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It's About Time

Welcome to September. I don’t know about you, but this month always seems to take me by surprise. And this year is certainly no exception. 

 

I’ve come to realize that, as we grow older, it’s typical to think more and more about the passage of time. The idea that life seems to speed up each year is one that causes me - and nearly everyone my age or older - to lament in disbelief. We are mystified by the acceleration. Baffled, even. 

 

And, whether we understand it or not, it’s happening. 

 

The best rationale I’ve heard to explain this phenomenon is: the longer we’re alive, each day that passes represents a smaller and smaller percentage of our total time on earth - just as 1/365 is a much larger number than 1/7,665. The number of hours in each day remain the same but our perception of their length changes. While this makes sense to me intellectually, it does nothing to explain the feelings that come along with knowing that there’s no stopping the intensifying march of time. 

 

For me, these feelings include, but are not limited to, a persistent low-grade panic, a deep-rooted reverence for productivity, and an unseemly obsession with to-do lists. After all, if we’re to make the very most of our rapidly diminishing time, we need to do as much as possible, right? 

 

Maybe not. 

 

Extreme productivity, it seems, can be a trap; a way to keep ourselves toiling over the details so that we don’t have enough time left over to contemplate the big picture. As long as we remain hyper focused on things like crossing off tasks or reaching “inbox zero,” we spend our precious time on too many of the wrong things and not enough on the activities that will have the most meaningful effects.  

 

 

“The average human lifespan is absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short.” - Oliver Burkeman

 

In his book, “Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals,” author Oliver Burkeman asserts that life is outrageously short and we will never do a fraction of the things we can or want to do with our lives. So, he says, and I’m paraphrasing, the key is to do less of the wrong things in order to focus on the most important projects/ideas - to the exclusion of everything else. I am only about a third of the way through the book but it has already started to shift my perspective about what I “plan to do with [my] one wild and precious life,” as in Mary Oliver’s famous quote. It’s a refreshing new take on the usual discussion of time management and I appreciate the author’s rather blunt, realist point-of-view (for example, the introduction is titled: In the Long Run, We’re All Dead.)

 

Burkeman's book often reinforces the type of messages that I deliver in my courses and consultations with nonprofit leaders, which can be summed up this way: when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Many of today’s executive directors are caught up in the idea that their organizations must be everything to everyone and, at the same time, they are understaffed and under resourced. An equation that adds up to manic busy-ness, toxic productivity, and daunting overwhelm. What’s worse, it prevents them from seeing - and taking actions that will affect - the bigger picture.

 

But it goes deeper than merely prioritizing tasks, chunking time, or any of the many popular (and often helpful) time management techniques touted by experts. It's about asking, "what's the point?" in a slightly existential yet wholly practical way. 

 

Contemplating your own thoughts and feelings about time and its management is a great place to start when considering how to be the most effective in your nonprofit leadership role. I suspect that the conditions that make one’s own life meaningful/ impactful are the same for organizations: being supremely selective in your focus - at all costs. 

 

Want to talk big-picture about your organization and find ways to make your team's efforts more impactful? Text me.

 

P.S. 

Relating to time management, there's the opinion that having a bucket list only adds to our angst about the passage of time and what's truly important to "accomplish" in our lives. The comedy duo of French and Saunders (you may remember Saunders from the 90's British sit-com "Absolutely Fabulous") devoted one of their "Titting About: Season 2" podcast episodes to bucket lists and it had me laughing out loud. Enjoy: 

 

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