It Became Clear from the Balcony

It happened from the balcony, in a way similar to Ron Heifetz’ image from “Leadership without Easy Answers.” My spot in the balcony allowed me to see the whole sanctuary as people came in response to the pastor’s preaching—sure, but more to the response of something inside, beckoning them to step out, move down the aisle to the front of the sanctuary to accept a call by God to begin a new life.

Sitting in the balcony allowed me to view the whole scene in a way I could not from the floor—the proverbial forest for the trees. What flashed in my mind that morning was a question: “Why?” “Why are people responding?” Hundreds sat still while about five took the 100 foot walk. Why did they publicly move?

The response to my own internal question that burst in my head was “it’s the invitation.”

Being invited. We’ve all been invited to something at some juncture of our lives. Birthday parties, weddings, anniversary celebrations, bar mitzvah, or so many other celebrations that come during a life time. And for some reason, we responded to them. I’m always struck with words and their origins. And the word invitation is one.

The etymology of invitation comes from the Latin invitatio, which probably meant “be pleasant toward.” It may also come from a more ancient root word meaning “to go after something, pursue with vigor.” These roots in time morphed (as all language does) into the word from the Middle French inviter. The word invite thus came to mean “to ask politely or graciously to be present…to perform an action; a courteous solicitation.” There are synonyms to the word also like attract, allure, incitement, and attraction. All of these meanings are what I experienced that morning. People graciously asked to make a decision…to perform an action. It was on that day I changed the wording of my personal mission statement to include the verbal form inviting.

From the balcony, I had come to realize that I was inviting people to something when I lived out my mission statement. My mission at the time was “inviting people to abundant life by choosing God’s best.” I realized in all the years I had been working with people, I as inviting them to something. I never forced them, chided them, coerced them…I simply graciously invited them to make a choice about their lives. I was inviting them to choose abundant life and living well. That is always a personal choice. It is something that has to spark the heart. No matter what I said or did, it always came down to response freely chosen by a person.

So that is what I have done these many years, invited people to examine their lives and make decisions about how they want to live their time on this planet. And I have become aware, just like that Sunday morning, that hundreds who hear the invitation will sit quietly, while a handful will make a choice to do something different in and with their lives.

The experience from the balcony was actually freeing as the word became captured for me in that moment. In that split second, I realized I had no initial responsibility other than to share an invitation. The courage of the person and their self examination was the factor in determining that they would choose to do something different with life. They alone would have to make a deeply personal choice to walk those “100 feet” to something better. I would have responsibility to assist them in the time after their decisions, but that’s for another blog (or two or three—stay tuned).

Blessings to you for this day as you consider and hopefully accept the invitation to live well that these blogs have announced over a few years. Grace and peace to you for the days to come.

Me & Christopher Columbus

Two hundred and twenty five days was all it took for the history changing voyage. Christopher Columbus set sail with the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria from Palos, Spain on Aug 3, 1492 and by his return on March 15, 1493 had traversed round trip across the Atlantic Ocean, explored, named and claimed the Caribbean Islands for Ferdinand and Isabella, and opened the New World for future travelers. And as we say, “The rest is history.”

It’s been about 245 days since my last writing on May 11, 2012. I never meant to go that long in writing, but life unfolded in a way that has changed our family history and experience from this point forward. We have traversed uncharted waters for us personally and a new part of history is in the making.

My father-in-law died in late April, which little did we know would be the beginning of other events. By May 4, my wife had unexpected double bypass heart surgery with a summer spent recuperating; my in-laws’ house had to be cleared of all its contents so some future residents could make it their home; our daughter went off to college in August; and my mother -in-law moved further along the highway of dementia as she adjusted to her new home in a nursing facility.

