all the wisdom I have gained, the most important is the
knowledge that time and health are two precious assets
that we rarely recognize or appreciate until they have
been depleted. As with health, time is the raw
material of life. You can use it wisely, waste it or
even kill it.
To accomplish all we are capable of, we would need a
hundred lifetimes. If we had forever in our mortal
lives, there would be no need to set goals, plan
effectively or set priorities. We could squander our
time and perhaps still manage to accomplish something, if
only by chance. Yet in reality, we're given only
this one life span on earth to do our earthly best.
Each human being now living has exactly 168 hours per
week. Scientists can't invent new minutes, and even
the super rich can't buy more hours. Queen Elizabeth
the First of England, the richest, most powerful woman on
earth of her era, whispered these final words on her
deathbed: "All my possessions for a moment of
We worry about things we want to do – but can't –
instead of doing the things we can do – but don't.
How often have you said to yourself, "Where did the
day go? I accomplished nothing," or "I can't
even remember what I did yesterday." That time is
gone, and you never get it back.
Staring at the compelling distractions on a television
screen is one of the major consumers of time. You
can enjoy and benefit from the very best it has to offer
in about seven total hours of viewing per week. But
the average person spends more than thirty hours per week
in a semi-stupor, escaping from the priorities and goals
he or she never gets around to setting. The irony is
that the people we are watching are having fun achieving
their own goals, making money, having us look at them
enjoying their careers.
Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving. No
matter how much time you've wasted in the past, you still
have an entire today. If you've just frittered away
an hour procrastinating, you will still be given the next
hour to start on priorities. Time management
contains one great paradox: No one has enough time,
and yet everyone has all there is. Time is not the
problem; the problem is separating the urgent from the
Every decision we make has an "opportunity
cost." Every decision forfeits all other
opportunities we had before we made it. We can't be
two places at the same time.
In their excellent management book Tradeoffs, Drs.
Greiff and Munter discuss the difficult options that face
us in all areas of our lives. One case in point
illustrates a common opportunity cost. It's a true
anecdote they call, "Bicycle vs. Mother":
"John is a precocious eight-year-old boy. Both
his parents work. His mother is a management
consultant and travels frequently. After being away
for several days, she arrived home late one night and
hugged her son.
He said, 'Mom, I missed you. Why were you away so long?'
She smiled and replied, 'One of the reasons I was away was
to make enough money to buy you the bicycle you wanted.'
Young John looked at her reflectively and stated, 'Mom, I
really did want the bicycle. But mothers are more
important than bicycles. So please stay home
Even though we all are aware of the tradeoffs of
"quality time vs. quantity time" in our
relationships, we are not used to thinking specifically
about how our decisions cost us other opportunities.
Without this understanding, our decisions will often be
unfocused and unrelated to helping us achieve our most
You may have heard the story about the analogy of the
"circus juggler" to each of us as we try to
balance our personal and professional priorities. I
have heard the story repeated by many keynote speakers and
have used it in previous books, but have never been able
to trace the identity of the original author.
When the circus juggler drops a ball, he lets it bounce
and picks it up on the next bounce without losing his
rhythm or concentration. He keeps right on
juggling. Many times we do the same thing. We
lose our jobs, but get another one on the first or second
bounce. We may drop the ball on a sale, an
opportunity to move ahead, or in a relationship, and we
either pick it up on the rebound or get a new one thrown
in to replace what we just dropped.
However, some of the balls or priorities we juggle don't
bounce. The more urgent priorities associated with
self-imposed deadlines and workloads have more elasticity
than the precious, delicate relationships which are as
fragile as fine crystal. Balance involves
distinguishing between the priorities we juggle that
bounce from the ones labeled "loved ones,"
"health," and "moral character" that
may shatter if we drop them.
The reason I always ask my seminar attendees to list the
benefits of reaching their goals is so they can arrange
them in the true order of importance to them and give them
a sufficient amount of attention as they juggle them
within their time constraints. Handle your
priorities with care. Some of them just don't
To live a rich, balanced life we need to be more in
conscious control of our habits and lifestyles.
Actualized individuals have a regular exercise routine.
They pay attention to nutrition, with lean source protein
and fiber-based carbohydrates as their basic food
choices. They relax through musical, cultural,
artistic, and family activities. They get sufficient
sleep and rest to meet the next day renewed and
In addition to blocking periods of time for recreation and
vacations, they also schedule large, uninterrupted periods
of work on their most important projects. Contrary to
popular notions, most books, works of art, invention, and
musical compositions are created during uninterrupted time
frames, not by a few lines, strokes, or notes every so
often. Every book or audio program I have written
has been done with the discipline of twelve to fifteen
hours per day during a specific block of time.
True enough, I may have sacrificed a ski trip or an escape
vacation once or twice. But by trying to focus on
prime projects in prime time, the opportunity costs have
been outweighed by the return on invested resources.
With your material, time and energy resources allocated
well, you should be able to use your innovative powers to
focus on goal achievement. Effective priority
management creates freedom. Freedom provides
opportunity to make decisions. We make our decisions
and our decisions, over time, make us.
Freedom from urgency. . . That's what will allow us to
live a rich and rewarding life. You may have thought
your problem was "time starvation," when in
truth, it was in the way you assigned priorities in your
decision-making process. Have you allowed the urgent
to crowd out the important?
Each day we will continue to encounter deadlines we must
meet and "fires," not necessarily of our own
making, we must put out. Endless urgent details will
always beg for attention, time and energy. What we
seldom realize is that the really important things in our
life don't make such strict demands on us, and therefore
we usually assign them a lower priority.
Our loved ones understand when we are preoccupied with our
urgent business, but it's hard for us to understand, many
years later, whey they appear preoccupied when we finally
find some time for them. Harry Chapin's classic
song, "The Cat's in the Cradle," is still a
mirror reflecting our priorities.
All the important arenas in our life are there awaiting
our decisions. But they don't beg us to give them
our time. The local university doesn't call us to
advance our education and improve our life skills.
I have never received a call or e-mail from the health
club I joined insisting that I show up and work out for
thirty minutes each day. My bathroom scale has never
insisted that I lose thirty pounds. The grocery
clerks have never made me put back on the shelves the junk
food I put in the cart, nor has a fast-food restaurant
ever refused me a double cheeseburger and large fries
because of my high cholesterol.
Nor have I ever been subpoenaed by the ocean or the
mountains to appear for relaxation and solitude. Yet
I receive hundreds of urgent phone messages and e-mails
each week from people with deadlines.
You see, it's the easiest thing in the world to neglect
the important and give in to the urgent. One of the
greatest skills you can ever develop in your life is not
only to tell the two apart, but to be able to assign the
correct amount of time to each.
Beginning right now, throughout the day, and every day
thereafter, stop and ask yourself this question:
"Is what I'm doing right now important to my health,
well-being and mission in life, and for my loved
ones?" Your affirmative answer will free you
forever, from the tyranny of the urgent.
with permission from the Denis Waitley Ezine. To
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