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How to Manage Time (and how to keep it from managing you)

Time has many characteristics, some of which appear to be contradictory.  Time is both limited, and limitless.  Have you ever considered the fact that every living thing has a certain lifespan, but that time itself marches on into eternity?  Although time is a constant that stops for no one, it can be managed. 

Time is also like money—it has value, it’s difficult to come by, it’s easy to waste, and there never seems to be enough of it.  Conversely, time can be nothing like money because unlike money, each of us is allocated the same amount of it every day—24 hours.

Here’s my point:

It’s not so much a matter of how much time you have, but what you do with it.  The key to effective time management is developing a mindset.  It’s making a conscious decision to approach tasks in an organized fashion.  You need to know what you want to do and create a realistic plan to get it done. 

Before undertaking any task, I always consider the following:

  1. What task needs to be done?
  2. Who else, if anyone, is involved?
  3. When does the task need to be completed?
  4. Where do I have to go to accomplish it?
  5. How long will it take to complete the task?

 I’d like to share a few thoughts about managing time that has worked for me; hopefully, they can help you too:

 

  • Prioritize Tasks

Make a list of everything you want to accomplish on a given day and arrange them in order of importance.  Things that MUST be done are placed at the top of the list.  Tasks of lesser importance follow.

 

  • Create a Timeline

Look at your list and estimate a specific amount of time for each task.  This is where many people run into difficulty because they either under-estimate or over-estimate the time it’s going to take to complete a task.  It’s always preferable to over-estimate rather than under-estimate because any extra time can be used to review your plan, make adjustments, or take a short break.  Under-estimating adversely affects all of the other tasks on the list—in other words; you might not get to them!

 

  •  Execute

Decide on a specific time to begin and stick to it.  One of the biggest time-wasters is the attitude of indifference, which can prevent you from starting on time.  If you decide to begin at 9:00AM, then see that you start at 9:00AM.  Remember that you made a commitment to yourself—a personal contract—so be sure to keep it!  Don’t allow anyone or anything to distract you; do not procrastinate or get sidetracked.

 

  • Manage Your Progress

One of the greatest things about this life is that we develop habits (good ones, hopefully) out of necessity.  Whether we realize it or not, we are creatures of habit, and as such, we have an innate desire to achieve order and a sense of balance in our lives.

Having a process in place requires an action to be repeated over and over again.  Each time this happens, you can compare it to how well it was previously done.  Did you do it better?  Was it worse? Did it take too long?

This is how progress is measured.  It allows you to take note of what works, what doesn’t, and to make adjustments.  After adjusting your process, you’ll notice the improvements and you’ll see that you’re gradually becoming more efficient. 

 

  • Apply This New Mindset to Everyday Life

Once you’ve adopted this new method of thinking, you can easily incorporate it into every aspect of your life.  Gradually, you’ll find that you’re not only more timely, but you will have mastered one of the most important attributes a person can have.  You’ll have the ability to accomplish tasks more efficiently and in the least amount of time, with minimum effort and maximum results!

Employing good time-management skills is liberating.  It allows you to take more control of your life.  And when you control your life, you can control your destiny!

I wish you well in your time-management pursuits…give it a try because it works—you can do it!

 

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A ‘Twist’ on New Year’s Resolutions

As we close the chapter on the year of 2011, it is only natural to look ahead to 2012 and welcome it with a heightened sense of optimism. Through careful introspection, we re-assess our lives and celebrate all that we’ve accomplished over the past twelve months.  On the one hand, we proudly tout what objectives were met. But on the other, we reluctantly acknowledge to ourselves the things that we intended to accomplish, but somehow ‘life’ got in the way and prevented us from reaching those goals. And as a consequence, we fell short of the mark. 

There isn’t a person alive today who doesn’t have an idiosyncrasy or two that they’d like to address, but their resolution often times remains elusive. To assist us in dealing with them from a psychological standpoint, we mentally toss them into a confidential compartment in our minds that we conveniently refer to as the ‘shoulda,’ ‘woulda, or ‘coulda’ done file.  This enables us to take a candid look at ourselves in the mirror and attempt to rationalize our inadequacies or shortcomings while simultaneously pondering the prospect of what could be.

