How much run time is running your life?

We often hear the word “run-time” but what does this word really mean? Technically, it refers to the time that a computer is running a program. Personally, I think of it as the time I spend running my computer and the time I must spend to deal with it. I have too much “run time” in my life. My computer often feels like it is running my life: emails, spam messages, viruses, run-time errors and other problems caused by this high-tech piece of equipment. I often joke that when I retire I am going to drop my computer into the biggest lake I can find or use it as a boat anchor while fishing.

We invent labor saving devices to save labor and they end up taking over our lives and costing us our sanity. Computers, cell phones, PDA’s and Blackberries have become Frankenstein like monsters. We can’t live without them. Some people take them to bed or even in their showers. They become an extra appendage. We have portable batteries and portable rechargers so that we never run out of energy for these devices. While the devices may never run out of energy, we sure do. Human beings were not designed to be run 24-7. We need downtime as well as runtime and even more rest time or perhaps some relaxation time. Our ubiquitous productive tools beep, ring, chirp, hiss and vibrate at us in a never ending chorus to get us to be more productive. Several popular science fiction stories have foretold the day when robots that take over and enslave civilization. Perhaps that day has already arrived.

Are you controlled by your computer or other labor saving productivity tool? Can you turn it off for a day or leave it home? What would happen if you did? Who will get mad at you if you do not answer their email today? How far behind the curve would you be if you did not answer your cell phone today? What might it do for your stress level if you had less “run-time” in your life? What if you had a “down time” day once a week? Do you have a cell-phone ringtone for compassion and kindness?

Well, folks, I am going to Belize today and will not be back until the 5th of April. I am going to get ten days of “downtime.” I will be back on the 5th and resume my blog then. Hopefully, I will use this time to think of some creative blog ideas and to rejuvenate my life. John

How about writing your eulogy today?

Have you ever written your eulogy? A eulogy is a formal memorial speech delivered when someone dies and usually at their funeral. We have all been to a funeral where we were very moved by the oration that a friend, family member or pastor gave. Most of the time, these were written after the person died. Sometimes they hit the mark and really describe the person and other times not as well. What someone would say about us, might not be what we would want to say ourselves. Unfortunately, there is no coming back after the fact to write our own eulogy. However, you can write one now.

Why would anyone want to write their own eulogy you might ask? Not because you will be better able to tell the truth about yourself; though this would be a pleasant change from the usual glowing eulogies. The answer is because it can help you to see what is most important in your life. It will help you to address the issue of whether you are really working towards what is important. When you are dead and buried will you be remembered for what you were trying to accomplish in life? Perhaps not! But perhaps thinking about what you would like to be remembered for now can help focus you on your goal.

This is a common exercise in many human relations classes. It is very simple. Just imagine that you are at your own funeral. The speaker is up on the podium getting ready to talk about you to the assemblage of friends and families. What would you like that person to say about you? What activities, events, goals and aspirations do you want to be remembered for? Write them all down. You have now written your own eulogy.

Now for the hard part! Looking over your eulogy, how does it sound? Is it realistic? Do you think someone would really say that about you now? Why or why not? What would you have to do to change in your life to make your eulogy real? How much time do you have to change your life around? It is never to late too start!

Do you understand process time?

Process time is a common term in business. When I first started doing TQM (Total Quality Management) consulting, it became very important to start thinking of everything in business as a process. The key to process consulting was to believe that all processes could be improved if they were first understood. Using TQM methods, we could better understand all organizational processes and continuously improve them thereby lowering costs, improving productivity and increasing customer satisfaction. The atom of business was the process and to understand the business, you had to understand the core processes.

I soon came to realize that these same concepts could be used to improve my personal and family life. I began to realize that everything we do in life is a process and that by better understanding those key processes that affect my life, I could also continuously improve my family and personal life. There are communication processes, argument resolution processes, financial processes, vacation time processes, family together time processes, personal growth processes, child rearing processes, retirement processes and many others. The more I understand them and how they can be continually improved, the better my life is. Indeed, by applying the same principles to may life that make a business successful, I have learned to improve my life and vice versa. Whatever affects my personal life affects my business life.

