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  • Writer's pictureSamiracles

Max Juicing of Your Time-lime (or other favorite fruit)

I must have subconsciously picked a lime because it is very hot and the famous Brazilian adult beverage, the caipirinha is on my mind as I write this. You can choose a fruit of choice as you visualize this concept: how to extract the most time out of your day and life.

Time is the most valuable commodity on the planet.

Time is a perishable commodity in that once that day, hour, or minute has passed, you will never get it back. It is lost forever. It is more valuable than californite, painite, and tritium. Yes, those are real things and listed as the most expensive on the planet. It is more valuable than gold, diamonds, and platinum. Time is more valuable than money, at least to me.

Time allows you to achieve, experience, and rejuvenate. This does not mean you have to pack every minute of every hour, every day. This was a personal epiphany from about twenty years ago. I was having one of my trademark early Saturday breakfasts with a soon-to-be direct report who was visiting me at the corporate office in Orlando from Las Vegas on her house-hunting trip after she accepted a role on my leadership team.

She innocently asked what I was doing for the remainder of that weekend. Without a second thought, I rattled off a minute-by-minute plan for just Saturday’s activities. Her look could only be described as puzzled, bewildered, and amazed, all culminating in a blank stare that clearly conveyed a non-verbal message of “you are out of your mind, to have such a packed and meticulously planned weekend day!" She was probably having second thoughts about accepting a role on my team as well. That look was a wake-up call for me, that perhaps I am too structured and planned.

A few years after that episode, I did dial back my approach of having every minute being so accounted for. Still, I was often asked how I could juggle so many different balls, seemingly successfully. At the time, this included serving in a mentally and emotionally demanding corporate role, trying to sustain a small business that was on the verge of collapse and bankruptcy, running a complex personal household, managing some of my own rental properties, resurrecting a local volunteer chapter of the oldest civil-liberties organization in the country, rejuvenating a debilitated rescue-dog, helping aging parents navigate health challenges and relocation, while still living a robust social life.

I never really thought about that being a juggle or tiring. In fact, those activities were actually energizing. I could hardly sleep more than five to six total hours a night, and I rarely felt tired during the day, other than the midday crash many people experience, right around lunchtime.

Fast forward to today, when I am supposed to be semi-retired, and I have more activities underway now than I ever did and continue to feel even more energized. I still get the midday crash but can schedule a pisolino (Italian nap) around 130pm for between 13 and 17 minutes. I wake up from that, refreshed and ready to roll for the rest of the day.

At night, I generally get a total sleep of six to eight hours now. Fifteen to twenty years ago, I did not reflect on how or why I was able to squeeze as much out of my time-lime, but I have since thought about it enough to share some of my observations with you now:

Get your actions aligned with your strengths

The most impactful thing you can do is to line up your personal and professional roles and affiliated activities with your natural Strengths. These are your innate ways of thinking, feeling, processing information, and connecting with others. The theory here is that we are all born with certain hardwiring in our brains. That is why some of us are really, naturally good at some things that are different than what others are naturally good at. We each have something or many that we are naturally good at. We are born with them.

These begin because of what we inherit from our parents in the form of DNA--the architectural drawing or initial blueprint of who we are, including the contents of our brain. The brain will continue to develop throughout our childhood and into our early twenties. According to the latest research, this is when human brain development peaks. It does not mean that your brain will not continue to grow and improve, but for the most part, the natural way we think, feel, process information, and connect with others is mostly hardwired by our early twenties.

The challenge is opening that mystery in a tangible and actionable way. This is where assessments (not testing, because there are no right or wrong answers) come into play. For me, the most resonant tool was Gallup Strength Finders. You can find my assessment results under the ‘About,’ section of our website. The application of these results changed my life and my approach to life. Other common tools in this arena include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the DISC profile, and Caliper.

Over time, I was able to adjust my personal and professional roles to fit my natural Strengths. I recognize that it is not that easy to make a significant pivot to new jobs, types of relationships, or activities, but you can take incremental steps that get your life and your Strengths totally lined up. Once you are there, everything is mentally and emotionally energizing, as activities that line up with your Strengths add fuel for you, while activities that are lower in your Strengths portfolio drain your energy.

Tying your life to your natural Strengths is the most impactful thing you can do to max juice your time-lime.

Understand your internal energy flow

The next step is also tied to our internal energies – physical, mental, and emotional. Leading leadership scientists such as Stephen Covey and Dr. Jim Loehr have described these as well as a fourth – spiritual.

About ten years ago, I noted these different types of energy, ebbing and flowing at different, but consistent times during the day. In other words, it felt like my mental energy was strongest during the same period, almost every day. This was the same with physical and emotional. Personally, I could not differentiate between the emotional and spiritual as those feelings seemed synonymous.