I’d like to approach the concept of New Year’s Resolutions from a slightly different angle or ‘Twist’, if you will.  I would ask each of you, my fellow bloggers, to join the discussion and consider the things about you that you not so much resolve to change, such as bad habits (you all know what they are and we all have at least one), but to reflect back on the things you’ve accomplished that you would like to continue doing or do better.  I guess it’s a form of positive affirmation that acknowledges something good that you’re already doing and sharing it with others…

Let me begin:

  • Several years ago, my family and I began the annual tradition of donating Christmas gifts to ‘The Home for Little Wanderers’, an organization that distributes toys to disadvantaged children – I look forward to continuing that tradition.
  • We also volunteer at a local homeless shelter at Thanksgiving and Christmas, serving meals and cleaning up…this I will do every year.
  • As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more compassionate for and tolerant of others, and I now consciously look for ways to be of assistance to those who are less fortunate whenever I can…I do not have unlimited resources, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to give of myself, regardless of the size of my contribution, for I truly believe that every little bit helps. 
  • In 2008, I began writing a memoir – three years later, in 2011, it was completed and I plan to share it with others by publishing it in 2012.
  • I will continue to learn, to share, and to live my life in such a manner that when it is over, I will look back with a sense of pride in knowing that I lived my life ‘well’.

With each new year comes a new opportunity to make a difference not only in ourselves, but also to the rest of the world…don’t miss that opportunity.

Tell us about your New Year’s Resolution ‘Twist’…

 I wish each of you a happy, safe, and healthy New Year!

 

Best,

Kevin

 

The True Spirit of Christmas…

Each year at this time, I, along with millions of others the world over, find ourselves giddily immersed in feelings of yuletide and good cheer.  The annual respite has come, and once again we engage in ritualistic activities that are the hallmark of the Holiday season.  It is a time when all of humanity is overflowing with joy and anticipation, preoccupied with thoughts of sharing this special time with loved ones and friends. 

It’s almost as if a switch is thrown, and people are magically transformed into ambassadors of goodwill. Strangers go out of their way to catch a glimpse of one another while passing by and, without hesitation, willingly offer a smile, a greeting, or a friendly “hello”.  We merrily go about the hustle and bustle of shopping, exchanging gifts, attend Holiday parties, trim our Christmas trees, decorate our living rooms and foyers, and for those with means, hang luminous lights outside in what has become an insatiable desire to be the household on the block with the most lavish display of blinking lights, Santa Clauses, reindeer, and nativity scenes.  These artistic expressions—some of which sporadically appear even before the last slice of turkey is carved from the carcass and made into a sandwich—could easily rival the neon lights that illuminate the night sky in Las Vegas.

Through the words of the beloved animated character, Charlie Brown, I ask:

“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

A few years ago, I found myself pondering the essence of that very question.  Yes, you read that correctly…a question that was brought to light by a cartoon character named Charlie Brown.  That in itself is not unusual. What was unusual was that I was 53 years old at the time.  Was this an epiphany, you might ask?  It might have been. 

This was the same year that my wife’s niece and nephew, both of whom were ten and eleven years old respectively, traveled from Philadelphia to spend the Holidays with my wife, my stepdaughter, and me in Massachusetts.  My wife had great plans for us during this joyous time of year in that we were about to embark on a life lesson—and this was particularly so for the kids.  It was a selfless journey that entailed baking dozens of chocolate chip cookies that we would personally distribute to homeless people on the streets of downtown Boston.  It didn’t matter that at least half of the cookies were burned to a crisp on the bottom and were as hard as a rock.  Who cared, they were only for the homeless, right?  We even lugged a gallon of hot chocolate and paper cups with us to warm not only the bellies of those who were downtrodden and less fortunate, but to also attempt to warm their spirits. 

Three days before Christmas, the five of us eagerly piled into the car, and on that cold, frosty evening, we drove approximately 50 miles to Boston while listening to CD’s of Holiday songs to which we occasionally sang along.  The temperature outside was in the single digits; it was     C-O-L-D!  Upon our arrival, we gleefully jumped out of the car, bundled up, and proceeded to carry the hot chocolate and a large, round plastic Tupperware bowl filled with the cookies to distribute to anyone we happened to meet. 