The task of “process understanding” is not an easy one. In fact, it is never ending. There is always more to be understood when studying a process. The major consideration is that you never have to be perfect. The more you understand the better things will get. We spend all of our lives engaged in process time activities. It only makes sense to look at what we are doing and try to find a better way to do it. What key processes affect your life? Which of these are you improving and which of these are you ignoring? Why are you ignoring them? What processes could you do more work on to improve? How could you start? Would it make a difference in your life? Then why not start now? Who could help you get started?

How much "Dead Time" do you have?

What does it mean when we say it is: “Dead Time?” One definition is: “Dead time is the time on a job lost by a worker without his fault.” A second definition deals with time that cannot be recorded between two events as measured by some type of electronic measuring device. Dead time for us personally seems to be the time in our lives when we cannot accomplish anything due to some problem or failure that literally stops time for us. In my life, dead time is the time just before I fall asleep or the time when I am waiting in traffic and cannot do any work. It is the time that it takes in the morning for my mind and body to start functioning.

Each of us has many examples of dead time in our lives. Some of us have more of it then others. Often, we try to find ways to make such dead time productive but it is not always possible to do so. Cell phones have enabled a great many people to use the “dead time” while driving to and from work to make important business calls or transactions. Some people make this “dead time” productive by playing book CD’s in their tape drives and using the time to learn something or to be entertained. We have a great many instances of dead time in each of our lives. Some of these times are foreseeable and inevitable. Some happen randomly and unexpectedly. Like, when you are taking a short ride and get stuck in a major traffic jam. You can easily lose an hour or so when this happens.

How much dead time do you have in your life each day? What do you do with your dead time? Are you able to turn it into some productive use? Could you use it to relax or even to meditate? Few of us do enough relaxing or meditating. Either of these could be a very productive use of time. Does dead time really have to be dead? It all depends on your creativity.

How much downtime do you have?

Downtime! How that one word strikes joy in our hearts. Historically, it is derived from a machine or system that is no longer up and running. Today, it means that your computer system at work has crashed and you cannot get anything done. When IT systems crash today, we are all in a quandary with what to do during downtime. Nevertheless, there is real joy during periods of enforced downtime. The opposite of downtime is uptime. When was the last time you heard anybody excited about uptime? As in, “boy, I hope we can have more uptime today!” Not very likely! Uptime is taken for granted since uptime is when things are running normal and we are expected to be creative, productive and industrious. We cannot goof off during uptime since the machines and computers are running and all systems are set on go. Thus, we go, go, go. We become like machines ourselves, except we cannot turn off between 9-5 unless we have lunch or a scheduled break. Downtime gives us a brief but unexpected break from our daily tedium.

We may all need more downtime in our lives. However, downtime is not promoted as a value or as something to aspire to. Have you ever heard of anyone negotiating downtime in their contract? Have you ever heard of a Union arguing for more downtime? Downtime is regarded as the enemy of productivity. Vacations, holidays, time off, sick days are all a form of “planned downtime.” However, many of us are too busy to take “planned downtime.” Some of us run and run until stress or illness forces downtime. The body takes over and says “enough is enough.” We all know people who never take breaks or who seem to always be on the go. Then the day comes when their system crashes and illness or stress puts them in bed or the hospital. Many of us do not take good care of ourselves to prevent stress and thus avoid “system downtime.”

Do you ever plan your own downtime or do you wait until either you or your computer crashes? What stops you from taking a needed rest or unenforced period of downtime? Are you really so essential to the job or activity that you cannot take a break? Can the world live without you for a day or so? Stress is a major cause of illness and most of us have too much in our lives. Perhaps if you plan your own downtime today you can look forward to your uptime tomorrow.

Are you an analog or a digital person?

Digital time versus Analog time. Have you ever thought that the world could be divided into two kinds of information? Analog is where the information is a continuous flow. Examples are the old 33 1/3 LP records. Watches with a sweep hand are another example of analog time. Now we have digital CD’s and DVD’s which are numerically encoded. Watches with a sweep and hour hand are more of a fashion item today and many of us wear digital watches. Even digital watches are being replaced by those who use cell phones for their time needs. Movies are now becoming digitized where they had been primarily analog. The new 3D movies use digitization methods for their effects. Of course, computers are the essence of digitization. Everything we do with our computers is based on bytes and bits.

