One of my jobs at home, in my pre-teen years, was to fill the woodbox each night during the winter, so that the fire in the living room stove had plenty of wood, especially on cold nights. Sometimes, I would dabble and dawdle in doing this chore and my mother would say, “Norman, please get the wood in now.” I would quickly reply, “I’m coming!” Then sometimes she would hold her thumb up, squint at it and say, “I have to sight past a fence post to see you move.”
I learned early that the WHO and the WHAT of my tasks were quite clear, but I could figure out how to fudge the WHEN, to stretch time out like a rubber band. I thought time would never end back then. However, “mothers are the invention of necessity,” and she found ways to make the task more urgent for me.
For many years I’ve made these “3W lists” to get organized and get things done. Defining the first two — the WHO and WHAT — are rather easy, but adding the WHEN, and then doing it WHEN you commit to doing it, is often hard.
Likewise, it’s critical for an airplane descending to the runway to have a three-point landing: Left landing gear — check. Right landing gear — check. Front landing gear — Woops!
(Landing at Sitka, Alaska airport — Google images)
No significant change takes place, or is sustained, without a sense of urgency. John Kotter, in his popular management book, “The Heart of Change,” places “Increase Urgency” at the top of his 8-step list for bringing about significant change.
And this famous quote by Samuel Johnson portrays another kind of urgency:
“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
From “The Life of Samuel Johnson” by James Boswell
Since my cancer diagnosis a couple of weeks ago, my mind has started to concentrate more wonderfully as I rethink WHO I am, the WHATs that matters most, and to sense the reality that my WHENs may very well be shortened. I no longer sense that I can stretch time to do important things, whether to get my chores done, to write my personal history, to make restitution for wrongs committed, or to keep commitments omitted.
Two point landings: NOT good
Three point landings: GOOD
So, I’m making some important landings — some that I’ve put off as I circle the runway, predicting that I had time. Today my mother (who passed away in 1992) wouldn’t have to sight past a fence post to see me move. And I’m hoping that, rather than creating wreckage on the runway of life, I can make a final 3-point landing with courage, skill and grace — whenever that happens. If so, time won’t seem so important, or urgent, as it does today.
[In a post for another day, I'll propose that it's not about managing time, but about managing priorities and energy.]
[GTG-5.3 Showing Up]