How do you 'seize' the day?

2020-05-11 This post is over 2 years old

Some leadership training I received introduced me to the concept of ‘Time-boxing’. In this context, I mean the act of putting appointments on your calendar with yourself. These protect that time for an intentional activity. Coupled with this concept was a labeling scheme for such time-boxes. Specifically, Proactive and Reactive time.

Proactive - Acting in advance to deal with an expected difficulty; anticipatory.

Proactive time is just as it sounds. It is time spent acting in advance, or on a plan made in advance to address expected challenges. This can be time in strategic thinking. Or it can be time to intentionally improve yourself such as online training. You can think of Proactive time as the time you spend preparing for the future. This covers planning but also covers maintaining existing systems to support effective work. Sharpening the axe if you will.

Critically, Proactive time doesn’t usually ‘just happen’. While it is among the most valuable time, it is seldom hard and fast. If you are familiar with the Eisenhower square, think the Important, Non-Urgent quadrant. I find it most closely associated with Proactive time. But you can get a clearer idea of what activity belongs in this category is you see it’s counterpart, Reactive time.

Reactive - readily responsive to a stimulus

Reactive time is not inherently bad! But is it characterized by the act of responding to the world. It is time spend reacting to the situation, rather than getting ahead of it. In development, consider that moment when a bug is discovered in your previous story. Many of us working on the current task, to jump on the bug. Or maybe your colleague is having trouble, so you go to help. In both these cases you’re responding to interruption. But Reactive time doesn’t require an interruption.

You could run into a case where a previous interruption suddenly crunches your schedule. Then what had 4 hours to be done, now has 2. And the entire 2 hours are spent reactively, even if the plan had been to do that work all along. This kind of experience highlights the most terrifying nature of Reactive time. It has the tendency to fill or consume all available space. I recall vividly the horror and frustration I experienced upon witnessing this.

I had just learned the concepts, and smugly thought I knew how to control my time. The very next day I had planned time to easily complete my work and even complete the homework for the training. Only that didn’t happen. I walked in to work in the morning to a significant production issue. That issue consumed my entire morning. We did solve the problem. But when we dug into the cause, we found that poor maintenance had caused the issue. Best laid plans I guess.

Horror stories aside, I realized that ,as with all monsters, knowing the name of the beast gives one power over it. As soon as I learned the concept of categorized time, I was able to see much more how my time… my life sometimes slipped away from me. For me personally, that thought frustrated me. It is my stance to avoid waste, especially the waste of life, in terms of time, at all cost. Expenditure is a requirement however. We each get one second at a time, and have to spend it, or lose it. The trick is protecting the seconds you need to spend to build, so they are not consumed by urgency.

I hope this idea, even if its not new to you, gives you food for thought. I found naming how I spend my minutes helped me to build better days. But as they say, seeing is believing. If you want to see, but don’t know where to start, try this;

Seizing the Day

Today, and for as long after that as you like, track what you are doing on a 15minute basis. Very simple, just do it somewhere you can review it at the end of the day. Record the time and what you did. The trick here is be consistent, and don’t worry about whether it is Proactive, or Reactive yet.

At the end of each day you do this, review your entries. Label each 15 minutes with Proactive, Reactive, or Other. I usually file the commute to and from work as Other, unless I intentionally used it to listen to a podcast to build me up. Once you’ve labelled consider how your day was spent. Here are some questions to help:

  • Was it the way you wanted to spend it?
  • Did you plan proactive time, only to have it interrupted?
  • What caused the interruption?
  • How might you reduce or eliminate that interruption in the future?

If this helps, share it with someone you care about. The only way we can be ourselves, is with control over our lives, and that starts with each gifted second. Go and spend yours well!