Have you ever been saved in the "nick" of time?

In the nick of time! There are still (I hope) some of us who remember those old time serials where the damsel in distress was saved by the strong handsome hero “in the nick of time.” Usually she was tied to a railroad track or to a log in a saw mill and screamed while her impending death came ever closer. Today, we might expect to actually see her cut in half by the sawmill blade or flattened by the freight train. We would call it reality cinema. Years ago, much more was left to the imagination in movies than is the case today. A nick indicates a very small unit, hence its use in conjunction with the concept of time. Dictionary.com defines the phrase “in the nick of time to mean: “at the right or vital moment, usually at the last possible moment.” The word derives from an older word “niche” which means a small part of something, as in a niche market. Thus, the phrase really combines too concepts, that of time and that of good fortune.

Another familiar example or case goes like this. An indigenous person (usually referred to as an Indian in the Old West) was about to scalp a settler (who was actually trespassing) when out of the blue, the US cavalry arrived “in the nick of time” to effect a rescue operation that obviously had not been well planned. Regardless that this may have happened many times, the settlers went on with their business as did the indigenous people. Can you imagine such a scene being played today in the movies? Time passes on and cowboy and Indian movies have become a relic of the past.

We still have last minute rescues; in fact, this idea is a staple of the cinema. However, the corniness of old screen rescues (not to mention the cast of villains) is today very different. Thus, while some things change with time, other things do not. In the nick of time is probably a phase with many more years of life left in it. When was the last time, you used this phrase or heard it used? When was the last time it had any relevance for you? Have you ever been “saved” in the nick of time?

Why one step at a time is the real secret to success?

One step at a time! You have probably heard this phase many times or variations of it such as: “Rome was not built in a day” or “The longest journey starts with the first step” or “Slow and steady wins the race.” It serves as a useful reminder for us not to try to “eat the elephant in one bite” or that “nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished overnight.” It may just be one of those rules we learn when we are so young that it has become part of the fabric of growing up along with fairy tales and other pithy sayings. Yet, if we all grow up with this rule embedded in our minds, then why do so many people think they can accomplish things overnight. Fame, fortune, friends, romance and countless material goods are pursued through a filter of instant gratification. We want these things and we want them now.

Have you ever bought and made “instant pudding?” Dr. Edward W. Deming (a noted quality improvement Guru) used this phase (instant pudding) to refer to his observation that managers always wanted new programs to work overnight. The program of the month reflected their ongoing search for some new program that could produce “instant pudding.” Some managers realize that they will need commitment and time to bring about change but many managers never seem to weary of their search for some new program that will instantly lower costs and improve quality.

Today, we find not only managers but an entire entertainment industry that depicts instant overnight success. This focus on American Idols and instant fame has the negative effect of allowing people to forget that hard work, practice and dedication are the chief ingredients for success. Instead, too many people seek success through lotteries, gambling, lawsuits and freebies that will require little effort or time. If Dr. Deming were alive, I am sure he would say our entire culture is obsessed with “instant pudding.” Is it any wonder, we need to keep reminding ourselves that one step at a time is the way to success. How soon we forget though. Walter Payton, one of the hardest working running backs in NFL history was asked what he would do over if he could play again and he replied “I would work harder.” Walter was also one of the most successful running backs in NFL history.

What have you put aside because it will take too long? Do you avoid certain goals because you don’t “have the time” or because the goals seem too far away? What could be different for you if you approached your life and goals “one step at a time?”

What if you could be anyone you wanted to for 24 hours?

What if you could be anybody you wanted to for one day? What if you could be a queen, king or princess for one day? To live 24 hours in the life of someone you idealize or someone you see as regal in the world. To be someone who is exalted and loved by others or admired the world over. Who would this be for you? What would you do with your 24 hours if you could suddenly become this person? What fantasies would you live out? What do you think your day would be like? Would you simply step into their shoes and live the day as they might live it? On the other hand, would you try to step out further into the world and see how they would be reacted to if they were to live your world? What if the “King or Queen” came to your house and drove your car and walked down the street in your neighborhood and you were that King or Queen? What if the famous movie star (You of course) came home to visit in your town and went to all of those fun places that you like to go to?