Digitization is remaking our world. While analog signals once ruled the information world, today we are living in a digital world where information flow is ruled by numbers. Does it make any difference? Some people argue that the old type of records had better fidelity than the new digital records. Many researchers find that qualitative information (interviews, focus groups) is more useful than the quantitative information found in surveys, Gallup Polls and other numerical rating systems. There are pro’s and con’s to each system but there is little doubt that digital signals are replacing analog signals in our emerging global interconnected marketplace.

In terms of personal time, are you a digital or an analog person? Digital people see the world broken into discrete increments of time, like minutes and seconds. Digital people must multi-task to manage their time. They cannot stop moving from texting to emailing to blogging to tweeting. Analog people see the world as a continuous stream of activities and events. Analog people go with the flow and tackle tasks one at a time. The analog person will rely on the phone or voice mail to make connections to the rest of the world.

If you are a digital person, how do you think your view would be changed today if you thought like an analog person? Vice versa, if you are an analog person, how do you think the world would look today to you if you thought like a digital person? Can you switch perspectives or do you find it impossible to think in such a contrary manner? How do you think your children see the world? Do they see it as a continuous flow of action or as a series of discrete events? Can you see the difference it makes in how we view the world and how each generation responds to it?

Are you obsessed with being on time?

Late-Late-Late! We all know people who are late all of the time. Late to events, late to work, and some would joke, even late to their own funerals. It is easy to find excuses for being late and we could each name a dozen “excuses.” People who are chronically late would call these reasons and not excuses. To those of us who make a point or habit of being on time, it is very difficult to tolerate the lateness of others. We see it as inconsiderate, rude and thoughtless. We see it as preventable with some advance planning and foresight. Nevertheless, we don’t seem to be decreasing incidents of lateness in the world or changing those who are chronically late.

Maybe, those of us who are chronically on time are the real problem. Was the world really meant to be run by a clock? Maybe the punctual have capitulated while the “latecomers” are the real rebels. Fighting against the dictates of the almighty clock and the culture of promptness ushered in by our advanced industrial and digital society. Perhaps, the “latecomers’ are living time in a more natural manner where life is based on cycles and not on a clock. The punctual person is driven by the time of day and the time designated by a tacit contract. The meeting will start at 8 AM. Be there or be late. The latecomer is driven by their own necessities and by an inner clock: “It is still dark out;”
“I am too tired to get up yet;” “So what if I come late, it’s not the end of the world;” “I have more important priorities;” or “I don’t feel like rushing.” The punctual person is horrified by these excuses: “What, I broke my neck to get here on time and the meeting was cancelled.” Life is not fair to the punctual person. But what do we tell our kids about the fairness of life?

Do you suppose hell is a place where everyone must be on time or suffer even worse punishments? Hard to imagine what could already be worse than hell. What happens to the late comers in hell then? What about the punctual? Are the places in heaven guaranteed only for the punctual? Can you be punctual and still go to hell?

As you go through today, how obsessed are you with being on time? Is there a place in your life for “time cycles” and not clock time? What if you are late? What difference will it make? Can you be late and not feel obsessed? What does it mean to walk a line between obsessive punctuality and perpetual lateness?

How do you perceive time in your life?

My “Perceived Flow of Time” changes depending on what I am going to do and when I do it. Perceived time is what time feels like for us on a personal level. It has nothing to do with what the clock says. It is a mental state regarding the flow of time in our individual lives. Perceived time can be slow or fast depending on our circumstances and what we are doing. For example, I seem to need at least eight hours of sleep during the workweek, however on the weekends, I am up about two hours earlier than during the workweek and I am anxious and ready to go. I don’t need as much time to sleep and I feel fuller of energy on less sleep. This is a mental message being sent by my brain to my body. I perceive my world of time differently on the weekend than I do during the week. This perception enables me to do more with less. I know that it is due to my expectations but it is interesting to see the extra energy I have when the time is all mine and I do not have one commitment and appointment after another. Weekends can fly by while weeks pass much more slowly.

