Time might as well take a cigarette

The title of my blog is doffing its cap at David Bowie:

The thing about being enthusiastic about many things, and as full of life as a fresh fruit salad, is that you always run out of time to do everything. Thus, enthusiasm will be the primary contributing factor to my probably being late for my own funeral which, because it is an unplanned event, is bound to come at a most inconvenient time.

While God is still being gracious to me, therefore, and before too much more time passes, I thought I would note down a few things on the subject of time management.

  1. I used to be a procrastinator, but I do not get around to doing that much these days.
  2. Shortly after learning how not to procrastinate as a freelance translator (around the age of 26), I became an excellent time manager until as recently as two years ago.
  3. For the last two years I have been sporadically excellent as managing my time. This means that I have also been sporadically bad at time management.

The upshot of all of the above taken together is that I have come to realise that sustained, effective time management is just about as easy as walking along a greased pole in the funfair section at some dusty agricultural show before brightly coloured plastic became popular.

What, you may ask, has prompted me to talk about time management?

The fact that for the first time in my life, I am taking time out for myself – yes, me!

In two weeks’ time I shall be attending the 2013 ProZ.com International Conference for translators. You may recall that I mentioned this in a New Year’s resolutions piece entitled, “Bloody, Bold and Resolute“, so theoretically, I have had plenty of time to plan for this.

That’s the thing about planning: If you plan for things, they are more likely to come into being than if you dismiss them as impossible from the outset. More positively expressed, this means that if you make something a goal – and write it down – you can achieve it if you work at it properly.

“Write it down on a f***ing piece of paper!”

This is the best advice I ever received.
It nearly burst my ear drum. About twenty years ago, I was the senior secretary to a true captain of industry. I fielded a phone call on his behalf from a very important person indeed. My boss was on another call at the time, also important. My failure was that a total of six minutes elapsed from the time my boss completed his phone call to the time I gave him the message that Mr VIP had phoned. I had to confess to him that the fact that  Mr VIP had called personally had “slipped my mind” in the intervening six minutes. That was when I received this excellent piece of advice through the telephone receiver in a high-pitched scream. That was the only time he ever screamed at me.

Ordinarily, we had an excellent relationship, my boss and I. For one, I never flinched when he used the F-word. Also, I worked well. I was every bit as disciplined as my boss and had enormous respect for him. Loyalty and maintaining confidentiality had something to do with my survival, too. But what truly tipped the scales in my favour was that when he made one of his very infrequent visits to my office the next day, he was gratified to see that I had a large notebook on my desk in which to write down all messages I took for him. I have my partner to thank for that. When I went home and told her of my day’s drama (and only I will ever have any idea of the crucial importance of that single phone call), she simply said to me that I should do what my boss told me. So, I did.

That boss had a requirement when one spoke to him. One had to give him a message in one sentence. Get to the point immediately. No stuttering, no beating around the bush. Just the raw message. Then he would ask questions about the efficiently delivered one-sentence message, which normally required a rapid yes or no answer. You see, for him, time was of the essence. Quite right, too. It is.

Thus began the discipline of writing things down. All sorts of things. Aide-mémoires. Things to do. Things to do by a certain date or time. Knowing how long something takes to do – so that you can do it in time.

Determination is enthusiasm with stamina. I love movies like Chariots of Fire; the kind of movie where someone wins against all odds. It is not so much the winning, as the sweat and the stamina getting to the goal which engages me. It is cliché, but still valid: It is a question of mind over matter.

Mind over matter. Time is not matter, but that does not matter.  We will pretend it is. We might as well. Time is infinite, and yet we humans use the word time as if time itself can actually be divided into a neat series of parcels of various sizes – seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, month, years, decades, centuries, millennia. We are the time-keepers, We are the keepers of time. Therefore, we can manage it.

Time does matter. It matters what we do with it. Because we never have enough of it. The wonderful thing is that we do choose what we do with our time.

I have indeed planned for this translators’ conference. Things seemed to be on track – right down to the planned hair cuts we have just had – until last night. It was then that I discovered (once again) that I had been so busy working, that I had neglected one thing: Giving myself time to think about the topics of all the sessions and workshops I look forward to attending. It is not that I have never thought about these things, or never read anything on these matters. Quite the contrary.  It is just that I have never thought of these things from the vantage point of where I am now in my life!

As all translators, freelance or otherwise, know, it is essential to meet deadlines. But those are other people’s deadlines which we assume when we accept the work.

Far more important are the deadlines we give ourselves. When we achieve them, there is no fanfare, no particular adrenalin rush; just the absence of panic and a sense of achievement. These two things can spur us on – and create the kind of enthusiasm within our beings which makes us crave more time for everything we hold dear. The not-so-vicious circle thus created compels us to continue to refine our planning skills. And other skills. Which is why we need to take time out to work out how we are going to deal with the time which we still have left on the planet.

I hope that the translation conference will give me fresh insights. I look forward to meeting fellow participants and finding out what they think. I look forward to a workaholic’s favourite thing: A working holiday in a five-star hotel. And relaxing breakfasts. And miniscule bars of soap. My partner, who has had her sleep patterns messed up so very many times over the last quarter-century because of my sometimes punishing work schedule, will be accompanying me on this little adventure. It is the very least she deserves.

Meanwhile, it is time for a cigarette.

No, I am not giving up!


I am going to grease up an old four-inch pole, lay it horizontally on two posts about three feet above a body of psychedelic water and put it in an art gallery and call it “Time”. Or, you can. Whoever gets to do it first, wins. That is one rule of time, by the way.

Allison

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