A lot of my male friends have asked me in the past how it is that I can drive a truck 60 hours a week, publish two or three articles, play a couple gigs, spend time with my kids, work on a non-fiction book, and still find time to date.
And, if I had to be completely honest, some women, when I have approached them about dating, have asked me how I could possibly think I have time to date with all of that going on. The short answer comes down to “time management.”
Don’t get me wrong, the old-fashioned to-do list version of time management would never work for me. I practice what I consider to be mindful time management. The credit for mindful time management, I believe, goes back as far as Ben Franklin, who I have always considered to be, among all of his other accomplishments, one of the great pioneers of this school of thought.
He, as you may have heard, helped draft our countries Constitution, developed the American postal service, invented bi-focal lenses, and founded the University of Pennsylvania, as well as hundreds of other things. The guy was busy. So, let’s see how it was done:
Get up early.
Some of my favorite motivational speakers refer to being so passionate about life that you just want to stay up late and wake up early; but somehow I think they may be talking to younger folk. For those of us over 40, this might work for short spurts of time but if we want to stay healthy, we defer to the sage advice of Ben: early to bed, early to rise.
Of course, there are times when life just happens and we, despite our best efforts, cannot get into bed before midnight. I find that as long as I get at least six hours of sleep I’m fine and that usually amounts to still getting up when the birds start singing.
Set an intention for the day.
If you look at the autobiography of Ben Franklin, there is an actual photographic copy of his schedule appended inside. At the top left-hand corner of the page it says very clearly “the morning question: what good shall I do today?” I cannot stress enough how important it is to do this every morning. With the almost unlimited amount of distractions—technological and otherwise—that we run into every day, this is your best defense.
Make a plan.
Remember the photograph of Ben Franklin’s schedule I just told you about? Well, on the right-hand side at the top of the page it said, “Rise, wash, and address the Powerful Goodness; contrive day’s business and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study and breakfast.” There are many facets to that compound sentence but primarily it begins with showering, meditating, and making a plan.
This seems obvious but when was the last time you did that? I mean, honestly?
Prosecute the present study.
That’s just a fancy “old timey” way of saying that you should spend some time before you get down to the nuts and bolts of your bigger goals on some kind of independent study.
This could be learning a new song on your guitar, reading for 20 minutes to an hour, or writing poetry. Something to kind of kick off your creative functions while you are at your freshest. It is in this space where I am available to take in great information that usually kicks off my ideas for writing. I imagine it could have similar effects for you no matter what you are pursuing.
Block out sections of time.
Commit to a set amount of time every day to set to the business of “the work,” or what Franklin refers to as “the day’s business.” This, I need to adjust depending on what day it is but, generally speaking, I can always find an hour or two somewhere to actually produce something.
There have been days when I sit at that laptop without a single idea, but if I just get myself to write an opening paragraph, usually the next day I will have a completely fleshed out essay. This is a function of just being disciplined enough to not move until I have something down—no matter how incomplete it happens to be.
Returning to neutral.
At the end of each day, Franklin ate dinner, engaged in conversation, listened to music and, most importantly, “put things back in their places.” As hideously conventional as this is going to sound, nothing helps me to concentrate more than waking up to a clean apartment, an organized desk, and a rather large cup of java. If it was good enough for ol’ Benji, it’s good enough for me.
These ideas, at first blush, may come off as antiquated, or even counter-intuitive, but if you are having trouble making it happen in your own life, you may at least want to give it a go for a week or two and see if this helps.
While I am not generally bowled over by historic statesmen as a rule, I know greatness when I run into it. Franklin’s work ethic, prolificity, and tenacious manner with which he approached his day are things I have always aspired to; and while we never hear the term “mindfulness” attached to him, I fail to see it as anything else but that.