I undertook a simple study over about a one-year period to note how I was feeling about these energies at different times of my day by simply noting these observations in my daily planner. What I found was unmistakable consistency. My mental energy was strong from very early to mid-morning, weak from noon to mid-afternoon, and strong again towards the end of the evening. My physical energy peaked from mid-afternoon to early evening and my emotional and spiritual energy was on fire, late afternoon, and early evening.

So, as soon as possible I began to line up activities that would use mental energy for the morning, physical activity including exercise into the late afternoon or early evening, and my interactions with humans and animals for the early evening. It is important to realize that these are not always possible all the time, so do not create additional stress for yourself by trying to force a 100% change the day after you read this. Incremental change and rebuilding can often be more sustainably successful over the long run. Playing the long game will be a repetitive theme in our future issues of Samiracles Speaks.

Start your day with the right happiness hormones

Since the ‘S-word’--stress--just came up, how about starting your day with more happiness hormones than stress hormones, especially that revolting hormone cortisol? What you activate at start-of-day, will have a significant impact on your three energies, your mental clarity, and your endurance for the day. Are you going to wake up and immediately activate cortisol? What if, instead, you had a nice flow of endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin, or dopamine? How does that set you up for an energized and successful day?

The basis of a good day is a restful night's sleep. Unfortunately, most who report on their sleep claim it is insufficient. I am not a role model for the physician-recommended sleep prescription of eight straight hours. Most nights I get between six and seven and half hours, in two or three segments. I usually wake up rested – physically, mentally, and emotionally. A future edition of Samiracles Speaks will review the history and science of sleep and dissect how we can wake up energized, with less sleep than medically recommended.

Regardless of how well or not you sleep, the way you spend the first hour of your day will determine if you are starting on a cliff of stress or with a jetpack full of positive energy. I was recently coaching the HR head of a grant-making foundation who was clearly under significant stress. After using Jedi calming techniques (coming soon to a future Samiracles Speaks edition) to bring this leader to a mentally and emotionally quiet place, we delved into his morning ritual. This begins with waking up to an alarm at 0530 and immediately looking at email on their mobile phone.

Maybe not for everyone, but most glances at emails, texts, and other electronic communications are going to involve some level of stress which immediately activates cortisol, the most nefarious of our body’s reactions to stress. The reality for most of us, which we may not want to accept, is that responding to most messages which come through overnight is not going to save the P&L, prevent a fatal injury, or fix something. NOTE: If you are a first responder or a commodities trader, please go ahead and respond right away. It can probably wait until normal business hours, or at least until you have a flow of positive energy in your brain, body, and soul.

Another way to think about this is from the famed personal development guru Jay Chetty who states that looking at your mobile device first thing in the morning is like inviting 30 people to be in your bedroom, just as you are waking up. If you are an extrovert or someone who needs that first thing in the morning, you may find this recommendation most challenging. We can all benefit from a different approach.

Consider giving yourself an hour or even thirty minutes without looking at your mobile phone, opening email, texts, or other social media. Instead, sub-in rituals and activities which make you happy and that activate your good hormones. The leader I referenced above made some adjustments and started with a cup of coffee while observing his sleeping newborn, then had a brief chat with his spouse and spent time watching ESPN, all of which brought much joy and the flow of happiness hormones.

My morning rituals begin with petting and feeding a quartet of outdoor/indoor cats. Next, I prepare a hot water, apple cider vinegar drink which I consume while writing in my journal. Then I will have a cup of coffee while reading the Economist on an iPad app. After that, I take a brief morning walk prior to delving into my mobile phone’s email, text, and messaging apps. It is not easy to resist the call of notifications--but with some training and practice, you can overcome the fear of missing out; and the payoff is strong.

Ideas for activating the main hormones that help us feel better and provide positive energy boosts came via a Facebook re-post from a good friend and former client who is a Ph.D. in psychology and CEO of a mental and behavioral health services provider. I cannot certify the scientific, peer-reviewed source for these suggestions, but will say that these recommendations make sense logically and more importantly, I will attest to their power in providing a boost in physical, mental, and emotional energy. Of the twenty items on the chart, I regularly do fourteen; and I attribute much of my daily energy to the insight from this simple chart.

Find the combination that works for you; take some time to design a morning ritual to feed your brain, body, and soul.

Understanding your personal energy ebb and flow times is helpful as you can develop rituals of how your day will flow based on that. Words matter, so I have recently replaced the term routines with the term rituals so I would not find myself living in my own version of life depicted so brilliantly by Bill Murray in Groundhog Day!