Now with a full semester of teaching and administrative work complete at the graduate school I serve, all these things are reminders that my (our) world has changed significantly.
The older I get, the more I become aware that it is critical to savor the present moments because one’s “history” can be overwhelmingly reshaped in 200 days (give or take a few). Often we are lulled into a stupor of sameness believing that we have control over what will happen and we can guide the days to be similar in outcome from those of the past. But just as Columbus didn’t know he would lose two ships and survive a near mutiny, we do not know what each sunrise will bring in the hours that follow. A slip and fall three years ago which took nanoseconds broke my leg that now leaves me with a lifetime limp and daily ache. In a thirty second treadmill walk, my wife’s life changed with a rush from one hospital to another for open heart surgery. A telephone call in the night, a missed stoplight, being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” can change our worlds—our histories—forever.

I’m learning to hold each day as precious, not sweating the small stuff (as best I can), savoring each blessing I receive throughout the day, and spending time reflecting on the grace extended to me in a 24 hour period. It has made me somewhat more quiet and reflective—which I’ve been most of my life as an introvert—but now with a purpose, being more grateful and less judgmental of those around me than I had been throughout much of my life.

Christopher Columbus had a plan as do I. I have plans for the future that I hope will take me places that are good and the best for me, my family, and to those I am connected. But a lot of life is uncharted, providing adventure each day. So I’ve relearned the old “loose-tight” principle—holding onto things that matter as best I can but not so tightly that I edge into despair when the uncharted changes the course of life—at least for the moment.

Blessings to you all as you traverse open, uncharted waters of your own lives. May you mix courage to move forward in all life’s moments with the grace to learn all you can from each situation. May there be grace and peace in the next 245 days of our life.

You Have Every Drop There Is

            “Sorry, I don’t have enough time.”  That always amuses me when I hear it expressed.  I know—it’s just a colloquialism that rolls off our tongues when we feel overwhelmed.  But the reason it humors me is because I’m not actually sure where we get more time.  I cannot purchase it at the Time Store over on 33rd and Vine or save it from one day to the next.  Nor can I borrow it from my closest friend or neighbor like a cup of sugar or garden tool (and I cannot return it when I am finished with it).  And sadly, I may not live long enough to use or enjoy what I had expected was my “guaranteed” time on this planet.  

Simply put, time usage is about personal choices, daily choices of how to expend 86,400 seconds, 1,440 minutes or 24 hours.  The choices, I believe, come from our attitudes about time and our willingness to set goals that take us to our desired destinations.  I believe ultimately, daily time usage rests firmly on one’s personal mission statement; the written principle about what matters in the world.  (BTW, if you want to see how to write a personal mission, visit my archive blogs—“Living Well.”  You will find the map for it.)

            I don’t claim to be a time guru (there are plenty of them like David Allen, Brian Tracy, and Stephen Covey), but I do consider myself an effective time management practitioner.  I have learned that having a personal mission, changing your attitude about goals, and recapturing squandered time is not complicated but it does take a commitment of balancing life demands.  It is as simple and complex as Covey elegantly writes, “It is about putting 1st things 1st.” 

            What follows are some suggestions from me as a practitioner for managing time and life.  These suggestions are my self-designed amalgamated system of Peter Lowe-Stephen Covey-Priority Systems-Denis Waitley-Brian Tracy-David Allen that I have personally used for about 25 years.  There may be some specific time guru you love more than others.  If so, follow their advice and implement their wisdom.  But, if you don’t have a guru, try this practitioner’s hybrid of ideas for garnering time and balancing life.  I have used them and know they work.

1.      Determine the difference between what you want as balance and priorities in your life and where you actually spend your time.  Drawing two pie charts can reveal this.  In the first pie chart, divide it by proportions or percentages of what are the important things in your life—family, friends, hobbies, work, community volunteerism, etc.  Then in the second pie chart, divide it proportionally by how you actually spend the 24 hours you have each day.  Compare the results after completing this exercise.  Do the pie charts match?  What are the most glaring differences between what is important to you and how you use your time?  This is a starting point—the awareness—for setting a course correction.  It is like knowing where you spend your money.  Want a clue of that?  Spend some time reviewing your check book or bank statement.  It doesn’t lie.

2.      Write a personal mission statement.  I provide the outline for this in my previous blog, “Living Well.”  Look it up, begin the process and write out your personal mission with life legacy goals attached.  What does this personal mission tell you about how to use the time you have available?  What changes will help you become effective in your time usage as you match what you hope to become in life with how you are currently using your time?

