In order to say Yes, You must first say No
I do not have infinite time. I have one life, and at each second, only one second to spent. Once spent, I cannot get it back, nor can I get my next second faster. Every man, including me, moves into the future at exactly the same pace. With the birth of my second son, I realized that my time was becoming scarce. To be more accurate, my un-allocated time was becoming scarce. No longer did I have the luxury of a few hours each day to laze about, and eventually figure out what I wanted to do. No longer could I ‘just happen’ to play with my eldest son. With growing concern, I realized that if I did not choose those who mattered, most would go unloved. The things which were most important would go undone.
But don’t lose hope yet! The Lord gave each man control over the moment he has. Each second, you can choose how to spend. You cannot choose to save it. Like sand running through your fingers, it will be lost if you try too hard to grasp it. Instead you can direct it. How? Where do you place your attention?
Are you reading? Are you talking to someone? Are you playing video-games, or watching TV? Each of theses is a choice. Even working is a choice. None of them are inherently bad. Playing games or watching TV may serve to relax you. But playing them at the expense of family time?
As I thought about my time, I realized that I hadn’t allocated my time in alignment with my stated priorities. Worse, there were whole blocks of time in the afternoon wherein I had ‘refused to decide’. I learned the hard way that making no decision is in fact a decision, and it cost me many hours I cannot reclaim.
But on the topic of the misaligned time, I realized much of the misaligned time was professional. There were many extracurricular activities which Improving supports and encourages. Most I greatly enjoy, like speaking at User Groups! I would label each of them good things to do. But looking at my time, I realized I couldn’t say yes to every good activity that came by. For one thing, I wouldn’t have time for my family. But for another, if I said yes to every good thing, I wouldn’t be able to say yes to a great thing.
I learned this the hard way. I had to pass up several opportunities I should have enjoyed. I had filled my time with good activities, not great ones. Now I honored my commitments. But decided to take a harder look at my plans over all. One of my mentors is fond of using ‘Either its a Heck Yes! or its a No’ to test whether to spend his time. I understood this idea in part before. But it hadn’t resonated with me, until I had the experience of missing what would have been a ‘Heck Yes!’. To make the space to even say ‘Heck Yes!’, I first had to say no.
I have one life to live, and I don’t want to miss any of it. I can’t save the seconds, but I can ensure they are well spent. Sometimes that will mean choosing not to spend them on every good things which comes across. I have grown to value the present much more. Recalling Kung Fu Panda’s Master Oogway, I cannot help but smirk.
“Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift… that is why they call it the present.”
By more closely guarding my time, I have more to spent on the important things. On those rare, beautiful moments of ‘Heck Yes!’.
P.S. For anyone interested, Derek Sivers inspired the ‘Heck Yes’ test I mentioned earlier. You can find his original concept here.