This is Part X, the conclusion, of the “168-Hour” series addressing how leaders spend their available 168 hours per week to grow and develop. You can begin this series with Part I, here.
By Andrew Steadman, author of The Military Leader
Writing about time can make a person a bit of an existentialist. The act of tallying and cataloging (not to mention publishing) life’s activities into discreet portions inspires a notion that there is freedom and control over those activities: “I choose to get seven hours of sleep every night and make it so.” “I leave work at 5:30 everyday.” “I get up at 4am to read. And I never miss a morning because I’m hungover from the St. Patrick’s Day party…” This averaging process grants more credit than most of us deserve.
Generally, I am not as disciplined as I want to be, nor as focused, nor as productive. I have plenty of projects and ideas out there, many in Evernote and Moleskine, just waiting to be brought forth. And I always seem to be fighting for time to accomplish them. Perhaps, though, the enemy is not a lack of time, but a lack of focus. Even when I do allot the requisite time to accomplish the next important thing, the unceasing rush of shiny objects sabotages my intent.
What I am immensely grateful for, however, is a trait that I cannot remember actively cultivating. I like to think I have been fairly successful at segregating the most important parts of life from the not as important parts of life. Put more plainly, I am good at being present. I rarely let work detract from family. Though not equitably spent – it is folly to seek true balance – I’m at work when I’m at work and home when I’m home. This more than anything else, has led to maintaining my and my family’s collective sanity through 6 changes of duty station in 7 years.
My wife and I sometimes reminisce about how much “nothing” we used to partake in. Dating in Europe, we had the freedom to sit down for an afternoon movie or hop a flight to anywhere and spend an entire day in the hotel, vegging. I’d often disappear for hours on my bike in the Bavarian countryside – it was glorious.
That was before marriage and kids, of course. Nowadays, that long Saturday morning ride carries a higher cost. Kids stifle adult hobbies, and that’s ok.
To do those extra things (i.e. anything besides work and family), I have to fight for time. Producing content for The Military Leader is important to me, so I get up early to write. Fitness is vital, so I make it my “thing” I have to do on the weekends.
I used to consume a lot more knowledge than I do now – I’d spend hours reading at Starbucks. I try to make up for it by combining activities whenever I can. I fill life’s “dead space” with audiobooks and podcasts when I’m on a run or in the car. I’ve intentionally limited my Twitter & email feeds to content that matters and can give me a quick dose of insight when I have a moment.
I am very intentional about this learning process. It’s one of the most important things I do for myself. My top StrengthsFinder attribute is Achiever, which means I’ll get antsy if I go too long without making some forward progress towards my goals. Plus, if I don’t pay close attention to my growth habits, I’m sure I’d end up lost in Facebook for hours, which gets me nowhere.
Finally, there’s another trait necessary for achieving “success” when it comes to time: the ability to not beat myself up when I’m less efficient, less productive, and less focused than I intend to be. I’ve accepted that my ambition will forever outpace my ability, so there will always be more projects to do, more books to read, more posts to write. I don’t feel bad about not getting to all of it in my short 168.
What I’ll offer here is a broad generalization of my week, then a few quotes about time that I found interesting.
Sleeping (42 hours/week): I hate the feeling of being behind on sleep because I know I’m not at my best. So more often than not, I decline the invitation to watch an episode of This is Us and simply go to bed at 2130. I’ll sacrifice morning writing to get good sleep. I typically set my alarm for 0400, earlier if I have a thought I need to develop in depth. I wake up to “Elpida” by Alain Lefevre, “Porz Goret” by Yann Tiersen, or Zoe Keating. My back up alarm is “Can’t Stop” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Wake-Up (3.5 hours/week): Start wife’s iced coffee, shave (etc.), make my coffee, say hi to Alexa.
Producing Content (7 hours/week): I used to write more, before battalion command. My last job had a lot of airplane time and I’d fall asleep for takeoff and typically read/write the rest of the time. If you want a glimpse into my writing process for The Military Leader, check out this post.
Travel Time…aka Learning Time (10.5 hours/week): With regards to learning, I’m fortunate to have a longer commute (90 minutes per day). I have a lineup of podcasts and audiobooks to that I’ll never complete. Almost exclusively, I listen to military, history, and leadership books. My podcast list is: Seth Godin, Story Brand, Leaders Huddle, Hardcore History, Dose of Leadership, Entrepreneur on Fire, How I Built This, Lead to Win, Pritzker Military Museum, ProBlogger, Revisionist History, TED Talks, Action Catalyst, EntreLeadership, The Learning Leader, Modern War Institute, The Spear, The Strategy Bridge, Tim Ferriss, and War on the Rocks. When I release it this summer, I’ll happily add the The Military Leader Podcast subscription list.
Physical Fitness (10.5 hours/week): Standard 90 minutes-ish of Army PT per day. If I’m training for a marathon or something, I’ll log more hours. This year, it’s the Seattle to Portland bike ride in July.
Army Time (73.5 hours/week, 80.5 if you count Army PT): Coming into command, I thought I’d want to do a huddle first thing, at 0600. But I’m finding more and more that I don’t want to jump into business right away and have slid those huddles to later in the morning. Breakfast in the chow hall at 0845, after PT and walking around to visit with the companies and staff.
The modern Army work day is high velocity distraction interrupted by meetings about boring statistics. The best times are going to the range and doing leader development sessions. I intentionally try to avoid being seen as a workaholic. It’s probably to my detriment, but I really dislike email and ignore it whenever possible. I typically leave work around 1800, but could probably leave earlier.
Family Time (21 hours/week): I get home, change, and pour a drink. Vodka Tonic or Old Fashioned, depending on the day. The evening family time is almost always free of work distraction, save the occasional serious Soldier incident. Dinner together at the table is always a fun time to hear the day’s school stories. “Pajamas, pull-ups, potty, and teeth” for the girls, then we watch an episode of Veggie Tales before bed. (We did away with cable TV, mostly for the money but also because it invited so much lazy time.) I usually drift off while putting the girls down and crash soon after. My wife and I really wish we had more time to ourselves but this stage in life is really not allowing it.
Finally, here are a few inspirational thoughts on time that challenged me. Any insight that inspires you to live your life more fully is a worthy insight indeed.
“It’s worth making time to find the things that really stir your soul. That’s what makes you really feel alive. You have to say ‘no’ to the other things you’re use to, and do it with all your heart.” —Roy T. Bennett
“Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” —M. Scott Peck
“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be
exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” —Henry David Thoreau
“Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same
number of hours and minutes every day. Rich people can’t buy more hours. Scientists can’t invent new minutes. And you can’t save time and spend it another day. Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving. No matter how much time you’ve wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow.” —Denis Waitley
“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.” —Seneca
“Five minutes are enough to dream a whole life, that is how relative time is.” —Mario Benedetti
“Inelegantly, and without my consent, time passed.” —Miranda July
“When you are measuring life, you are not living it.” —Mitch Albom
Andrew Steadman is a husband, father, Army Infantry officer, and creator of The Military Leader, a blog dedicated to sharing insight for leaders who want to grow themselves and their teams. Along with several talented writers, he also helped found The Military Writers Guild. Andrew plans to publish a book and podcast, after he finds the time to finish both.
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