Imagine if there was an EBay for being someone else for a day? How many people do you think would bid on the opportunity? How much money would you bid to be famous or important? Most of us would probably like to see what it was like to live like a king or queen for a day. Our day would probably pass very quickly, but I think it might contain many surprises. We see the glamour of nobility and stardom but we often do not see the hidden problems and difficulties. Hollywood is not about reality but about creating fantasies. We do not see the body guards or the constant tension from being in the public eye. We do not see the stress of being a public figure and of having thousands of people who want and even demand our time. Think of having to act or be on twenty four hours a day. Think of never being left alone to just wander or take a walk in the park. Think of someone always wanting to meet you or have you sign something.

If you did become this person of your dreams, how many fantasies do you think you could you live in 24 hours? (For instance, going back to your old high school to visit) What would they be worth? Would you really have to be this person to live out these fantasies or could your life be more of an adventure that it now is? How many of us yearn for stardom because our own lives are boring and routine? What would it take to transform the next twenty four hours of your life into an adventure or fantasy? Could this 24 hour fantasy transform the rest of your life?

Once upon a time, you would like to wake up to find?

“Once upon a time” there were – hold it – why do all these old stories always start with “once upon a time?” Is there something special in these words? Does the line evoke certain images for you or certain feelings? I think you will probably answer: “Why, yes it does.” Somehow, the words “Once upon a time” have the power and magic to take us far far away to strange fantasy lands where good is battling evil. And despite how dark it might seem for the hero or heroine, in the end, we know that the evil King, Queen, Witch, Warlord or Dragon, will be defeated and the good guys (or good creatures) will live happily ever after. How many fairy tales were you told when you were a child that ended “happily ever after?”

“Once upon a time” takes us to a world where good always trumps evil. Who would not want to live in such a place? “Once upon a time” is a much sweeter opening line than “And now the six o’clock news.” Faced with the evening news, who would not want to escape to a magic kingdom that was someplace far far away? It is interesting that during hard times, people seem to want more fantasy stories with happy endings to escape too. Stories like the Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins were very popular during some tough economic and social times. We might call this escapism but it actually shows that humans can only handle so much bad news and after that we must have some happy news. Like the old axiom, “all work and no play makes Jane a dull girl”, it is likely true that all bad news and no good news makes us bitter and angry people. We must have fantasy and happiness in our lives or we shrivel up and become sour like old prunes.

What is your favorite story or fantasy land? Why? What dreams or fantasies does this story hold for you? Do you realize that none of these stories ever tells you what the time period was? The time they take place in is simply “once upon a time.” Where would you like to go now if you could go anyplace in time?

Do you have enough play-time in your life?

Play time (2). There is so much to be said about play time. The short entry yesterday only scratched the surface. Let’s spend more time on play time! Play is a time for relaxation, for recreation and for being non-goal oriented. If you look up the word “play” at http://www.dictionary.com , you will find nearly 100 different ways the word can be used. To attend a play, to play cards, to play a game, to play at something, to play music, etc. Most of our associations with play have to do with being non-work oriented and doing something that we regard as fun. We do not generally think of getting paid to play and there are not many jobs for playing except in the theater. If you were to be paid for playing, it would suddenly become task oriented and likely loose the element of fun.

During play time, time seems to disappear and we become much less aware of the passage of time. Play time is a time when we can forget time. We forget obligations, to do lists and demands on accountability. Time seems to fly by when we are having fun. You have probably noticed how fast weekends and vacations seem to go. When we play, we become so immersed in what we are doing that we do not notice or perhaps even care about the time that is passing by. There is some evidence it is important to have a time to relax and let the cares of the world be ignored. People who can play well and frequently do so will probably live happier if not longer lives. Most of us play well when we are children but as we become adults we forget how to play. We have to learn how to play again. We may become work-aholics as we age but you seldom see adults who are play-aholics. Can you imagine an AA group for play-aholics? That would be a group worth joining.

