A Conversation with a Centegenarian: Time Management from an Ageless Perspective!

by John Zajaros on June 22, 2009

Time management is a conundrum for many, a puzzle almost too difficult to solve. Three different lessons, all within the span of a week, brought home the very essence of what time and time management are all about. While a multi-million, and perhaps billion dollar a year business, the management of time remains illusive for the majority of us. There are many reasons for this, most beyond the scope of this article. However, I will touch on one amazing conversation I had with a young lady at the hospital last week and what I took away from one of the most productive hours I have spent in a long time…an hour with Mary!

Time! Time is the most important resource we have, finite and irreplaceable; and yet, it is the most squandered resource for the majority of us. Given the proper amount of reflection, I don’t think any of us question the validity of that statement. Significantly, there is an entire industry built on and around the topic, on the realization that we do not, for many cannot, manage our time effectively. All you have to do is Google the keyword phrase “time management” and you will have all the evidence you need. As of June 22, 2009 at 8:30 AM EST, there were 205 million results on the Google search engine recognition page or SERP for that keyword; and, the sponsored links sections are completely full, meaning it is a very popular and even lucrative keyword phrase. For the same keyword phrase, “time management,” YouTube offers 23,300 results and Yahoo! an incredible 1,580,000,000 results! Clearly, time is a much studied, greatly valued resource that few of us understand how to use effectively. During a recent visit to the hospital, I had a chance to talk to someone with an ageless perspective on time, both literally and figuratively, her insights are shared below. But first, let’s talk a bit about the term and what it means.

A Lesson from Dan Kennedy and Gobbledygook Terms

How to manage time? I listened to an interesting CD, one I received as part of my gold membership in the Kennedy-Glazer Insiders Circle, Bill Glazer was interviewing Dan Kennedy, truly a marketing genius and an individual who seems to have time management down to a science. While I am not going to discuss, at least in specific terms, the material covered by Dan Kennedy, it did inspire me to write this article, that and the conversation mentioned above. Dan Kennedy is a true gurus’ guru, pure “old school” and one of a dying breed of businessmen and businesswomen who optimize, sorry for the gobbledygook term, see a great article by David Meerman Scott, each and every moment of the day, fully exploiting time as if it were manta from on high. In a manner of speaking, I guess it is!

Time Management and Wikipedia

Time management, as defined by Wikipedia, “refers to a range of skills, tools, and techniques used to manage time when accomplishing specific tasks, projects and goals… Initially time management referred to just business or work activities, but eventually the term broadened to include personal activities also.”


Time and Time Management: A Real Understanding

I would suggest time management is in fact much more than a system of “monitoring, organizing, scheduling, and prioritizing” tasks; it is a life skill, determining our overall effectiveness in virtually every aspect of our lives. When most people speak of time, they generally speak of it in terms of setting priorities, integrating various methods or techniques into their daily lives. From my perspective, I believe this approach falls far short of the mark. Yet it is true that without a clear plan of action, meaning integrating various techniques and methods into our daily lives, we cannot hope to put this valuable resource to its best use. The last statement may seem like a bit of a paradox, at the very least a conundrum. Yet, without a clear understand of the resource, how can we ever hope to manage it? The cart, in this case time, must come before the horse, management.

How do we view the resource, as a resource, without contemplating its management? This is in fact a philosophical question, one that goes to the very nature of how we value our lives, how we quantify our lives in terms of seconds, minutes, hours, days, years, decades, scores, and centuries. While very few of us make it to the century mark, it is interesting how those who do seem to have an incredible perspective, particularly as it relates to the nature and value of each and every moment spent on earth. In a very real sense, they take the long view…pun intended.

Mary and a Timeless Lesson

I had the pleasure of speaking to an incredible young woman last week. I was in the hospital for tests, and had the good fortune of sitting next to a woman 104 years of age. For the purposes of this article, I will call her Mary. I say young woman, because in every sense of the word she is young, vital, and refreshingly optimistic in her outlook towards life. We were able to speak for almost an hour, both waiting for different doctors in the same waiting area.

Mary has seen it all! Living through World Wars I & II, the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-60s, and a myriad of historical and life-changing moments and events. In spite of these profound and life-altering events, Mary is remarkably untouched by negative emotion. She told me she looks forward to each and every day of her long and wonderful life.

