Thursday, March 26, 2015

Clock Management

About a month or so into our relationship, Phil took the meaningful next step of asking me to meet one of his best friends. They had a kind of friendship that spanned the test of time from childhood to adulthood, and came with its own language and shorthand. 

Soon, they started talking about clock management. It was a throwback reference to the hours they would spend in front of the NBA as children, watching teams manage the final minutes and seconds of the game. Are you ahead or behind? Do you hold the ball and use the clock to your advantage, slowing the game down, or are you eager to make up points and try to race the clock while time seems to speed up and away? In a nutshell, this is clock management. I had not spent my formative years watching the NBA or on a court. The concept of manipulating time in this way was as foreign to me as their secret bromance language with each other.

Now, nearly ten years later, I think often about that conversation and how much more acutely I am aware of clock management. This house is my court, and I am working those minutes on the clock each and every day. Am I ahead or behind? Time is the one thing I just can’t seem to get my arms around on any given day.

Time.

As a parent, my relationship with time has never been as complicated as it is now. The days are so short and yet so long. All I want is for everyone to go to bed and then they go to bed and there is still more to do. I trip across a box of baby clothes that everyone has outgrown that is on its way down to the basement. It makes me long for that time. But I’m too busy trying to make up minutes to get the last lunches packed to spend too much time being nostalgic for what’s already been lost at my feet. I seem to spend the entirety of my day both trying to stop it and speed it up simultaneously.

But perhaps now I finally see that the crux of the problem is that I really can’t do anything about any of it at all. I will never be able to squeeze any more minutes out of this day, or this moment. And in fact it is this rather singular focus on it – the fastness – the slowness – the “is”ness of it is that is exhausting me. But I can control and renew my energy.

This mind shift is the central argument of an old Harvard Business Review article that I’ve been rereading recently called “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.” This quote in particular is the one turning over and over in my head: “The core problem with working longer hours is that time is a finite resource. Energy is a different story.” As the authors describe, “… energy comes from four main wellsprings in human beings: the body, emotions, mind, and spirit.”

I think about what I store on any given day toward my energy stockpile. When Hope was born, I promised myself that no matter what I would start every day with a shower and a cup of coffee. I would make sure I had those precious sips or that 3 minute shower each and every day. No matter how much I needed to slow the clock or speed it all up, I would find this time to give my body and mind the jolt it needed to launch myself into the day.

It is my emotional and spiritual buckets that are trickier and more difficult to wrap my head around. I have a harder time connecting concrete actions to things that renew and nurture messy things like feelings. Also, these are the two that are legitimately always easier for me to de-prioritize. I need to get to the grocery store, change that diaper, do that load of laundry, or pick everyone up from school. I’ll prioritize my spirit later.

But what the authors argue is that if you legitimately find ways to prioritize and renew yourself in each area on a daily basis, you will actually be infinitely more productive. They contend that the key to being productive and successful has everything to do with the investments we make toward becoming our most well rested, happiest, healthiest, and generally well rounded versions of ourselves and little or no correlation with how much time we spend or try to spend on our to-dos.

It is a stunning takeaway, this idea that the key to clock management might have little or nothing to do with the clock at all. Perhaps the question was never am I ahead or behind, but rather, how am I?

If I take time to write, it might mean I miss playing super Mario with my daughter. But if I give myself these 30 minutes now, the next 4 in the shower and 2 more with my coffee, what will that investment mean on the whole for the day? Maybe it will mean I have the energy or strength to plow forward and face as much of the inevitable transactional and task oriented stuff that life generally throws at you. Or maybe it means I will be happy enough to not care whether or not I get it all done. Either way, it beats the hell out of trying to beat that clock.

So this morning it’s 9:32. That precious cup of coffee is still warm but mostly empty. The baby is taking a little morning power nap while the older two indulge in weekend Wii time. Daddy is at the gym and mommy is alone with her thoughts and her laptop. Quiet, predictability, coffee: I mentally visualize filling up some of those buckets. The shower is up next. I know that by 10AM the baby will be up and the video games will be off and we will all be thrust into the usual hustle and bustle of our day. I whisper a silent prayer to myself for the opportunity to renew and recharge. I’ve got my coffee, my softest bathrobe, a fresh towel, and at least 28 minutes of uninterrupted showering/thinking time coming at me.

And let us say Amen.