Tuesday, 15 May 2012

INTEGRITY, and what we REALLY spend our time on.

As I sit leaning against the couch on the floor of the mancave, the day after finding 2 big ol' carpenter ants in my house; I ponder how it is that the mind works.  Because in it, there is an endless parade of ants marching over the parts of my body outside of my peripheral vision, each one beginning its trek just after I cancel the search for the previous one.  I'd go write this in the bathtub if that was safe.

Ah, the mind.  It's an amazing thing, isn't it?  Lately I've been thinking about life.  Particularly life as a trajectory.  Did you know that, if you were piloting a plane from LA to New York, and you changed your flight path by 1%, you would end up in Albany or Delaware?  I bet you'd be pretty choked at the pilot if you had to rent a car and make the 3 hour drive from Albany to your intended destination.

Here's the funny thing.  When it comes to our own lives, most of our flight paths are off by a lot more than 1%. Heck, lets be totally honest - a lot of us don't even really know where we're headed.  When we run out of fuel and plummet from the sky, I guess we'll be there...

I have a tendency to sleepwalk through life.  I make a zillion choices each day, but most of them click right by without me even noticing them.  Hit the snooze alarm.  Have a second cup of coffee.  Pick my clothes.  Buckle up when I sit down in my truck.  Check my e-mail when I sit down at my desk.  And so on.  I can perform a whole day on autopilot.  Which at first sounds impressive, but I think the real question is, can I perform a day WITHOUT autopilot?

John C. Maxwell, who makes his money flogging leadership principles, has been heard to say that if you want to change your life, you have to change something in your daily routine.  Like the airplane pilot adjusting his course, so that he's always on the shortest path to his destination.

So, for the last week and a half, I've been keeping track of what I spend my time on - journalling it hour by hour.  The purpose was actually to see how much time I waste on a given day and try to improve on it. However, another, possibly even more interesting result has come from the data.  When you know what you do every day, you get a really good snapshot of where your priorities are. It doesn't really matter where you FEEL like your priorities are.  What you DO tells the real story.

Suddenly Maxwell's comment made a lot more sense. If I consider something to be a priority, but I don't find it on my list because I haven't done it in a week, perhaps it's not really as much of a priority as I pretend it is.  Which leads me to a decision point - do I change my priorities, or do I change my actions?

At the end of last summer, I completed a sprint triathlon in Banff.  At the end, there was a big long straightaway that you had to run down - a full block of the main street of Banff.  By the time I was done swimming, biking, and almost the whole run, you can BET I didn't take my eyes of that finish line!  Do you think I took one step in a direction other than straight toward that arch?  No way.  I had a clear purpose, and I knew the steps it took to get there (about 50 more at that point).

So.  Step 1 is, do you know your finish line?  Or are you waiting for your plane to run out of fuel?  Figure out your why, and everything else will have more purpose.

Step 2 is, take a look at your ACTIONS.  Do they line up with your priorities?  I spend more time on e-mails and little 'cholesterol' issues at work than I do on the topics in my job description.  I spend more time watching TV than I do developing my faith.  I spend about as much time on social media as I do on exercise.    

So, if you can measure it, you can manage it, right?  Step 3 is, take a long hard look at your 2 lists (actions and priorities).  Time to take the 2 disparate lists and make them look a little more like each other.

Turns out, time management isn't really about you wasting your time by not doing anything.  I bet you're all as busy as I am.  What it's really about is that we have a tendency to spend our time on really stupid things that don't GET us anywhere.

And in the words of Bill Nye the Science Guy, "The thing about time is, once you measure it, it's gone."  It's a limited resource, and you never get it back.  So why would you live your life in any way OTHER than toward the things you value?

And if you get there - if your priority and your action list start to match, then you have that elusive and invaluable trait. The one I desire the most: Integrity.


  1. Loved this post (no surprise there)! Perhaps the priorities we set for ourselves are largely superficial: everyone "should" prioritize family, friends, spirituality, fitness, because those are the things that society tells us we should prioritize (and don't get me wrong, those things are important.) But if I spend my evening reading, does that show my actions don't match my priorities, or does it show that downtime - recharging my batteries - is a real and true priority in my life?

    I think in a lot of cases, we may not understand what our innermost priorities are. Maybe you spend so much time emailing or playing on social media because connecting with people is a priority for you. Maybe my mother spends so much time worrying about me because security is a priority for her. This post has definitely given me a lot of food for thought.

    Do you feel that your 'experiment' has changed your actions or your priorities?

  2. Good comment, thanks Jen! You're right that it's not a 1:1 correlation. There can be an underlying reason for some of the activities I choose. The time I spend vegging on social media is probably a function of the low position sleep occupies on my priority list. I'm sure I'd be more ready to read a very edifying book if I wasn't mentally beat from a long, busy day.

    Have my actions or priorities changed as a result of my time journalling? Not yet, but it HAS made me more self aware, which is certainly the first step in that direction.