Five Thoughts About Time

Here’s all I really know (for now) about how time works:

  1.  I cannot move through time any faster than you or anything else on this planet. Your individual conscious experience of the passage of time may be different from mine, and that individual experience is also relative internally. Our own experience of time may speed up or slow down as our engagement with the world changes from moment to moment.

  2. I cannot change the direction I move through time. Either I’m moving from the present moment to the future moment, or I don’t exist. I may remember the past vividly, but I can never actually return there.

  3. We can each expect the same number of minutes and hours to use in a day as everyone else on earth. How we choose to use that daily allotment is completely up to us.

  4. We can never really be sure how much time we have left.

  5. Every choice we make about how to use our daily time and attention is building our own path toward the future.  

You are on your path right now. Even when you are still, you are moving forward. In a way, moving through time isn’t even something we do but something that happens to us, to everyone.

If we imagine the future, it is often described in a metaphor as what’s “just around the corner” or ” just over that hill” or “across the sea.” We agree it is unknown, uncertain at least, but we are all moving toward it at the same speed. We may choose to bring pieces of the past with us, but recognize that it will becomes a burden we must manage.

If you want to hold on to the past, you must figure out how to carry it. If you want to affect your future, you must act in the moment you have now.

Spring Training

We’ve had a run of unusually sunny days this week, and the college campus where I work has sprung to life in the warmth of it all. Just a few days ago I heard a sound in the distance that always sends a little ripple of joy through my brain: the distinctive dhoiiinng! of a metal bat smacking a baseball. Ahhh…. spring has arrived.

Cue the birdsong, cue some remixed Vivaldi, cue the mud and budding trees. When the college baseball team begins batting practice outdoors, I know that’s my cue to begin some spring training of my own.

Even before it has officially begun, just the thought of spring inspires thoughts of new beginnings. I try to channel that energy the same way a baseball team does—stretching, examining my swing again, and reevaluating my tools and skills. Is there something I can do to improve this year? Small adjustments I can make, or new techniques that will improve my performance?

Spring training is not just about warming up, but also rebooting. It’s about reconnecting with your teammates, and recommitting together to the work ahead. Work you do because there’s something about it that you all love, that you all contribute to in special ways, and that you all want to improve.

We all want to go out there and win every day, but that doesn’t happen without regularly reviewing and training ourselves on the fundamental skills. That’s what spring training is for.

And now the days are getting longer, and warmer, and the scent of new growth is in the air. There’s no better time to lace up your shoes and get moving. It’s time to play ball again.

 

Baby Steps

This was the first personal productivity method that ever stuck with me, and it came from Richard Dreyfuss:

“Baby steps?”
“It means setting small, reasonable goals for yourself, one day at a time. One tiny step at a time… For instance, when you leave this office, don’t think about everything you have to do to get out of the building, just think about what you must do to get out of this room. And when you get to the hall, deal with that hall, and so forth. You see?”

Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss) describes his book Baby Steps to Bob Wiley (Bill Murray).

That’s what Dreyfuss (as Dr. Leo Marvin) offers as a path to curing the severe phobias of Bill Murray (as Bob Wiley) in the 1991 film What About Bob? (you can watch a clip of the scene here), which of course leads to increasingly wacky situations (and one of my favorite Bill Murray performances).

It’s a made-up conceit for the movie, but… there’s something very real and familiar about the idea that has always stuck with me. It’s simple enough for anyone to understand how it works, and it’s easy to remember and try for yourself. In fact, part of why it works so well for comedy is because it seems obvious and simplistic enough to be plausible, so there’s no way it could actually work, right? But it does, and it’s not a new idea.

The “Baby Steps” method is about learning to focus, but it’s also about learning to let go of the fear and anxiety that prevents us from finding that focus. Bob Wiley lives in constant anxiety about hundreds of ways he could get hurt or fail out in the world, and those phobias prevent him from being able to function. But focusing on one small, simple goal means putting aside all other fears. With all the resources of his mind focused on doing one thing, and all other anxieties on hold, Bob is able to finally able to venture out into the world.