Shivering, and on the verge of coming down with frostbite, we walked and walked and walked—street after street, block after block.  Through the Boston Commons and the public gardens we traipsed.  Not a creature was stirring…not even a mouse, or a pigeon, or anything.  We saw no one.  Finally, we encountered a man approaching from the opposite direction.  He was clearly a man of the streets, and he kept his distance from us as one of the kids offered him a cookie and some hot chocolate.  Being wary of our intent, he declined and moved on.  We continued walking and doubled back, only to run into the same man again.  This time, his demeanor appeared less defensive.  We made another offer to him and he accepted.  Although he lived in the streets, he exuded a comforting humility that transcended his circumstances.  How could he be so happy?   After sizing us up and realizing that we were not a threat to him, he gleefully expressed his gratitude for our generosity and goodwill. 

We had a pleasant chat with this gentleman, and during the course of our conversation, I inquired where everyone [homeless people] was.  He told us that even the homeless had sense enough to find temporary shelter somewhere indoors on the cold night that it was.  And with a smirk plastered across his old, weathered face, he asked us what we were doing outside that night.  Good question, I thought. We were on a mission—doing good deeds—helping our fellow human beings.  As he finished his hot chocolate, he thanked us and wished us a Merry Christmas.  He then stuck two cookies in his coat pocket and disappeared into the cold, winter night.

It was two days before Christmas, and our entourage made its way to a local mall.  Not surprisingly, we ended up at Wal-Mart, and while there, asked the kids to pick out two gifts each. One selected an I-Pod and a music CD, another chose an educational game and doll with all the accessories, and the third had their eye on a video game and a small, battery-operated radio.  And then the shocking revelation hit them: the gifts weren’t for them—they were going to be donated to ‘The Home for Little Wanderers’, an organization that collects and distributes gifts to disadvantaged children.  My stepdaughter did a great job of almost alienating herself from her cousins when she expressed her desire to donate any and all gifts she might receive each year to children in need; that went over really well with the other two…      

On Christmas Eve, we drove into Boston once again to deliver the gifts to the Home for Little Wanderers.  The kids, when they came to see for themselves the difference that their ‘gifts’ made to that child who had no mother, no father, and sometimes no family at all to love them and care for them, I detected a glimmer of that spirit of giving that my wife so adamantly wanted them to feel.  There was no question that they were pleased at the prospect of helping another child.  It seemed as though the three of them matured in an instant; they were able to put aside their own desires and replaced them with compassion. 

Christmas Day had finally arrived.  MERRY CHRISTMAS!  After a modest breakfast, we got dressed and prepared for yet another journey into Bean-town.  Where on earth could we possibly be going on Christmas Day?  Why, we were off to the Pine Street Inn, a local homeless shelter in Boston to help serve Christmas dinner to those with no means or a place to call home.   And serve dinner we did, right along with a number of other volunteers who thought enough about others to donate their time, and in some cases, their resources to a worthy cause.  Here’s the kicker, though…little did my stepdaughter, niece, and nephew know that they would be helping out while standing alongside a well-known member of the Boston Celtics, a member of the New England Patriots, a movie actress, and two local news anchors, all of whom pitched in to serve food, wash dishes, and sweep the floor!              

I am of the opinion that it is important for all children (who have parents or guardians with the means) to experience the true spirit of Christmas through selfless acts of giving—for it is one of the great lessons in life.  My wife successfully accomplished her objective on that Christmas of several years ago.  She instilled in our young family members the importance of doing whatever you can for another human being, however small, particularly during this special time of year.  This poignant lesson is one that they carry with them to this day, and will continue to do so for the rest of their lives.

This, to me, is the true spirit of Christmas.  And through it all, I can now separate the commercialization aspect of Christmas from its true, intended purpose.            

I wish all of you and yours a splendid Holiday Season!

Peace, Love, and Joy.

Sincerely,

Kevin

THANKSGIVING

Once again, we find ourselves on the precipice of that special time of year; a time when family and friends, many of whom will travel great distances, will gather together to re-connect, re-kindle, and to acknowledge and give thanks for those people and things that make our lives worthwhile.  This span of five weeks that begins with the observance of Thanksgiving and ends as we collectively sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to ring in the New Year, is indeed, traditionally or otherwise, a special time.

As I reflect back to the Thanksgivings of my youth, I see images of a humble existence at our house in West Medford, Massachusetts.  Our dining room was a rarely-used, unfamiliar place – unlike the kitchen, where we spent most of our waking moments as a family.  The dining room was more akin to a shrine, in that it was used only twice a year – on Thanksgiving and on Easter Sunday. For the rest of the year, it served as a pass-through to get from the hallway to the kitchen.  But on Thanksgiving, that drab, old room magically came to life! 

