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WHAT MY CHILDREN TAUGHT ME ABOUT TIME MANAGEMENT Pruning Our Priorities
With spring fast approaching, many folks are taking a few hours to clean out their garages, trim the bushes, and organize a drawer or two. But as we’re pruning away the clutter in and around our homes, there’s one thing we often neglect: the clutter in our personal lives and businesses. What if, in addition to all the physical spring cleaning we do each year, we took some time to stop and think about our everyday priorities? It’s a lesson I was forced to learn when my life changed abruptly about 20 years ago. From the time I got out of the Army in 1988, I was a borderline workaholic. So I was in my office in Houston five days a week, scrambling through hectic 10–12 hour days, and working for a few hours most Saturday mornings to clear up paperwork. But after going through a complicated personal situation, I suddenly found myself divorced and with primary custody of my children, who were ages 4, 6, and 10. As you can probably imagine, I was forced to drastically reevaluate the way I spent my time. I completely restructured my days and weekends so I could be available for them, get them where they needed to go, and still take care of my business obligations.
pretty difficult and stressful, but I also cherish every moment. I’m well aware how blessed I was to be able to spend so much time with my kids through those growing years. Unfortunately, not many dads have the opportunity I had. The experience taught me a number of things, but perhaps the most important was that ethic of self-discipline, filtering out those trivial tasks and trying to focus on what is important. I received a clever gift last Christmas from an associate, a framed “What NOT to Do List” for managing my business. I now keep it on my credenza. It reminds me of the lesson I learned all those years ago. Working endless hours or overwhelming yourself with tasks is not the key to accomplishing your goals. It’s determining what is truly important to you and cutting out everything else. Though I still could be a lot more disciplined — spending fewer hours in front of the TV watching sports, for example — I think it’s important to be reminded every now and then that we all have the same number of hours in the day. It’s how we use each one that counts.
Every weekday, I needed to drop off the youngest at his Montessori school early in the morning, then be back to pick them all up at their different after-school programs by closing at 6:30 p.m., or there would be big trouble. And if you have any idea what Houston traffic is like between 5:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., this was no simple task. We lived in a suburb about a 30-minute drive from my office, even without traffic issues. So, in order to get there on time, without having a stress-induced heart attack, I’d have to leave my office by 4:45 p.m. sharp in order to get ahead of the 5:00 rush. At first, it was a serious struggle. Tasks were left unfinished, and I began to fall behind at work. But as I caught my stride, I found that the hard 4:45 p.m. deadline was a boon more than an obstacle. I quickly realized I had to be absolutely ruthless with what I chose to focus on. The reason I was having to stay at work 10–12 hours a day before was because I had virtually unlimited time to get things done. But with a hard deadline, I was forced to prioritize and focus my efforts. My discipline and efficiency skyrocketed — as did my ability to say no. Now, my kids are grown and off on their own pursuits. Looking backward through the rearview mirror, I remember those days being
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