3.      Write down your goals.  Unfortunately, most people do not have written goals.  Not having written goals makes those that may be rattling around in your mind nothing more than a “Wish List.”  Goals are tangible and real only when they are on paper.  They represent visually how we will use our time.

4.      Give priority to those activities in your life that are important to you.  Set your calendar by these priorities first (making “1st Things 1st”).  Place all your other appointments around these priority activities.  You must schedule priorities just like any other appointment.  If you do not, they will not be acted upon because they are not urgently screaming at you for completion.  And quite frankly, “Out of sight….out of mind.”

5.      Break down your goals into smaller manageable units.  If your goals do not have tasks, it is too easy to put off starting on your goals because they might be vague in your mind.  Having tasks breaks down your goals into details that must be accomplished if you are to succeed at living well.  Task lists help you determine the amount of time needed for each goal.  The adage, “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer, “One bite at a time” applies to this suggestion.  

6.      Deadlines are an essential element for the completion of your goals.  So often, we start working on our goals with open-ended time frames.  Thus we may start, but because we do not have a time deadline, we put off tasks and steps until they become urgent or a crisis.  When our goals reach that stage they become personal stressors that create anxiety or frustration.  Set the deadline and then work backwards, determining checkpoints along the way that have to be completed with your time resource in order for you to reach the goal.  Plus, knowing the deadline builds in time for “what ifs” that may add stress at the last minute.

7.      Do something daily related to your goals and tasks.  This seems so elementary, but is essential.  We have a tendency as humans to love the process but forget the action needed at the end of the process.  Action is the critical factor.  “Without action,” futurist Joel Barker notes, “we are just passing time.”  Make a choice every day to use your time well and be action oriented.

8.      Make a list of your personal “Time Bandits.”  These bandits are uses of time that sap us of this tremendous finite resource (remember, you cannot get more time tomorrow, more than 24 hours; you have all there is).  Some time bandits at work might be unfocused meetings, cluttered desk, and decision traps like procrastination, the telephone, Email, undefined projects or vague delegation.  But also consider your time bandits at home, like excessive computer usage (Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter; all enjoyable activities but they can easily amass hours of unfocused use of time), watching television, procrastination, and frittering away time on unfocused activities.  Your personal “Time Bandits” are different from mine.  But a personal self-examination will reveal your time leakage.

9.      Balance the urgent with the not urgent (a Coveyism—focus on Quadrant II).  Living constantly in urgency can cause burnout.  While there are always unexpected situations that require our attention, living in constant urgency causes paralyzing personal and mental stress.  Try balancing the urgent (Quadrant I) with ‘not urgent’ time needs (Quadrant II).  Planning, preparation, reading, and formulating strategies are not necessarily urgent but they will allow you to be prepared for the urgency that will most definitely come your way.  Planning, preparation, and formulating strategies may alleviate stress through proactively.

10.  Learn to say no.  This is one of the most vital tools for managing your time and gaining balance in your life.  It is so simple, yet we get caught in the mindset that there is an obligation for us to fill every moment with activity for some great cause (or at least the great causes of others).  Learning to say ‘no’ provides the time you might need for accomplishing what is vitally important and essential to you as written in your mission.

Peter Lowe, a motivational speaker, says, “Reaching goals is like paying down a 30 year mortgage.  The first few years you pay so little toward the principal it seems like it will take 1,000 years to pay it off…. It is like this with goals.  At first it will seem like you are barely making any progress.  Just preserve and you will accomplish your goals.” (Success Magazine, October 2000).  That is an insightful statement related to mission, goals, and the use of your time.  Try at least one of these suggestions in the week ahead.  Try it for two weeks.  It will seem like paying down a mortgage, but by choosing to use your time wisely, I know you will enjoy less stress and more personal mission achievement.  You have every drop of time there is….use it well.

Blessings to you for these next 14 days.  Drop me a note if this practitioner’s suggestions make a difference…and if they don’t.  I would like to analyze the endeavor with you.  As always, may you experience grace and peace.

David Neidert