Actually, “Baby Steps” isn’t about actions at all—it’s about making decisions. It’s about letting go of thinking of all the things you have to do, and deciding on one small, manageable task you can do right now.

Decide what you can do right now that will be useful, something you have to get done today, and give your full attention to doing that one thing. When you’re done, reward yourself with a little break, then decide to do another thing, and do that. Repeat.

It may not be easy or practical to apply this to your entire day. There will always be interruptions and things beyond our control, but we can find the smaller steps within those moments too if we need them. It may not be a complete solution to all your problems, but if you want a simple method for making better decisions about how you spend your time, “Baby Steps” is a step in the right direction.

Staying Informed With Countable

Amidst all the news about the sweeping executive orders, and “undoing” legislation coming from our federal lawmakers, I’ve been looking for tools to help me follow my own advice and be a better-informed citizen. It didn’t take long to find just what I wanted:

Countable is a free non-partisan website and app that not only tracks all the legislation passing through Congress and the Senate, but also offers basic details about the pro and con debates around a bill. You can learn at a glance what is being negotiated (or more likely fought over) in legislation, and understand who might be affected, or what effect a bill may have on existing rules or regulations. They even track activities like the ongoing confirmation hearings for new cabinet nominees. And you can browse all of it by different categories, or search for specific keywords you’re concerned about.

After you create a profile, Countable also gives you direct access to the senators and representatives from your district. Just tap their name and you can see their complete voting records, as well as any bills they are currently sponsoring. And this might be my favorite part: just one more tap and I can call their office, send them an email, or even record a short video message to them to share my concerns.

Because if we learn nothing else from this current political era, it is clear that we can and should all be more vocal and active in how we reach out to our elected representatives. And thanks to technology, it is easier and faster to do that than it has ever been before. “It’s too hard,” or “it takes too much effort” is not an excuse anymore.

I plan to stay involved, or at the very least, stay aware, and not let bad decisions get by without comment. I think Countable is a great place to start.

 


Have you found a similar tool or organization that you rely on to keep you informed about issues that are important to you? Let me know in a comment below. I’d love to learn more!

Green hills below a vast clear blue sky

How To Survive Whatever Comes Next

I am part of the popular majority who did not vote for the person who is officially becoming President of the United States today. And like many others in that majority, I have been cycling through feelings of disbelief, anger, sadness, and disappointment since November. Every announcement about the leadership appointments and policy changes expected from the incoming administration are disturbing. All the ongoing investigations around intelligence breaches and Russian influence only make things seem uglier.

I am not happy about any of this. But I am not going to live unhappy because of it, and neither should you.

Regardless of who you voted for, regardless of what you expect to happen next, there is one thing we can all do to make our lives and this country better: we all have to wake up each day and make good decisions about how we’re going to live and work and communicate and contribute to the world in a way that is meaningful to us.

And as I’ve been writing about since this blog began, making good choices means staying HUMAN: Honest, Unafraid, Mindful, Active, and Nice.

Be HONEST with yourself and with others about what really matters to you. Follow the subjective honesty of your heart and your gut to help you understand your values, but don’t ignore the objective honesty of facts and data, especially if they conflict with your instincts. Feel confident that you could explain why you feel the way you do about things, why you choose what you choose, and if you don’t know why, be honest enough to say that too. That’s how we learn and grow.

Be UNAFRAID of bullies and threats against your beliefs and values, and be unafraid to be different, to stand apart from the crowd and share your honest self. And equally important, don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong about something. Admitting you’re wrong is just admitting you’re human. Now that news and social media can influence us so subtly that we’re not even aware of it, it’s highly likely that what you’re sure you understand today may change tomorrow as new information becomes available. Don’t fear that change just because it’s different, but also don’t be afraid to ask questions when the answers aren’t clear.