My general daily flows are things I do – before I go to bed, when I wake up in the middle of the night, once I am up, exercise, language study, work, writing, and then when I execute all my requirements for the day, I get to play. I don’t do all these things every day, nor do I do them in the same order, but it serves as a general playbook for my day. Of course, I eat three meals a day, snack a few times a day, and on most days, take my pisolino early afternoon. Set yourself up with some daily rituals and develop them as a habit.

Remember that time is precious & keep track of how you spend it

Being extra judicious about how your time is spent is essential if you believe that time is the most valuable commodity available to you. This does require some analysis of how you spend your time. Early in my career, I was a plant HR Manager at a defense factory in a very rural part of upstate New York. We were trying to make the pivot from being mostly a government contractor with the luxury of fixed-price contracts (I learned how a screwdriver could cost $70 in this experience) to competing in the commercial market.

We used a consultant named Kepner-Tregoe and their time study process which required that everyone document how they spent their time every 15 minutes. That was a fascinating exercise and has stuck with me for thirty years. While individuals do not necessarily need to get into that depth, you could list the things you spend a lot of time on – texting, Tik Tok, binge-watching, cooking, guitar, etc. -- and analyze if that is really of value to you. For example, I write a journal for about 30 minutes a day. That conservatively adds up to about 180 hours a year, which is a full week of 24-hour days or four, forty-hour work weeks. This seems like a lot, but I immensely value this activity and can make an informed decision about this use of time. This analysis led me to cut my Facebook perusal time in half.

Listen to your body, mind and soul and rejuvenate as needed.

Recommendations on how often and when to take breaks from physical and mental activities are plentiful. They come from organizations and individuals with significant bona fides such as the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and Tony Robbins.

You are your best source for when, how, and how often you need a pause: by being self-aware about what your body, mind, and soul are requesting in terms of a recharge. This could be as simple as sitting in your chair and closing your eyes for a minute, stepping outside for some fresh air, or even standing up and doing a stretch or walking in place. Your body is omnipotent. Please listen to what it is asking for.

Manage your reaction to possible derailers.

"We plan and God laughs", is an oft-cited quote that is likely not attributable to any one source. The spirit of it is relevant as there will be derailers that knock us off our game. “Fail to plan, plan to fail” on the other hand was a mantra I learned from one of my best and favorite bosses ever. Larry Debevec was the Plant Manager of Corning’s Advanced Materials plant in Canton, NY, and used to repeat this frequently.

If you don’t have a plan, it follows that you can never be derailed. You can take the approach of letting each day unfold as it will with no specific plan, flow, rituals, or goals. There is nothing wrong with that if it represents your authentic self, you are happy with how your time is utilized, and getting things done at the desired pace. However, the basis of the last several paragraphs of advice is that you do have a plan, simple or detailed, of how you intend to use your time.

Derailers will come in two forms: physical and emotional. Physical derailers potentially require actions to deal with or react to situations such as a plumbing leak, a medical emergency, or a friend/colleague needing immediate advice and counsel. For the most part, these will take precedence over what was next in your ritual flow. This is always a judgement call and there is no rule or playbook to follow. Deciding how and when to react is something that mostly comes with experience.

Another category within potential physical derailers is new information that has a companion, new activity to go along with this. Perhaps you find out that your favorite sports team has an important game that you didn’t plan to watch, a new idea generates in your brain while you are in rejuvenation time, or someone calls with a serendipitous social opportunity. Again, applying your best judgment is the prescription here. Is the new opportunity more important than what is next in my daily plan? Can it be done later or on another day without losing the benefit I will derive? While you are early in your journey to establish discipline about your time, try not to let opportunistic derailers prevail too often.

Emotional derailers are more challenging, however. These are things that throw you off your game by setting off your amygdala, our evolutionary brain’s "fight, flight or freeze" mechanism whose purpose is to minimize threats and maximize rewards to us as individuals.

Future editions of Samiracles Speaks will be dedicated to the role of our hardwired brain in how we act and react. For purposes of mitigating your time being derailed by things that attack your emotions--like a verbal or electronic comment someone makes, something you read in a news story targeted toward your passions, or if you feel taken advantage of--the best thing you can do is recognize that your amygdala is activating.

Once you recognize that something has triggered an emotional reaction for you, try to pause and take a breath. Then breathe in through your nose, hold it for a count of three, breathe in a little bit more, and then slowly release through your mouth. Do this three or four times and then see where your emotions are.

The Stoic school of philosophy of which Marcus Aurileus and Seneca are probably the most well-known authors was the most resonant with me when I studied religion and philosophy at the graduate-level because they offered the most practical advice. Seneca believed that it’s not that we don’t have enough time, rather we use the time we have in a wasteful manner. He also said in On the Shortness of Life, “People are frugal guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time, they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.

I hope you will be planful about the most valuable property you have: time.


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