A neatly-folded tablecloth that emitted the pungent odor of mothballs was taken out of storage, washed, pressed, and spread over our dark, walnut table.  Dusty plates, drinking glasses, and silverware were removed from the cupboard and meticulously cleaned and symetrically arranged on the table. My mother complimented the setting by placing two tall candles in the middle of the table, thus creating a kind of ambience in the room that was conducive for a Thanksgiving gathering.

As a child, I never gave much thought to what Thanksgiving was really all about.  To me, it was simply a day that was full of eager anticipation that culminated in a form of culinary greed and over-indulgence, where I selfishly gorged myself with turkey, stuffing, candied yams, mashed potatoes and gravy, mac & cheese, cranberry sauce, vegetables, rolls, and margerine (no butter-too expensive).  I then washed it all down with a tall glass of apple cider.  Lest I forget that traditional bottle of Manischewitz Concord grape wine that graced the table (the only time we kids were allowed to sip alcohol).

And then came dessert…I couldn’t possibly survive the evening without wolfing down a slice each of apple, sweet potato, mince, lemon meringue, and blueberry pie, now could I?  To make matters worse, I had the nerve to top each slice with a scoop of ice cream…ala mode times 5.  After all of that, I had the audacity to wonder why I got sick!

At 50+ years of age, my perspective of what Thanksgiving should be is now tempered by humility and understanding.  I am deeply thankful for my life, first and foremost, and for all of the blessings that have been bestowed upon me.  If there ever comes a time when I feel that I need more of something, or that I am entitled to more of something else, all I need to do is open my eyes and take a look around.  When I do, I see tens of thousands of people in this country who are without a job; who have either lost their home to foreclosure or are about to.  I see homeless individuals living on the streets; I see a mother, alone, holding her crying baby which she is unable to feed.  I see families with no place to call home, existing day to day with barely enough to scrape by. 

Yes, this is indeed a time of thanksgiving.  And when I look at my station in life, and the fact that I live a fairly simple lifestyle (no, I’m not rich or afflent – far from it!), I am thankful for having good health, a loving family, good friends, gainful employment, a home, food to eat, a car to drive, and the basic necessities of life.  Some of you might think that I’m being cavalier or that I’m just easy to please, but I don’t believe that for one minute.  In fact, I’m rich beyond measure.  Who said that richness can only be measured by dollars alone? 

I am thankful for all of you who have taken the time to read my blog, and for those who have made the effort to reach out and communicate with me to offer a thought, a response, a concurrance, or disagreement.  Each of you are a catalyst; you stimulate my mind by engaging in thought-provoking exchanges that facilitates a fulfilling blogging experience…and for that I thank you!

Last, but not least, I would like to acknowledge and give thanks to the men and women in uniform, who are unable to be with their loved ones during this Holiday Season.  It is because of them that we enjoy many freedoms, which in and of itself, is much to be thankful for.

I wish all of you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Be well, stay safe, and always be thankful.

Sincerely,

Kevin

Did You Forget to Say: ‘I Love You?’

When did you last say ‘I Love You’ to your husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, partner, mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, or close friend?  As I pondered this question one day, it occurred to me that my reasons for asking this of myself was a direct result of my own inadequacies and oversights.  Perhaps it was guilt; perhaps not.         

We live in a world that is fraught with endless external stimuli that demands our undivided attention, bombarding us with 24-hour information overload that feeds the insatiable desire to conquer the next milestone.  That big promotion, or winning that elusive prize that we had our eyes on, or gaining the respect of our peers through hard work and determination are but a few of the countless culprits that has the potential to separate us from people and things that have true meaning in our lives.

We are so preoccupied with being at the top of our game and accumulating material possessions and wealth, that those things that are truly of substance and intrinsic value are, over time, gradually diminished to the point of being obscure  or non-existent.     

The natural instinct to survive and to provide, and all that is necessary to ensure that our families have a roof over our heads, enough food on the table, and adqequate clothing on our backs, sometimes causes us to take many things for granted.  How many times, during the course of our daily lives, did we fail to take a moment to tell someone that we love them and that we appreciate them for being a part of our lives? 

I have experienced feelings of regret when I failed to say those three simple, but powerful words to loved ones when I had the opportunity to do so.  And from those experiences, I share my epiphany with you: 

This life, which is but a microcosm in time, is fleeting – it can be snatched away in an instant.  When I leave home each morning to delve into my workaday activities, there is no guarantee that either I, or my wife will return that evening; or that the person I hold dear will be home when I stop by for a visit; or that they will answer the phone when I call to say hello.  It is because of this that I humbly offer the following advice.   

