Sensational Living®

October 2006
© 2006 by Bret S. Beall


When I was a young kid, and into my early teenage years, I often engaged in "goofing off." That meant that essentially I was doing nothing, just hanging out, letting the day go by … in other words, I was wasting time. I was young! What difference did it make? I had my entire life ahead of me!

In 10th grade in Lebanon, Missouri, my very wise geometry teacher, Miles Hufft, said something that has stuck with me: "Time is something you will never get back!" This statement really resonated with me, and has been a guiding force for more than 30 years. I've since realized that there are two kinds of time "loss": that which we waste ourselves, and that which others waste for us because of their [insert relevant word: laziness, incompetence, stupidity, jealousy, anger, carelessness, ad nauseum]. Let's take a look at what we can do about these two types of wasted time.

Let's first look at how we waste our own time, as that's the easiest situation to remedy. If you're like me, you spend a little too much time searching/playing on the Web. I do a lot of research on the Internet, but I also "play" a little more than I'd like to. I am mindful of this, and bring myself back to reality once I realize what I'm doing.

A lot of people enjoy watching TV. There's nothing wrong with that. But is this consuming your life? How much time do you spend in front of the TV? Are you a couch potato? Are you really enjoying what you watch, or are you just vegging out? Are you using the TV as a procrastination tool? Is watching whatever program you are watching really entertaining or life-enhancing, or is it just "filling" time. If it's the latter, take stock and take a step back, please. And that goes double for reruns! I think there are very few television programs worthy of being watched a second time.

Even when we are trying to free ourselves of behaviors that waste time, we can end up wasting more. Being disorganized is a huge time waster; I help people remedy this problem all of the time. Unfortunately, sometimes people tackle organizing themselves, and end up wasting even more time! One of the key guiding principles is to handle the material being organized only once; this is a far better approach to organization than just "shuffling" materials from one pile to another. This technique didn't originate with me, but I embrace it, and hope you will, too.

I'm sure you can think of myriad ways that you waste time. Acknowledge them. Embrace them. And work to remedy them. You are in complete control of how you spend your time … except when others' actions end up wasting your time for you. Let's explore this intrusion now.

I discussed disorganization above. Just as "disorganization" can waste time, so can "over-organization." We can also call this "over-anticipation." I've been doing event planning for a decade and a half. One of the hallmarks of an excellent planner is to be able anticipate problems and develop contingency plans. When one is at an event, and something goes wrong (and something WILL go wrong), we need to be able to "fix" it ASAP, with as little disruption as possible. However, some planners take this to the extreme, guided more by fear of being "wrong" or "unprepared" than by any logical or rational evaluation of probabilities of certain problems. I once worked for such a fear-guided person, and it was both frustrating and time-wasting. We would prepare dozens, if not hundreds, of different documents, "just in case someone asks for it." You would not believe the hours we spent worrying about the "what ifs" of our various events. To be honest and fair, this situation is a matter of degree; I'm sure my anticipation seemed like over-anticipation to others. Moderation is the key, and that's subjective. Since I know my boss at the time felt stressed by his anticipation, I believe it is fair to say he was engaging in "over-anticipation." If you feel comfort and solace in what you are doing, that is a key that your approach is "just right."

Another example of "over-organization" comes from a supervisor who made "to do" lists a project in and of themselves. He would spend hours working on his to-do list. And the entries would be cross-references. When the to-do list becomes a project on its own, there's a time-wasting problem.

This same supervisor lived by the motto that "work expands to fill all available time." That meant he would not start work on a project until the very last minute. He thrived on the drama, the urgency of last minute planning; that's not really planning at all! Time after time, we wasted time by waiting until the very last moment to get a project done, and had to do extra work (and often spend extra money) by this silly approach to management. Develop a time-line, and execute it … and stop wasting time!

I wish various "professional" service providers adhered to this strategy of following a timeline. How often have you had a doctor's appointment, a dental appointment, or even a reservation in a restaurant, and found yourself waiting beyond the appointed time? If YOU are late, you can actually lose your place, or be charged as an absentee, but if they are late, you can cool your heels in the waiting room or adjacent bar. It's the "hurry up and wait" syndrome. This is one reason that I always carry backpack or satchel with me, so that if I find myself being forced to wait, I can use the time to catch up on my reading, or writing, or any other project that I've decided to bring with me. They can try to waste my time, but I won't let them!