I asked Mary what her secret is and she laughed. Mary said her secret is really no secret at all, she told me just values each and every day as a gift from her Creator; and, in Mary’s world that means God. This remarkable young woman lives each day as if it is going to be her last, she told me she has always lived her life on that basis, each moment precious and unto itself a gift to be savored, relished, and forever remembered as one she treasures…in a lifetime full of treasures.

How amazing! It was as if Mary had been sent there on that day just for me, a message I needed to hear, take with me, remember, and share.

So, back to the meaning of time and time management. In order to manage the resource, the abstraction we call time, we must understand its nature, its value, and in Mary’s words, the gift. Before we can manage it, we must understand its nature, its value, its relationship to and it’s over all importance in our lives. Once properly understood, we can appreciate its finite nature, managing it accordingly. The subject of managing time, as noted above, has been done to death. What you don’t need is one more article telling you how to prioritize your day, how to set goals, how to implement the magical tools at your disposal, of how to manage all the bad habits you may have…

All for $2995…and for today only, a one time offer no less! Talk about perverting time!

Yes, we all procrastinate. Even Dan Kennedy I would imagine procrastinates occasionally, although not like the rest of us to be sure! As previously stated, there is an entire industry built up around time, its management and mastering procrastination, at your disposal.

The real secret? Mary’s secret?

Mary’s secret may be best understood in terms of how we view time, how we understand it, and the importance we place upon it. Once we understand its nature, how vitally important it is to us, it may be easier to manage it effectively. I asked Mary why she thought most people had a problem with time and time management. What Mary said almost knocked me off my seat! Mary said the biggest problem is that time is free. Mary said, and I concur, that somehow the things we value most are the things we have to pay for. Unfortunately, Mary concluded, payment is generally viewed and understood by the majority of us in terms of dollars and cents; when in fact, we pay for time with our lives.

The centegenarian, 104 years young, had it pegged! Mary explained what she meant, noting we are all granted a certain amount of time, and it is called our life. She noted we have no idea how much we have been given, we have no idea when the hourglass will run out; and, as a result, we tend to squander the resource, our Gift from God, the gift of time, until it is too late. Mary smiled and said, “then, we wish we had it back.”

I thought about that for a while and then asked Mary about something she had said earlier in our conversation about reaching the end of life and the perspective one gains. I’d heard something similar during a recording of Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, ironically just a day or two before, and thought I would get her take. I asked about what she said, and what I have often heard people say, including a section in Dr. Covey’s book, about people nearing the end of their lives beginning to think in terms of time spent, how it has been spent, analyzing whether time was well-spent and if they would or should have done things differently.

Again Mary laughed, she laughed a lot; there was a joy that just seemed to pour out of her with each breath. Mary hesitated, nodded, and then said, and I am paraphrasing, I wrote it down when I got to the car, not wanting to forget it.

Mary began, I have been on this Earth for more than a century now, have seen some amazing things in my time and, as I told you earlier, I have always looked forward to each moment in each and every day. Have I had setbacks? Certainly, of course I have, young man!

She called me that a lot, made me feel like a kid at times during that hour too.

She went on, I learned from them, the mistakes and failures, the setbacks, and moved on. I looked forward to the next moment in my life. If I spent my life looking back, wondering if I had done this, and should have done that, I can assure you of one thing, I would never have made it to 80, much less 104 years of age! I look back on my life with joy and wonder, I allow regret or remorse to taint the memories I have compiled over a century…and look forward to the next. She laughed again! And, I never play that whole silly woulda, coulda, shoulda game!

Then the nurse called her name, they seemed to know each other, although Mary had that way about her, like you’d known her all your life…or all of hers! We exchanged glances, she bent over and gave me a peck on the check, ruby red lipstick and all, and then she strolled off to her appointment and back out of my life.

Never look back, never second guess yourself, and value every moment! I will always remember Mary, she is wise beyond years, hers and mine combined, all of ours I would imagine. The time I spent with her was time well spent, the lesson of a lifetime…104 years of it!

John Zajaros
Skype: johnzajaros1

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