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I have a friend who actually knows how to work all the functions on his Ironman watch – you know, the timer, the split-lap timer, the alarm, the countdown timer. I don’t know if it’s an obsession with him, or simply something he does to keep himself amused, but he times everything. He can tell you how long it takes his coffeepot to finish making coffee and how long a particular traffic light stays red.


Perhaps with his example in mind, I’ve recently started looking at how long certain tasks take – especially the ones I don’t really want to do. Not being as familiar with my (much less fancy) watch’s functions, I take the cruder approach of simply writing down when I start something, and then noting when it’s done.

It turns out, somewhat to my embarrassment, that I’ve been spending far more time debating with myself over whether to do these tasks than it actually takes to complete them once I get moving. For instance, my grumbling over the cat fur on the floor may last for days before I finally drag out the vacuum cleaner and spend eight minutes – eight minutes! – vacuuming the house. Mowing the lawn? Fifteen minutes apiece front and back, with another fifteen minutes each if I edge and weed-whack.


Suddenly, my productivity horizons have opened wide. Why am I pouring my valuable energy into procrastination and complaints, if it truly only takes a few minutes to do what I’m fussing about?


As a nation, we are working longer and longer hours and – predictably enough – accomplishing less and less. Work-life balance is suddenly important enough that multi-million-dollar corporations are hiring external consultants and trainers to conduct work-life studies and workshops, and featuring the results on the human-resources pages of their websites. Time management and personal productivity are long past being trendy; they’ve become so ingrained in corporate culture that they’re clichés. And as a nation, we continue struggling with overwhelm, stress, and guilt – guilt that we’re not doing enough for our families or our careers, never mind how and if we’re taking care of ourselves.


We all have a different tolerance for the level of overwhelm we can handle. I’m certainly not suggesting that overwhelm would vanish if we eliminated procrastination and grumbling (if that were even possible!). And I’m well aware that a certain amount of procrastination is simply part of the creative process.


I do wonder, though, how much productivity is being poured into avoidance rather than accomplishment. I know I’m certainly taking a closer look at how I’m spending my time, especially on those days when my to-do list seems to be multiplying alarmingly. And I challenge you to examine your day and ask yourself the simple question: What one thing can I do right now that will bring me closer to my goal?


Then do it! (And let me know how long it takes!)


“Action is at bottom a swinging and flailing of the arms to regain one’s balance and keep afloat.” Eric Hoffer, 1902 – 1983; American longshoreman, philosopher, and author.



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