How well do you integrate play in your life? Does it happen for you on a daily, weekly or monthly basis? Do you get enough play time in your day to allow some of your stress to dissipate? Can you play and not feel guilty if all of your work is not done? How could you be even more playful in your life?

How much time do you have for play in your life?

Play time (1). Here we are about two thirds through the year and we are just now discussing play time. I suppose it is because I grew up with the Aesop story about the ants and the grasshopper. Most of us have heard that story but I think about it every single day. It is been etched not only into my mind but into the very fabric of my existence. “You must get your work done before you can play.” Later in life, I learned about the three boxes of life and discovered that if I was creative enough; I could integrate work, play and learning. I have tried to integrate that model in both my teaching and my consulting. Sometimes, I am successful but more often I am not. Nevertheless, I keep working on it and trying to make it a constant reality. On most days though, my mind keeps repeating the “you must get your work done first.”

Karen is very different, she can play and play and not feel guilty. When I play before I work, my guilt becomes overwhelming and feelings of some impending disaster are ever present. I suppose I think I will be left out in the cold (like the grasshopper) with nothing to eat. I once asked a group of gold-miners whom I was training what it would be like if they could integrate work, play and learning. I am not sure what I was expecting for answers but I was stunned by the following comment from one of the miners: “Well, it would be like there was no difference between Monday and Saturday.” Imagine, I could not have come up with a better description. We would not be able to tell the difference between the days of the week, because they would no longer have the same meaning to us. Life would be like Saturday all the time.

What is your conception of work and play and learning? Do you think they can be integrated? Are your Saturdays different from Mondays? What would it take to integrate them in your life?

The Demon of Time Management

Time management is a demon. When I first started this blog, everyone wanted to know if it was going to be a blog on time management. We can all relate to this topic since it is not only popular but ever present in our minds. How I can manage my time better, what are some secrets of time management, where can I find a good course on time management? How can I be successful if I cannot manage my time! My answer was NO! NO! NO! I am not writing a blog on time management. There are a gazillion books on time management. I am sick of the subject of time management. My good friend Sam P-W once told me that time management was the ultimate oxymoron. We think we can manage everything these days. We human beings somehow think “management” is our solution to all of the world’s problems. If we could only plan, organize, lead and control better, we could solve all of the world’s problems. Of course, the secret to doing all of these things better is time management. However, is it really the secret? Why do we all have to be so super organized?

What would happen if we created a class on “time mis-management?” You could earn a certificate in time mis-management. It almost sounds like something they could put you in jail for. “You have been accused by the state of “mis-managing” your time. You are sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.” We take the creed of time management so seriously that we cannot even contemplate the idea of it being feasible to mis-manage time. However, if you think about it, play is the ultimate mis-management of time. When was the last time you felt that you mis-managed your time? What did you do about it? Were you compulsive, contrite or penitent? Do you beat yourself up when you mis-manage your time? Why? Whose time is it to mis-manage anyway?

What if we could put a bell on time?

Time crept by on little cat’s feet. You hardly noticed it was gone. When you have too much time you are bored, when you have too little time, you want more. Like most of what we get, we never really value it until it is gone or until someone else wants what we have. We hardly notice the passing of time, the ticking of clocks or the ringing of church bells. Time is a paradox, a riddle and a conundrum NOT rolled up into one but twisted and tangled together until we cannot tell what is the beginning, middle or end. We alternately exult time then shortly after we malign it. We define it, and then decide it does not really exist; but through it all, time remains omnipotent and omnipresent in our lives.

So how can time be so stealthy and so cat like? If we belled time (like belling the cat), would we be more aware of its influence and presence in or lives? What if we could hear it coming and hear it leaving? Would we be forever warned or would we quickly learn to ignore the sound of the bell? I suspect that we might still take it for granted. We never really value time until it is running out. We have the most precious resource in the world and we ignore it unless we suddenly realize we will not have much more of it. We all know someone who had a heart attack and suddenly started taking care of themselves or someone who smoked until they were diagnosed with cancer. As a nation, we have repeatedly delayed taking action when needed until the crisis was in our face. We can get a hurricane warning and until the winds are blowing the trees down, we stubbornly resist taking action. It seems we need a crisis to galvanize us into action. And what is more of a crisis then finding out that our time is shorter than we thought on this earth.