Stay MINDFUL of how you apply your time and attention every day. Do your work with purpose, informed with the honesty and fearlessness you’ve already built. Don’t lose sight of your values, and don’t be steered astray of your goals by taking on too much at once. Set goals that are important to you, that you know you can achieve, and measure your progress. Don’t just witness your life happening—participate in every day, and let yourself be absorbed in what you’re doing. Breathe, and know that you are breathing.

Be ACTIVE about nurturing your values and seek opportunities to grow. Learn facts, learn history, learn science and culture. See a movie about people who look and talk differently from you. Travel to a place you’ve never been. Discover something inspiring, and then share it with someone. Write about it, photograph it, sing it aloud. If you think you can make change in the world, don’t just stand in place yelling about it—go out and make the change happen. Don’t keep your self to yourself.

Be NICE to your fellow humans. Listen, be patient, be engaged. Ask people about their lives, about their worries. Give time to help when you know help is needed. Share what you can, give support to individuals and organizations that you think are making a difference in the world, and not just to feel good. Yell and scream at problems, not at people. Don’t hate, don’t bully, don’t demean. Be patient, be reasonable, and act with dignity. Be a good citizen, willing to work with others for the benefit of all.


As John Milton wrote in Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”

I choose to focus on the good today, and be grateful for the bad that never came to be. I choose not to waste whatever miracles lie ahead but help make them happen. I choose to be Honest, Unafraid, Mindful, Active, and Nice.

Stay human, share human, and live a good life. We’re all still here, we’ll still be here tomorrow, and the day after that. Let’s make a heav’n of hell together today and see what happens.

Work on Vacation

I am technically on vacation as I write this. I’m not supposed to be checking email, or doing anything related to work. I’m not supposed to be updating documents or spreadsheets or doing research. And yet I have done all of those things every day of my vacation within view of the ocean.

And you know what? It’s been an amazing vacation, and it truly has been restful and relaxing the whole time. So why am I “on vacation” but still doing “work” at the beach?

Because I’m only doing work I really want to do, and only for two or three hours in the morning. The rest of the day is devoted to being on vacation with my wife, playing epic games of miniature golf and skeeball, reading novels on the beach, and consuming copious amounts of fried and freshly shucked seafood and soft-serve ice cream. You know – vacation stuff.

Because the point of vacation isn’t simply about about “not doing work”—it’s about taking a break from the things you have to do and focusing instead on only doing things you want to do, and doing it all in as relaxed and leisurely a manner as possible. I asked myself, What is it I am taking a vacation from? and whatever the answer, those are the things I should not be doing.

Or to think of it another way: I choose to use my vacation time, “me” time, to finally indulge my energy and attention on all the things that I feel I’d rather be doing when I’m stuck doing work. What I’m taking a vacation from is the obligations to others, and focusing instead on just hanging out with my wife, being as leisurely as possible.

Did I bring a lot of material related to my work with me? Yes, because it’s stuff I really want to work on for myself. Lots books and notes to review for my upcoming conference presentations, but also my own beach reading material for kicking back on the sand under an umbrella.

Vacations for us mean leisurely mornings with few plans. Coincidentally, mornings are a peak time of energy and attention for me, a time when I’m most able to do productive work. By taking two or three hours every morning of leisure time doing some of the work I want to get done for myself, I am able to relax and use all my remaining energy and attention fully to enjoy the rest of the day free of distraction.

By allowing myself to indulge in doing the work I truly want to get done for myself, I am able to get rid of the nagging feelings of things left undone. It’s amazing how much even just a single productive hour can make on the rest of my day, all while still sleeping late and relaxing and enjoying the sights and sounds and cool breezes of Cape Cod in September.

So I won’t feel guilty about checking email or updating spreadsheets while I’m on vacation, as long as I’m honest with myself about doing it because it’s something I genuinely want to do, and will enjoy having done. The key is to keep it to a short, set amount of time, and then letting go of it for the rest of the day.

