“I don’t know where the day went,” used to be a familiar lament of mine.
Eventually, I stopped long enough to find out where it went. Because I really was missing it.
I realized that the day doesn’t go anywhere. I do.
And where do I go?
I start each day with energy, focus, good intentions and a manageable list of To-Do’s, but end the day exhausted, scattered, lost and an even longer list.
Picture me, ready to go, excited and eager, like a thoroughbred horse in the starting gate, waiting for the Kentucky Derby to start. The bugle plays, “Charge.” The bell clangs. The gates open! The crowd roars! The announcer yells, “They’re off! Out of the gate Rick takes an early lead, hitting his stride, pulling ahead!”
Someone calls. Ava answers, but it is for me. Someone asking about a script. I’d finished it, but forgotten to attach it! “Right, I’ll email it to them right now.”
It only costs me a minute to send it. Done!
But I take 2 minutes to check other Emails, and 2 becomes 20 minutes, spent reading a dozen Emails, three of which remind me of other ‘To-Do’s’ I forgot to put on my list. Wanting to avoid missing anything, I dutifully add them to my list.
Gradually, all the spaces I have left in my schedule, the time for recharging and switching focus, begin to fill up.
“THEY’RE BUNCHING UP ON THE BACK STRETCH…”
My day starts out like the Kentucky Derby. Gradually it becomes a steeplechase as I hit one unforeseen obstacle after another.
I return to what I was doing but end up hyper-focused on one paragraph, and 30 minutes slip away.
By mid-afternoon I am racing in a dozen directions at once. I’m still trying to do everything I planned, because dammit, the list was manageable!!!
Eventually, the Kentucky Derby descends into a Demolition Derby. And I crash.
WHAT DID I DO WRONG? OR NOT DO RIGHT?
A decade ago that’s how most days unfolded.
Today those crazy days happen far less often. But more often than I care to admit.
Just starting the day with a sensible list of tasks is good. But it is not enough.
Allowing breaks and extra time for unexpected interruptions is crucial. But it’s not enough.
Before I start running the race, I have to be very clear about where the finish line is, and what is the prize that I’m chasing. Otherwise I’m on a runaway horse.
THE FINISH LINE IS THE STARTING LINE
Racetracks are ovals. The horses start at the starting line. They finish at the finish line. And it’s the same line.
That’s often how my days went. Not just days, but weeks and months.
Like the world’s fastest horses charging full tilt in the Kentucky Derby, I can end up right back where I started from. (Or so it felt.) Or worse, get thrown and give up, another day squandered.
Another ‘also ran’. The day becomes a D.N.F..
“RICK IS A LATE SCRATCH”
What do I do differently now?
What has made those days the exception rather than the rule?
At some point, before I start, as I’m drawing up that sensible list, I have to prioritize. What is most important? What is the one thing I must finish by the end of the day?
Then I have to schedule more than enough time to do it. Far more. Because as often as not, it takes far more time.
Once I know how long it will take, I have to protect that time.
THE WORLD CONSPIRES AGAINST YOU
As Ned Hallowell explains so well if you do not protect your time, the world will take it away from you.
Unless that phone call is a neighbor asking, “Did you know the roof of your house is on fire?” the call gets delayed. It goes to voice mail. And Email? That gets opened after I’ve done whatever needs doing.
Only then do I resend the Email, this time WITH the attachment.
And since the most urgent task is usually the one that I least want to do, and have been procrastinating around the longest, getting it done feels soooo good. Suddenly everything else I have to do feels like a piece of cake.
Otherwise, I get sidetracked, lost, scattered, defeated, and consoling myself by eating a piece of cake.
(Mmmm, Cake. I will end here. I need to go get something.)
The question is, why is it so hard to stake out that time when I cannot be interrupted? Why does it feel selfish to say, “I cannot be interrupted for the next three hours.” Why do I feel like I have to respond to every incoming call or stray thought? Especially when I know where it will lead?
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