How aware are you of the time in your life, the changing of the minutes, the passing of the days, weeks, months, seasons or years in your life? Do you see them all passing by or do you only notice them when they are gone? What would it take to make you more aware of the time in your life, the time you spend and the time you waste? Do you need to put a bell on your time? Are you satisfied with the passing of time in your life?

Why not develop an "Elasticity of Time" coefficient?

Can we stretch time? We often use this expression (to stretch time) to mean that we are doing more with less time. This brings to my mind a picture of time as play dough or silly putty. I have this chunk of time which is only so big. However, I am able to tuck it, kneed it, and stretch it until I can get all of the things I need done in the time I have. How do I accomplish this miracle? Is their a coefficient for the elasticity of time? We have such figures for product demand and product supply so why not time? Coefficients measure the elasticity of demand for products and services. Some products can change very little in price and the demand drops sharply, for instance if the price of beans or broccoli goes up even a little, people will find substitute products. Products and services that respond rapidly to small changes in prices are referred to as being very elastic. Other products can undergo very large price changes and the demand falls off less so (Insulin and Alcohol are often named in this category). These products are very inelastic. It will take a large change in price before the demand falls for them.

What would an elasticity of time be like? Time that was very elastic might be leisure time, vacation time and weekend time. During these times, you can stretch your time to accomplish things that suddenly come up. Time that is very inelastic might include work time, project time or chore time. During these times, it is very difficult to put more on your plate since it is already accounted for. Thus, when we talk about stretching time, it might be wise to first see how elastic our time is. I can imagine this preventing many misunderstandings and arguments.

For instance, if I told Karen my time was very flexible and elastic this week, it would mean I could easily change our schedules to accommodate some new tasks. On the other hand, if I said it was very inelastic, she should understand that I had very little flexibility or openness to change. A concept for the Elasticity of Time could help in work load scheduling or other forms of job tasking. It would help others to understand when we were willing to take on more work or when we were not willing.

How do you stretch your time? Do you find that your time is often not very stretchable? What makes the difference for you in terms of your ability to stretch time? Are there weeks when you can do more and weeks when you do less? What do you think accounts for this difference?

The role of time in making great decisions

The time had come. “These four words are the essence of any great decision” (Profiles in Audacity, Alan Axelrod, 2006, Sterling Publishing Co.). This book tells us of many great decisions that had to be made throughout history and of the difficulties that faced the decision maker. Harry Truman is famous for the saying “The buck stops here.” However, when does it stop? Timing is the critical component of any great decision. Too early or too late and no decision is right.

Decision makers assume great responsibility. Decision makers assume that it is better to do something than nothing. Perhaps this is not true. With more patience, could we have had less wars and death? When we act too soon, we “rush to judge” and we may act without facts or understanding. When we act too late, the window of opportunity is closed and there is great loss. I do not need to point out the Rwandan and Cambodia massacres of the twentieth centuries as examples of where we should have acted sooner. We hesitated as a world to condemn these atrocities and millions died. In business, windows of opportunity are represented by new products, new value propositions and new business models. The first adopters do not always to benefit from the “new” but seldom do the “last” reap many major rewards. Thus, the trick is to be able to tell the difference between haste and sloth. When to wait and when not to? “When to “hold them or when to fold them?”

How can we improve our decision making and the timeliness of our decisions? The answer to this question probably depends on whether you are too often hasty or whether you procrastinate too much. Do you rush to judge without facts and data; or do you hem and haw in fear of making a mistake until it is too late? How many of the major decisions in your life have turned out well? Do you regret too many of the key decisions in your life? Your answer to these questions will suggest whether you need to be bolder or less bold in your timing and decision making.

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