By Marty Nemko
Since I was a young child, I have suffered from a fear of dying young. While this has draped a pall over my life, it has yielded one silver lining: it has made me appreciate time.
Because I’ve so long obsessed about how to make the most of time, I’ve had many years to acquire strategies for making the most of each moment. These are the most important:
Have a little voice always whispering in your ear, “Is this the best use of your time?” That translates to thoughts such as, “Is there a more time-effective way for me to write this column?” Is it really worth taking the time to go to my cousin’s wedding?” “Golf is fun but it’s too much of a time suck. So’s TV.”
Have a personal mission statement and allocate your time accordingly. Mine is: “To use my best skill—the ability to communicate verbally and in writing—in the service of helping people with their work lives, exposing higher education as America’s most overrated product, and advocating for the most unfairly maligned group: men.”
I used that personal mission statement in crafting my career, and on the micro level, in choosing what discretionary tasks I want to take on.
Work to the sweet spot of time-effectiveness. For example, if, in writing a column, I could do a good job in a half day, a very good job in a day, and an excellent job in two days, I’ll probably aim for getting it done in a day. Why wouldn’t I shoot for excellence? Because I could write a whole other very good column in that second day, and I believe two very good columns does more for the world than one excellent one. Besides, I find the act of completion pleasurable. It feels better to get two columns done in two days than one.
Of course, occasionally, as with the book I just finished writing, The Silenced Majority, which I am now trying to get published, I’ve spent all the time necessary to make it as good as possible. Getting it published is very important to me and its thesis is controversial—that men and boys are, today, treated less fairly than women--so the only chance of getting it published is if it is as excellent as I can make it.
Work at home. Most people who live in the suburbs spend an hour or two of their day’s best hours merely getting to and from work. So, it became non-negotiable for me to work at home.
Be kind in a time-efficient way. My dear neighbor, Ray Mattoon, was an Army colonel and after he retired, got a PhD in philosophy. I asked him what he thought the meaning of life is. He said, “Be kind. That’s it.” But kindness usually takes lots of time: volunteering for good causes, nursing a friend back to health, etc. How do I reconcile my desire to be kind with my desire to make the most of my time? I generally confine my kindness to acts requiring little time. For example, when I see someone doing something praiseworthy, I make a point of complimenting them, whether it’s a colleague (or my wife) who makes a good point, a supermarket clerk who packs my bags carefully, or the Earthlink technical support person who calmed me down.
Advice I’d Give My Child
Young people tend to think money is more important than time. It’s not.
P.S. Any of you wish I spent more time working on this column?
© Marty Nemko 2004-2017. Usage Rights