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Reflections Mystery School

Mission, Roles & Goals

Image of First Things First

1. What methods of time management do you use currently?

I have used all three methods Covey describes on pp 22-23. I used to keep lists of things to do from my late teens (early to mid 70's) to mid 80’s. Although I felt at the time that my life was full, I managed to keep up with most things so the lists worked. At some point, I realized I needed a calendar but it stayed at home. I created my list almost daily adding in elements from the calendar when I remembered. The one thing I did do in this period was the drafting of a ten-year plan. It kept me focused at some level. My system however became stressed when I returned to engineering school in 1979. But like most difficult periods in my life, I just soldiered through assuming I just wasn’t disciplined or focused or something enough if anything fell through the cracks.

By the time I joined the engineering department in 1986, it became increasingly clear that my system was not working. I modeled myself after my boss who kept a steno pad with a continuous list of things needing his attention. And like him, I frequently was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of what was expected of me. At the same time, I had re-entered into political activism after a ten-year hiatus. And now the variety and quantity of to-do items swelled beyond human comprehension. At times, I had to-do lists of over 60 items in the activism sphere alone. Looking back over them I would note that I had over half checked as completed, however at the time I felt like a complete loser for having left so many things undone. The month-at-a-time calendars I carried became a blur of ink, so I changed to the week version. But they still did not help me to handle the seemingly infinite amount of interruptions, deadlines and emergencies inherent in my professional and activist landscape.

When I began using Franklin Planner at some point during this madness, it was a desperate attempt to tame the sense of urgency and stress. Just by clarifying my values and long-term goals, I was able to trim enough of the stress to begin having some free time for myself. And oh, did I mention I was still in engineering school on top of all of it. It was then that I began noticing that everything associated with my self-care, my dreams of artistic accomplishment, and personal restoratives were suffering. I had always taken vacations at retreat centers, enrolled in art/cultural classes, read books and attended concerts and recitals – but now even these small pleasures were being denied. I still have some of the planners from this stage, and they speak of stress without end and it could not continue unabated. So in 1993, I succumbed. I fell down with CFIDS or Chronic Fatigue Immunological Disorder Syndrome. I spiraled down into a whirlpool of pain, confusion, fatigue and a continuing cycle of illness such as bronchitis, flu and colds. At one point, I was so sick, I was unable to drive, get out of bed or even prepare my own meals. And to top if off, I was still managing to run political groups, church groups, activist campaigns, an R & D project, 15 employees and respond to personal, family and work emergencies – in other words, I was out of my mind and body but I tried mightily not to let anyone down. I was meeting the needs of everyone but myself.

I finally came upon Covey’s system after seeing many of my colleagues reading his “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. When the Franklin Planner Company merged with Covey, it got my attention. Reading “First Things First”, changed my life.

First thing I did was to drop all the goals and roles that I had not chosen for myself, and instead only adopted goals and roles that held meaning for me personally. The goals have morphed and changed over the years, but I can honestly say, that I am living the life I dreamed of all those years ago when I first read this book. I began weekly planning, insuring that I included each week, items that fed me mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally – sound familiar. I also adopted an annual calendar of reviewing my goals quarterly and my overall vision annually. With a renewed focus and having shed the urgency that impeded my focus on my priorities, my life changed dramatically. I hired a personal coach, began receiving appropriate medical care, and eventually retired at 47 years old. I can breathe, think and act with so much clarity now, something unheard of only a decade ago.

Since then I have adopted a system more adapted to my current lifestyle without sacrificing the principles I learned from this book so many years ago.

And that is why this book is assigned as the first book study for Reflections. I notice over the last year that more than a few of you are facing many of the same difficulties I have faced over the years. I am hoping that if we all reexamine our lives through this lens, maybe we can all benefit. My plan is to go through the book with you, as part and parcel of checking in on my own progress, yes. But also because this process can help me to deepen and broaden my attempts at making sense of my life in the here and now.

Taken from my notes to my students in November 2005