Lately, I’ve been reading Leo Thorsness’ book, “Surviving Hell.” Leo is one of only 96 Congressional Medal of Honor winners still alive today. But, what really draws me to him is the six years he spent in a North Vietnamese prison camp during Vietnam, after being shot down over Hanoi. The years he spent at the Hanoi Hilton being tortured, beaten to a pulp, neglected and ultimately dehumanized by his captors would break most men - but not Leo.
He claims to be a better man for the experience!
I met Mr. Thorsness’ recently and found him to be both irascible and lovable, all at once. Considering all he has been through, he is an amazingly upbeat and likable fellow. He claims, “In the 35 years since my release from prison, I’ve never had a really bad day!” What a superior human being he is.
One of the things I’ve taken away from his story is just how little time truly significant things take. For example, Leo would fly out of Laos for hours to fulfill a mission over North Vietnam, but the “action” only lasted an average of 12 minutes. Think about that.
Long prebriefing sessions, aircraft and equipment checks, hours of flying there and back, then more time in post briefing - for 12 minutes worth of “business.“
So I gave this notion a test. I lined up the things I had planned to do for a day: phone calls, advertising sign placement, taking may dad to his appointments, moving yet another sofa… all the usual things.
I allowed my normal time for “briefing” myself, “doing my checks,” and travelling to and fro. I did all the things one must do to “make ready“ without change.
But the actual time it took to do anything important? SECONDS.
I logged them all. 15 seconds to load the sofa. 182 seconds to take my dad downtown. 13 seconds to place my sign… well, you get the point. Maybe one took a little more than another, but mere seconds were all that were required for any of them.
When I had everything completed, I still had time to sort out some of the collected “stuff” in my car, have a shower and shave, do a bit of light gardening, write this and it was still only 3 PM! All my pre-planning and getting ready was important - critical, even - but the fact remains that the actual time expended on any one thing was tiny.
So the next time you think you have too many things to do, just follow these three simple steps.
- SCRUTINIZE your coming activities through a magnifying lens. Strip them down to their barest elements, a mental vision of what is actually involved in the act. This is in stark contrast to what other “gurus” will tell you. They always put the plan before the action.
But realizing how little time is actually required by each activity brings it into a more realistic perspective.
- PLAN in a similar fashion. Allow each bit of planning only the moments it deserves. We usually worry and stew over a thing far in excess of it’s importance, and so end up with what seems to be toom uch on our plate.
But, since the important things come down to crucial seconds of activity, prepare the same way. Everything in your planning is designed to get you to those crucial seconds, seamlessly.
DO - Once you have scrutinized and planned accordingly, then focus on doing the activity exactly as you envisioned. Don’t invest more time in it than you pictured, don’t get sidetracked in diversions. Do it exactly as you saw it in your pre-planning scrutiny.
At first, this will seem backwards from what you are accustomed to. But stick with it. By doing things in this order, you will sharply focus your efforts, leaving you more time to do what you must. In turn, this will give you more time to do more of the things you enjoy!
Before long, you will have gained control of your time and feel more alive, more free. And like Leo Thorsness, you will likely catch yourself exclaiming, “When you’re me, it’s hard to have a really bad day!”