Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Filling in between the grains of sand

In Monday's post, I admitted to my tendency to make a major production out of most everything I do. I also realize that I am an "all or nothing" sort of person, as in if I don't have a big uninterrupted chunk of time, I don't want to start the work at all. My glass is never half full; it's half empty or worse. I don't know if the two are related, but they both have conspired in the past to make me less productive.

I once worked for a manager who was taking a Dale Carnegie course. One morning he arrived at work eager to share with us a story he'd heard at his meeting the previous night. At first, I was doing the eye-rolling bit, but as he went on, I realized he was onto something. My memory is a bit hazy, but the story went something like this:

Imagine that you have a bowl filled with pebbles. You can't cram another one in. Is the bowl full? Many would automatically respond, "yes." But aren't there spaces between the pebbles? Try pouring sand in and around the pebbles; shake the bowl so it settles into every pocket. Ok, so the bowl wasn't full after all, but surely it is full now. Not one more thing could fit in it, right? Wrong! Here's a pitcher of water. See if any of it will fit in your bowl. Ah, the water finds even more pockets of space and perhaps your bowl truly is full at last.

Now imagine that the empty bowl represents one day. It is easy to fill your day with big things like the pebbles and think you have no time for anything else. The trick to using your time well is to be aware of those little pockets of time and learn to fill them with smaller things so that every minute of your day is well used.

I'll admit, I've never been particularly good at this. Every so often, though, I remember this story, put aside my all or nothing mentality and find that I can accomplish more than I think in 5 or 10 minutes. For instance, I've accumulated quite a stack of articles and ideas pulled from magazines that need to be filed. I keep putting it off because I know it will take quite awhile to do. But I could get a lot of pages filed in 5 minutes here and there. In the ten minutes between feeding the dog and having to walk her, I was able to sew several strips of binding on my little quilt banner. I always think cleaning the bathrooms is going to take a big chunk of time, but today I did it in 20 minutes. For real efficiency, check out Lisa's comment on yesterday's post.

So I am adding this mind set to my list of things to help me be more disciplined and focused. I'm going to fight against the temptation to turn away from or leave undone the simple things or parts of things that really only take a small pocket of time to accomplish.

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