Scheduling a little time for productive work during vacation can be a wonderful thing as long as you’re smart and honest about it. Don’t work just to work, and don’t engage with anything you don’t feel drawn to. Vacation time is you time, and that’s what’s most important.

I’m happy I found this balance, and I’ve had a wonderful week because of it. In fact, thanks to fewer distractions on my mind during the day, I think my miniature golf game has improved – I’m almost making par for every course.

More importantly, I’m having a great time because I made time to work on vacation.

Sharing Human at HighEdWeb 2016

I’m travelling for professional conferences this year more than ever before, and participating in them more deeply than I ever thought I could. It’s not something I set out to do, especially after mostly laying low for 2015 and not attending much (well, there was that one thing). But I’m making up for that time away in 2016, with at twice the activity on my schedule in 2016, especially when it comes to events related to the HighEdWeb Association.

First off, I recognize that it’s a privilege to even be able to attend a professional conference at all, let alone to have the costs of such an excursion covered by my employer. I’m grateful for that support every single time, and for the same reason I am more than happy to trade off every other year and let someone else from our team attend. I have seen and felt the effects that a great conference of new ideas and perspectives can have on the work we do. The sense of community and support that comes from meeting and socializing with colleagues and peers from around the country has changed me and improved my work immeasurably, and I am so grateful to be part of it.

But this year I’m returning to HighEdWeb for 2016 and I’m excited to be on the schedule with both a pre-conference workshop and a conference presentation, and I can’t wait to share them both with my higher ed peers:

Human At Work(shop)

This pre-conference workshop is an expanded, hands-on version of the “Best of Conference” talk I gave at HighEdWeb 2014, focused on diving deeper into the details that I could only mention in passing in that original 45 min. presentation. I will share some of the specific steps and resources that have evolved in my own productivity toolbox over the past two years, but most of the time will be devoted to leading participants through a series of steps to finding their own best ways of getting things done. If you’re planning to attend HighEdWeb this October, this workshop will be a great opportunity to work on your own specific trouble areas, whether that’s email overload, task management, or just finding better work/life balance, and you’ll leave with a new perspective on how to organize your work and make room for all the amazing new ideas you’ll be hearing about during the main conference in the days that follow. I hope you’ll consider signing up for what should be a very productive afternoon together before the main conference begins.

Share Human: The Value of Sharing Beyond Authenticity

I’m also excited to be presenting a version of the talk I gave back in March as the HighEdWeb New England regional conference keynote. I don’t have a lot more to say about this talk here that I haven’t already explored in my posts leading up to that event, but I am looking forward to getting another chance to share a message that is personal and different and important to me. The challenge this time will be delivering my ideas in 15-20 minutes less time than I did for the keynote, a constraint I’m actually grateful for to help me hone the message of my talk even further. That means even if you saw my HighEdWeb NE keynote, you’ll probably see some changes in this version, but hopefully you’ll still feel the same feels as before.

Of course, those are just two things I happen to be presenting, but the entire schedule for this year’s HighEdWeb is seriously full of some amazing presentations. I already know I’m going to have to make some tough choices about what to see myself while I’m there.

But at this point, I wouldn’t expect anything less from HighEdWeb. The level of participation at this conference continually amazes, and so does the commitment of all volunteer organizers and committee members making it happen. I really hope you’ll get the chance to attend and participate in this great coming-together of passionate, like-minded communication professionals. Think about it if you must, but don’t wait too long (you only have until July 31 to get early-bird discounts). If you’re on the fence, maybe this video will help you make up your mind?

If you are going to be attending this conference and would like to meet up, please feel free to reach out on Twitter and let me know. After all the anxiety of my presentations is over, I know I’m going to need large doses of Memphis barbeque and beer, and I can’t think of anything that goes better with a great meal than a great conversation. See you there!