Take those few precious moments to tell someone how you feel; that they are special and that their existence has had a profound effect on your life.

Never forget to say… ‘I Love You.’

 

Change…

When I was young, I used to always hear adults discussing certain aspect of life.  And although the vast majority of those conversations were beyond the ability of my young, inquisitive mind to comprehend, I quietly listened to the exchanges from afar to see if there might be a nugget of wisdom that I could extract from those verbal volleys. 

Then one day, during what I dismissed as being just another routine diatribe between two grown-ups, something within me clicked when I heard the word ‘Change’.  It was almost as if a switch had been thrown deep within my psyche; an immutable moment in time when the usually meaningless babble that I repeatedly overheard somehow made sense.

Throughout life, I have often contemplated the word; change.  And in doing so, I would ask myself why is it that Humans are described as being creatures of habit when nothing in this world remains the same?  We like to follow a schedule or a daily routine; we rise each morning at a certain time and expect to have our meals placed before us at another.  Most activities that we engage in are dictated either by the clock or by the calendar. 

It seems as though we derive a certain sense of comfort by being able to predict what’s going to occur next, yet we are almost never able to do so.  I find it interesting that for all we want to know about life-events, we do not wish to know when our own mortality will be at hand.  We don’t want the good times to end, or those wonderful feelings of elation to subside.  We grow up, become educated, secure gainful employment; some get married and raise families. Others drift through life upon the winds of fate.  No matter what course you take, you can bet that things will always change. 

It has often been stated, and I definitely concur, that the only constant in this life is change; that’s the one thing that can be predicted with 100% certainty.  How one chooses to embrace this omni-present state of flux, or not, is a simple proposition: You can choose go with it and live a life that is full and exciting, or you can attempt to view it as something that can be postponed or avoided altogether, which is comparable to locking yourself in a room with no windows or doors and thinking that nothing is happening in the world – that time has stood still; that the earth has stopped rotating, or that day has ceased to follow night and that night no longer precedes day. Not a very logical stream of thought, and most certainly unattainable.

Personally, I have chosen to ride the wave of change with an open mind and optimistic heart.  One never knows what lies ahead or around that next bend in the road; but one thing I do know is that the road ahead is guaranteed to be unlike the one just traveled. 

I believe that change is good; something to be accepted and embraced. 

How about you?

Thoughts Are Things…

Have you ever had days where everything seems to magically fall into place? Like the time when a series of traffic lights turned green as you whisked down a busy street on your way to that all important meeting?  Or when that one, elusive parking space appeared just as you arrived at your destination?  How about the day when someone you know, who never shows up for anything on time, happened to be there waiting for you to arrive? 

Some might simply dismiss these occurrences as being nothing more than mere coincidence or chance; the luck of the draw.  I, however, do not subscribe to that line of thinking.  Experience has shown me that the train of thought I choose to employ directly or indirectly influences my life in many ways.  I have found that positive thoughts beget positive results (most of the time), and negative thoughts result in not-so-pleasant outcomes (some of the time).

It’s not really that difficult to see a glass as being half-full as opposed to being half-empty, or to approach things—particularly those over which you have no control—with a bit of optimistic indifference.  By that I mean to highlight the importance of not overly-worrying about the inevitable.  All things happen for a reason, and they usually work out in the end.  

I believe that thoughts are indeed things…every tangible item in the world that was created by man started out as a thought, a fleeting idea, or perhaps a simple, what if?  What separates those things that become tangible from those that do not is simply that their creators knew they were on to something and refused to accept failure; they used positive thinking and force of will to bring their idea into existence.  Great innovators effectively use what each of us is born with…a positive attitude, imagination, and free will.  They are the people who have the resolve to make things happen; to manifest their ideas into physical form. 

It doesn’t require an unreasonable amount of effort to develop a positive mindset.  Go ahead and smile; say something nice to another person and make their day.  I have found that it comes back to you many-fold.  Do you see the beauty that surrounds you?  What you are observing is the mirror-image of the beauty that each of us has within…it is there, just waiting to be discovered and shared with others.   

Oh, and that glass that appears to be half-full?  If you make an effort to fill it with positive thoughts each day, it will soon be overflowing with more opportunities and benefits than you could ever imagine.

Positively yours,

Kevin