Why Humans Keep Butting Heads with Their Own Time Management Problems

Question: How many times do we find ourselves saying, “I'd do it if I just had enough time”?

Answer: We have enough time, but we load it with commitments. We arrange commitments according to their priorities in our lives. In essence, time reflects our values. However, planning our lives is not that simple. New priorities emerge as new events occur. We react by rearranging schedules. One wonders if people consider rearranging priorities first in order to determine how to rearrange commitments.

A Tragic Case in Point

Rush, a Canadian power rock trio, has been together for 35-plus years. In 2012, the band released its 20th album and toured the world to promote it (all members aged 60-plus).

Rush has holds a very rare place music achievement. Its initial fans are now introducing their own kids to the group's music. While this may be a no-brainer, there are two powerful, and relevant, stories within. First, Rush has endured as an independent recording artist for its entire career. Fans tell their kids that individuals can reach dreams on their own terms.

However, let's not get too drippy about it. The band started its own record label, in 1974, when no established record company would touch its music. Manager Ray Daniels formed a record company, and sold distribution rights to an American label based in Chicago. Reps at Mercury Records put so much pressure on Rush to develop a more commercial sound, that the group released “2112”: the antithesis of everything the label wanted. The band's thinking was simple: we'd be better off going back to day jobs with integrity intact than to give the bastards something commercial.

Ironically, Rush's defiance sparked fan reaction. “2112” went through the roof, Mercury Records had become tremendously pleased with the band's new direction, and Rush was off and running. Once signed to a new record deal, Rush would release a new album (on average) each year for 15 years. The band's thinking was almost as simple: the deal guarantees artistic freedom and, besides, we won't last that long…

Never underestimate the power of fan loyalty. Rush lived for many years as a touring act which pit-stopped in Toronto (home) to acquiesce with family, get back in the studio to record a new album, and get back on the road for another nine or 10 months. The band's thinking was rational: once this deal is up, we'll have all the time in the world to make it up to our families and put Rush on the back burner.

For Rush, time was measured not by days, months or years, but by albums, tours and shows. Time was precious, because it was defined by commitments.

Summer 1996: Rush concluded its “Test for Echo” world tour, and “make-it-up-to-our-families” time had come. All band members had children who were reaching young adulthood. Drummer Neil Peart and his wife, Jackie, had one daughter: Selena Taylor. She had just finished high school and was planning to attend the University of Toronto.

August 10, 1997: Neil and Jackie were awakened in the night by the headlights of an Ontario Provincial Police car coming up the family driveway. They had kissed their daughter several hours earlier and wished her safe passage on an overnight drive to the big city, and an exciting new future.

The deputy handed Jackie and Neil every parent's worst nightmare. A police incident report detailed how their daughter's Jeep had an accident on an icy highway: “dead at the scene.”

Time is precious, indeed. How we spend it is even more precious. In their youth, members of Rush presumed that life would be there when the band concluded its work. Tragedy struck on its own time. The band went on sabbatical. Jackie Taylor, grieving mother, succumbed to cancer 16 months after her daughter's death. Neil Peart, grieving father and husband, climbed aboard his motorcycle to undertake a 55,000-mile trek to answer some critical questions: what should I do? How do I cope with plenty of time, but no family?

At the point of departure, Neil Peart had no plan. No destination. No sense of time in a life defined by it (professionally and otherwise).

Time Budgeting for a Lifetime

  • Define priorities: personal and career.
  • Arrange priorities in descending order of importance.
  • List goals that will fulfil priorities.
  • Set a timeframe for achieving the goals.
  • List tasks for achieving each goal in descending order of importance.

Working hard is not necessarily working smart. How many times have you put off doing something for lack of time? Most people have done this often. It's a natural by-product of too many commitments and little time for them.

However, one question helps to clarify the priorities which fuel our sense of purpose each day: how much time do you think you have? Don't over-estimate in answer, or life may teach you otherwise. Plan well, live well.

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