kind, never have I stumbled, never fallen, and by that very profession I pronounce myself at once either a fool or a knave, or both.

Again, it is said, But even for the sake of helping, of doing some service, I could not for my own sake, for character’s, for reputation’s sake, I could not afford even to be seen with such a one. What would people, what would my friends, think and say? True, apparently at least, but, if my life, my character, has such a foundation, a foundation so weak, so uncertain, so tottering, as to be affected by anything of this kind, I had better then look well to it, and quietly, quickly, but securely, begin to rebuild it; and, when I am sure that it is upon the true, deep, substantial foundation, the only additional thing then necessary is for me to reach that glorious stage of development which quickly gets one out of the personal into the universal, or rather that indicates that he is already out of the one and into the other, when he can say: They think. What do they think? Let them think. They say. What do they say? Let them say.

And, then, the supreme charity one should have, when he realizes the fact that the great bulk of the sin and error in the world is committed not through choice, but through ignorance. Not that the person does not know many times that this or that course of action is wrong, that it is wrong to commit this error or sin or crime; but the ignorance comes in his belief that in this course of conduct he is deriving pleasure and happiness, and his ignorance of the fact that through a different course of conduct he would derive a pleasure, a happiness, much keener, higher, more satisfying and enduring.

By the door of my woodland cabin stood during the summer a magnificent tube-rose stock. The day was when it was just putting into bloom; and then I counted buds — latent flowers — to the number of over a score. Some eight or ten one morning were in full bloom. The ones nearer the top did not bloom forth until some two and three weeks later, and for some it took quite a month to reach the fully perfected stage. These certainly were not so beautiful, so satisfying, as those already in the perfect bloom, those that had already reached their highest perfection. But should they on this account be despised? Wait, wait and give the element of time an opportunity of doing its work; and you may find that by and by, when these have reached their highest perfection, they may even far transcend in beauty and in fragrance those at present so beautiful, so fragrant, so satisfying, those that we so much admire.

Here we recognize the element of time. How foolish, how childish, how puerile, to fail or even refuse to do the same when it comes to the human soul, with all its God-like possibilities! And, again, how foolish, because some of the blooms on the rose stock had not reached their perfection as soon as others, to have pronounced them of no value, unworthy, and to have refused them the dews, the warm rains, the life-giving sunshine, the very agencies that hastened their perfected growth! Yet this puerile, unbalanced attitude is that taken by untold numbers in the world to-day toward many human souls on account of their less mature unfoldment at any given time.

Why, the very fact that a fellow-man and a brother has this or that fault, error, undesirable or objectionable characteristic, is of itself the very reason he needs all the more of charity, of love, of kindly help and aid, than is needed by the one more fully developed, and hence more free from these. All the more reason is there why the best in him should be recognized and ever called to the front.

The wise man is he who, when he desires to rid a room of darkness or gloom, does not attempt to drive it out directly, but who throws open the doors and the windows, that the room may be flooded with the golden sunlight; for in its presence darkness and gloom cannot remain. So the way to help a fellow-man and a brother to the higher and better life is not by ever prating upon and holding up to view his errors, his faults, his shortcomings, any more than in the case of children, but by recognizing and ever calling forth the higher, the nobler, the divine, the God-like, by opening the doors and the windows of his own soul, and thus bringing about a spiritual perception, that he may the more carefully listen to the inner voice, that he may the more carefully follow “the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” For in the exact proportion that the interior perception comes will the outer life and conduct accord with it,— so far, and no farther.

— From The Vital Life by Ralph Waldo Trine

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