Friday, July 27, 2018

Alignment - An Inventory of Time Spent

At the conclusion of last week's blog, I mentioned that I would begin to detail my week in the next post. Well, as I conceptualized the blog, I realized I needed to back up to discuss the need of reviewing how our time is spent before sharing how alignment can work. So, bear with me as I discuss the need to be honest in learning to budget our time (this week) and determining the importance of each item (next week).

One of the concepts most anyone who has studied personal effectiveness will share is that it is important for an individual to know what they do with their time. Most people are familiar with the idea of a financial budget, but we are all familiar with a time budget - many just do not know it. For instance, a person who has a job knows how long it takes to get to the proper location and makes plans to be there timely. Or, a parent who is taking a child to school has an idea of how long it will take to get to school AND potential routes to take in case of problems (such as traffic), with a nearly automatic adjustment for the difference in time. Of course, in America, one of the greatest indicators of our awareness of our time budget relates to the meals we eat. Eating out is "faster" than making something at home and microwaving a hot pocket is "faster" than preparing a roast in the crock pot. So, we are aware of our limitations of time and very loosely budget it, but to become effective, we must be firm in our understanding.

Firm does not mean inflexible, but it does mean knowing how we spend all of our time. Just like knowing where our money goes, knowing how we spend our time can be very freeing. As many have noted, many people can have different amounts of money, possessions, family members, and different levels of health, but we all have the same amount of time. Yet, most of us have said something to the effect, I wish I had more time. But we cannot make more time. We are confined to what God has given us, so if we are too busy then it is our fault, not God's. (For Christians, this is particularly important, because as we become busy, we often cut from our time with, or serving, God!)

So, taking the time to review not just our calendars, but the things we do is a great place to start aligning one's life. The challenge for most people who attempt this is they begin to judge the activity before recording it. My encouragement is to avoid that temptation by considering this exercise similar to that of brainstorming. In brainstorming, the idea is simply to record any ideas. Judging the merits of those ideas come later. Likewise, when recording the time you spend, you may have habits that you would rather not record the amount of time you spend. However, if we choose to take that approach, we are not being honest with ourselves. First, record the time, then make the decision on what needs to be adjusted.

For me, I have three primary areas of responsibility related to "jobs." I am a full-time pastor. I am an adjunct professor. And, most recently, I have added the responsibility for leading an organization to train under-resourced pastors around the world (and to-date, I have done nearly all of the training). Those three areas keep me busy, and could lead to burnout. So, last Fall, I began to relieve some of the stress by playing a video game (soccer). This began as an activity a couple of days per week. Then, shortly afterward, my lower back began to ache each morning, so I began to play the game each morning for several minutes (maybe 30), while swaying back and forth and stretching out my back. This worked great for my back, but as I continued progressing in the game, the 30 minutes turned into 45, then 60, and sometimes longer. My back did not need the extra time (most days), but I would get to a point in the season that I didn't want to lose my thought process (if you understand what the transfer window is, you may understand). I was still accomplishing my tasks, because I would get up earlier, but the time I was spending on this game was becoming detrimental to my thought process (and led to my being stuck).

So, I needed to take the time to take inventory on my week. I knew I was spending too much time on the video game, but until I realized that what had been a couple of hours per week was now taking multiple hours per day a few times per week (ouch!), I could not begin to shift my time. I was not unaware of the time playing the game in general, but rather than dismiss the exercise of reviewing my time or negating the truth, I admitted the truth (personally, and now here publicly) and could then begin to work towards returning to functioning much more effectively. Once I had reviewed how I was spending my time, I was able to remove some of the unimportant and less important items and better coordinate the tasks, meetings, and other responsibilities into the time that I have on a weekly basis.

The truth is that books such as What's Best Next (Perman), and Smarter, Faster, Better (Duhigg) will do little to help unless you are willing to change what needs to be changed. But sometimes knowing what needs to be changed means simply taking time to know what we are doing or developing an understanding as to why we are doing certain things (see The Power of Habit by Duhigg). But once that truth is realized, the choice must be made to change. And once the choice is made to change, then the challenge is be disciplined enough to do so.

So, this next week, I encourage you to take an inventory of how you spend your time. This inventory does not need to be shared with anyone (unless you desire to do so), so be honest with yourself. After recording the items, then you can begin to make choices on what should remain and what can be omitted. But, I would urge you not to discard the list yet, because you may want to add one more piece of information to help you make your choices. I will cover that next week, and then begin to turn to how I have re-allocated my time each week.

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