I am writing this after one of those mornings. More about that later…
I am a fan of movie director Christopher Nolan’s work. After viewing Nolan’s most recent effort, Dunkirk, it dawned on me he has a common theme in all his movies: he explores time.
In Nolan’s first movie the protagonist suffered from a type of short-term memory loss that caused him to start each day with no memory of previous events.* The Prestige featured competing magicians, each developing improved renditions of “The Transported Man,” an illusion that took a man could instantly cross a stage (or theater), thereby beating time. Inception followed a team who could infiltrate people’s dreams to multiple levels, each moving at a different speed related to the other levels and to “awake” time. Interstellar explored time related to space travel and multiple dimensions. Finally, Dunkirk featured three time-sequences (ground, sea, air) in parallel.
The exploration of time is biblical. We are told to “redeem the time,” “count our days,” “remember,” and to understand “night is coming.” We know that each day past is time we can never recover. Our lives march inexorably through time. Our lives are marked by its celebration: birthdays, anniversaries, and retirement.
The importance of time is seen in the American emphasis on “time management,” a misnomer if ever there was one. Time management does not exist. One second passes each second and—science-fiction notwithstanding—that second cannot be slowed in mid-flight or retrieved once gone. Neither can the minute sixty of them comprises. What we can manage, however, is what we do during the seconds, minutes, and hours each of the days of our sojourn. We can practice self-management.
When my self-management goes awry and the calendar battle starts anew, I can almost always track it to one or more of these five bad practices.
1. I try and remember too much.
Someone long ago observed, “A short pencil is better than a long memory.” My years of attempting to organize my activities have proven this axiom true repeatedly.
To restate it: Writing information down is better than trying to remember it. I find the more responsibilities I have the need to write things down moves from “helpful” to “imperative.” When I try to remember multiple items, not only will I forget one or more, my brain will not stop bringing it back to consciousness. (During extreme times, I awake in the middle of the night with my brain rehearsing a to-do list.)
Besides a small notepad to “catch” stray thoughts, I also use the note app on my phone. Writing it down to dispose of later makes me a better self-manager, and helps me sleep better.
2. I try and do too much.
There is no I in team, but there is in stupid. I wish I knew a better word, but trying to do too much is stupid.
My default position when I am under a time crunch is to circle the wagons with me in the middle. I stop delegating. I stop emailing team members. I try to do too much and end up doing it poorly.
This is how I managed my responsibilities for years. As a result, I could not organize a field trip to the front yard.
Most of the time, when I start feeling pressure of things to do, it is because I have not involved others who are waiting for an opportunity to help. Involving them is not only healthy for me, it is smart.
3. I do not take time to review my projects.
Nothing moves forward if I do not know what needs to move forward.
The more responsibilities you get as you are promoted, move to a larger church, or has someone else’s stuff unceremoniously dumped on your desk, the more imperative it is to regularly review the progress of all of your projects. When I do not review regularly I get behind schedule, leading to trying to remember too much, trying to do too much, etc.
4. I do not confirm dates, times, or places.
The calendar is only helpful if it has accurate information and only if I take a few moments to look at it.
As mentioned above, it was one of those mornings. Shortly after awaking, I realized I had double-booked podcast interviews set to take place later that morning. Or, at least, I thought I had.
The first interview was set for 10:00ET/9:00CT. It was on my calendar correctly, but I misremembered the ET/CT in my mind. I had another interview scheduled for 11:00ET/10:00CT, and woke up thinking, “I have two guests booked at 10:00!”
Instead of looking at my calendar to confirm, I fired off a text to my second guest asking if I could bump him to 12:00ET/11:00CT. “Sure,” he said. I alerted the recording the engineer and thought all was well.
And it was…right until I got an email from my first guest around 9:02: “I’m ready. Am I supposed to call you or are you calling me?”
I unnecessarily rescheduled one guest and missed a second guest by an hour (and had to reschedule him) simply because I did not confirm with my calendar.
On normal days, my calendar is my primary to-do list; I skip it at my peril.
5. I am not clear with team members.
At some times I am glad no one can read my mind. At other times I wish it was a spiritual gift my team members possessed. (Not to mention my wife.)
Most of us think with what I will call a “personal vocabulary.” We know what we mean by what we think, and, as a result, often think in short cuts. In our minds, Point A to Point B is one step. But to others, it is often Point A to Point F and there are several steps in between.
When I do not expand my “personal vocabulary” to a “communication vocabulary” people on various teams are often confused. To be clear with team members, I need to take the time to ensure what I mean is what I say (or type), otherwise they may head off in an unexpected direction following unclear directions with all their might.
The old preacher saw “If it’s a mist in the pulpit, it’s a fog in the pew” is nothing more or less than an age-old communication principle we should always remember and implement.
What are some habits you have that cause you to engage in calendar battle? Feel free to share in the comments.
*Nolan’s first effort was Momento. It has graphic language and violence.