Similarly, what about those crazy "appointments" from repair people? Not long ago, my telephone landline went dead. The first "appointment" I could get was ten days away, from 5 to 8pm. I was told that it might be something originating from their facility, and they would call me. Well, they never called me, and when I did call to follow-up, I had a 20-minute wait. Anyway, the day of my "appointment" came, and I had to cut short a client meeting in order to get home, because I had been "cautioned" that because my "appointment" had been scheduled for such a long time, I would be early in the technician's log, and someone should be available at the beginning of the "appointment" time. So, I was available at 5pm, and for the next three hours, until the end of the appointment at 8pm, and no technicians had arrived. I was calculating the bill for MY time that I would send to RCN (my incompetent provider), when my door buzzer rang at 8:07, and two RCN technicians had finally arrived. The bottom line was that they needed to convert my telephone service to new technology, and I persuaded them to do it the following morning. Even that appointment was delayed. Fortunately, I was able to work on projects, but I wasn't efficient in my focus and productivity. These repair people had wasted my time, and I still want to send them a bill for my time (I've done this before, but without much success … though I have received discounts on future services from other vendors).

Recently, I won a large antique, mid-century modern bowl on eBay. This win was a great deal! I also got a great deal on three other smaller antique ceramics from this same dealer, so I would save on S&H. Well, everything seemed to be going well until the box arrived in late September. I noticed the box was dented, and smaller than it should have been for the items I had won. I carefully opened the box (remember, I used to work with rare fossils hundreds of millions of years old … I know about care of ancient items!). I saw three of my items very loosely packaged, but intact. Imagine my sadness and, yes, anger, when I saw that the large antique ceramic bowl had shattered, due largely to extremely poor packing. As I write this, I've submitted the insurance papers, but I've been annoyed because 1) this process has taken my time, 2) I won't get a replacement reimbursement, because the bowl was such a good deal, and 3) if the seller had just packed the items properly (and it isn't difficult), I'd have my bowl and no grief or frustration. My only recourse is to never do business with this individual again, despite his excellent eBay rating; he clearly doesn't know what he is doing! In eight years of eBaying, I've never had a broken item before, and I hope to never repeat it!

I've been helping a client organize some educational workshops. One of my assignments was to organize the reproduction of their handouts. It's simple work. I've done it dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. The only wrench, or so I thought, was that I had to get competitive bids; I did this easily. The low bid was so much lower than the rest that I asked the rep to confirm that she understood my proposal, so that I could compare apples with apples. She confirmed. But … she didn't confirm with the vendor with whom she was subcontracting, the one who had provided the actual quote. The bill came in substantially higher, but my vendor ate it. Unfortunately, they couldn't eat the errors. The details aren't important, but the nature and degree of copying errors has occupied so much of my time that I have become angrier and more frustrated than I have been in ages. This is an opportunity for me to grow, and for me to pressure the vendor to eat the entire job. It's a disaster and fiasco on all fronts. As I type this, it seems that we've saved the day, but there will be more cleanup after the workshops. Again, an individual's incompetence has created excessive work for others and me.

Both of these recent situations were so improbable given my years of experience with both shipping and project management that I had to ask, "Is there something else going on here? Is this a test of some sort of my personal growth?" Indeed, if we seek a positive or beneficial outcome of wasted time, perhaps it really hasn't been wasted. Let's revisit these situations imposed by others.

With my management supervisors, I've learned valuable tools for future management projects. I've learned to attain a balance of "anticipation" with which I am comfortable. I've learned to create timelines, and in most cases, to guide clients to adhere to them (there are exceptions; this is a learning process after all!). I've learned to take pride in my own management and planning skills, and to put forth my services confidently. That's a gift for which I will always be grateful!

What have I gained from the shipping experience? Well, I've never had to file a USPS insurance claim, so it's been educational. Seeing the seller's poor shipping affirmed my own packing skills. Realizing that the only thing hurt was a material item, and that I am still blessed by exceptional health and ability, was a wake-up. Additionally, though I did become angry initially, I fell back on my adage, "Don't get angry! Get anecdotes." That's right, I can always make an anecdote out of any situation to create an essay to share with you … and that's a real gain!

What about the recent project management fiasco? I have learned that I still need to fine-tune my patience a bit! Yep, I was definitely less patient than I would have liked, which also meant I was less compassionate than I would have liked. Oh! There's another "a-ha"! I have another growth opportunity. Then there is also the camaraderie that developed among my client team; everyone supported me, no one blamed me, and we all joked that this entire project seemed to be controlled by Murphy's Law … I have been reminded of how important and valuable it is to have a team whom you respect, and who respects you. I have also been reminded to be grateful for my own ability to manage projects, including developing contingency plans.

If you want help reclaiming your own time, or dealing with the intrusion of others into your time, I can help ... if I have time, that is, LOL! Just call me at 7773.508.9208 or email me. Time is your most valuable commodity, and I want you to be able to guard and preserve it well.