ImageI have had a lot of time lately.  My wife and children left me.  If you were standing in front of me, I might leave that statement out there for an uncomfortable amount of time.  Actually, they left me for four days to go to my wife’s mom’s house two hours away.  Coincidentally, they will be 15 minutes from the beach which they will visit every day, even if rain threatens.  If you don’t live in Florida, you won’t understand this next statement.  My wife hates it that we don’t live near the beach.  By the way, the Atlantic coast is one hour the other direction.

So, for four days I have been living on cereal, chips and salsa.  My wife also left some yummy cherries.  I know.  I know.  I could go to the grocery store and buy more food.  But, I look on this as an opportunity to save money and lose weight (I’m already down two pounds)!

Over the last four days I have dutifully gone to work, played several pick up games of basketball, and mowed and edged the lawn.  I haven’t had to run the dishwasher (again, saving money).  However, when the sun goes down, my house seems very empty.  I, all of the sudden, have time I don’t know what to do with.  Thank goodness for Netflix!  Yes, I have been watching old television programs (Hawaii Five-O and Mission Impossible), old movies (Duck Soup and Chinatown) sprinkled with a few short-lived cult TV shows (Firefly) and documentaries (Johnny Carson).  I tried to pick programming of no interest to any other member of my immediate family.  Success.

This afternoon I met some friends for lunch.  We spent two hours talking about life, faith and work.  I realized some pretty important things as a result of our conversation and my string of several empty evenings.

Time is THE Commodity.  It is our most valuable asset.  I wouldn’t have said that when I was 14.  I felt like I had quite a bit of it then.  In fact, I remember sitting with my friends on hot summer days trying to figure out what to do with all our available time (ala the cartoon Phineas and Ferb without the creative results).

As life has progressed, time seems to be in shorter and shorter supply.  Today my friends and I were speaking about the pressure to be great family members and great employees.  The conclusion:  There isn’t enough time to be great at both.  Choosing to Cheat by Andy Stanley offers some great insight into this dilemma.  His premise is simple.  You will cheat either your work or your family.  You get to choose.  Comforting, huh?  Do I risk my job or my family?

So, as a result of this dilemma and our conversation today, I would like to share a few insights I am still trying to implement …. given I have only 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

Urgent or Important?  It is very difficult to categorize our time.  For most of us time is linear.  It happens in sequence.  We take it as it comes.  While that is true, we also make choices, thereby exercising more control over our time than we realize.  Do I look at the text that jingled my attention to it like Pavlov’s dog?  In the midst of a big project, do I follow a rabbit trail even when I know it is a rabbit trail that will throw me off course for the next hour?  When I am eating dinner with my family, do I answer the phone?

Time is NOT straight and smooth.  It is like a poorly maintained brick road.  It moves in one direction.  But there are a lot of ups and downs that jolt us from our seats and make it impossible to pay attention to anything else but our continuing discomfort and longing for smooth concrete.

Stephen Covey says in his classic, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that we need to distinguish between urgency and importance.  We tend to get wrapped up in what is only urgent, ignoring entirely the level of importance of the task that has interrupted us.  Granted, some phone calls, texts and other rabbit trails are important.  Most are not!  Their perceived urgency sucks valuable time away from what is important.

In fact, Covey claims that if we value the non-urgent important things in life, we will optimize our time, minimizing the urgency of many other things that clutter our time line.

Never Finished.  I used to think I would be able to make my way to the bottom of my inbox and my to-do list had an end.  Every time I get to the end of the list, I realize ten more things, previously floating in my head, that should be added to the list.  I have since adjusted my thinking.  I never get to the end.  My job is never finished.

Accepting this reality has been huge in appreciating my time to a greater degree.  I do a much better job of prioritizing my to-do list and realizing my job is to work through the most important items on the list.  My job is NOT to finish the list.

Find a Rhythm.  At the Youth Ministry Institute we teach our youth ministers to construct a rhythmic week.  This is not a new concept.  Our friends at Ministry Architects and Center for Youth Ministry Training teach the same thing.  I am confident, they in turn received the idea from someone else.  So, therefore, it is a great idea with increasing implementation challenges.

My friend is reading Margin by Richard Swenson.  He isn’t finished with it, yet.  But, the ideas he has gleaned are worth noting.  The author describes margin as the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits.  We live in an unprecedented time (how many times have you heard that) where our margins cease to be the source of extra energy to get by in times of stress.  We are living in the margins every day depleting our energy reserves.

We need to create boundaries to protect our margins so that we aren’t bumping up against our limits daily.  A rhythmic week outlines thematic blocks of time where our focus is shifted to accomplishing tasks related to the theme.  When I am in rhythm, I write on Monday mornings, I recruit on Wednesdays and I pay attention to social media on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.  This Wednesday I am traveling.  So, I will have to shift my recruiting block to Thursday, thereby paying less attention to social media.  Because my family left me for four days, I decided not to write on Monday.  Instead I spent time with them and chose to write on Saturday in the living room of my empty, quiet house.

Interval Training.  That brings me to my last point.  Rest is important.  Jeff Galloway has developed a form of training to run a marathon (or any distance) involving rest.  The body (and I would add mind and spirit) needs time to rest between workouts.  Galloway suggests running 3 minutes and walking 1 minute to increase the body’s ability to perform.

This isn’t a new concept.  Researches over a decade ago monitored professional tennis players.  They discovered the players who won consistently were able to get their heart rate down between points.  Even before that discovery, God, in Genesis One, suggested (later commanded through Moses) that we rest for one day for every six days of work.

Amazingly, we don’t plan our intervals well.  Simply getting up and walking after sitting at your desk for a couple of hours will refresh you so that you operate at a higher level when you return.  When you go home from work, go home.  Don’t take work with you.  Turn off the phone.  Use the interval.  Rest!

If you are single, this is challenging.  You probably have a great deal of energy and a lot of discretionary time.  Interval training will be key to your longevity in any profession you are working.  Plan your time off way in advance.  Don’t work 80 hours per week even if you have it available.  Find some recreational activities that will allow you to cut loose from work and focus on something else.

Turn on the TV and watch old episodes of Magnum P.I.  Hmmm.  Wait.  That’s what I’m going to do.  I seem to have the time.

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