My flow of time during the week is also very different from event to event. Time seems to drag by during some tasks and fly by during others. When I have to go out and run during the cold Minnesota winter, the minutes and miles seem to take much more effort and time then running during the late spring and early fall. When I am starting a new project and unsure about what to do, the time seems to flow by very slowly. Conversely, when I am really having fun with a task or really enjoying myself, time seems to pass in a flicker of thought.

Have you ever noticed how your perception of time changes depending on what you are doing and whom you are doing it with? Watch your time today. Don’t judge it or criticize it but just observe it. How does your flow of time seem to change for you? How is it different for you during the workweek and during the weekend? Does it change much? What do you think changes the flow of time for you? Are you satisfied with how time flows in your life? What would you like to change about it? What would you like to remain the same? Change your thoughts about time and you change the flow of time.

What if today was timeless?

Linear time is the means by which most of us think of time. We count our time from when we are born to when we die. We measure history as a series of events beginning with the first in recorded history to the most recent. By definition, by usage, by convenience and by all the other ways we measure time; it would appear to flow in a straight line and in only one direction. The direction is from the past to the future.

However, what if time were not always linear? Have you ever noticed how “time flies” when you are having fun or enjoying yourself? When this happens, time no longer seems to be linear. It is experienced as more of a happening. A happening is something that seems almost without measure or without the ability to sense any “flow” of time. During a “happening” events and time merge and we do not notice time passing by. Depending on the event, it could pass by in a flash or it could seem like it was standing still. A moment can sometimes seem like an eternity and an eternity can sometimes seem like a moment. When you are having fun, you do not notice time passing nor can you measure your fun in terms of minutes and seconds. Imagine someone telling you to have fun for 30 minutes or so and then stop.

Some of us might wish we had more of these happenings when time was non-existent. How many of you would like to stop the clock or get off the train someplace where no one knew or cared what time it was. Do you ever get tired of tracking the seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months and years of existence? What if there was no such thing as time? Sadly we would not have a recollection of some of the great moments in life. How often do you look back at past happenings and treasure them as timeless. We only wish they had never stopped or could be repeated again and again.

What if today could be a day without time for you? What if you did not have to think about time even once today? Could that possibly happen? Can you imagine a “timeless” day? If it was, what would your day be like? What would it take to help you to forget time today? What if you lived one second at a time and did not worry about the past or the future? Would your life be better or worse without time?

What is the cost of your soul?

Better-Faster-Cheaper, that’s the mantra for business and society in the 21st century. If we can’t do it, better, faster and cheaper, then some other company or country will. We are on a never ending treadmill where according to economists, we the consumer, benefit infinitely. We gain better and better products at lower and lower prices. Wal-Mart became the largest corporation in the world with its “Always the Lowest” strategy. We may complain about foreign goods and foreign workers and off-shoring jobs but it does not prevent us from buying the lowest priced goods we can find.

However, there are costs to this never ending gain which we have no way to calculate. There is more and more pressure to buy, buy, buy and spend, spend, spend. There is the gut level need to keep up with the Jones. There is the overwhelming obsession with having more and more stuff. Image takes precedence over substance. We live in a designer world with designer clothes, designer toys, designer dogs and designer people. We are all chasing an illusion of uniqueness through a maze of materialism. It is a game of smoke and mirrors and while we may think we are in a Fun House, it often is really a Mad House. We spend more than we can afford and more than we earn so we can present an image that reflects what the rest of the world thinks we should look like. We have t-shirts which read “shop till you drop” and “he who has the most toys win.” We lose our souls to gain a few more precious pieces of tomorrow’s obsolete junk.

Do material goods, regardless of quality, make us happier? No one wants inferior products, or to return to a primeval lifestyle, but how much is enough? Can we say, there are never enough goods and services? What about time? What about the quality of the time you spend in your pursuit of things? How much money would you give for one more year to live if you were going to die tomorrow? Are you calculating the cost of your time in your effort to be a designer person? What about the value of the time lost playing this game of trivial pursuit? Maybe we could find a mantra to live and work by that would focus more on happiness and less on things. What if we said that: “those who win have the most soul?” “What doth it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his own soul?” (Mark and Matthew in the New Testament)

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