But as much as I hate saying the word, I do love calendaring and am working this year at becoming a better calenderer than I have been in the past.
I read a quote last week from Gary Crittenden who was the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of American Express: “in order to get a lot done requires a lot of structure. My life is so structured that I literally know where I’m going to be most days between now and a year from now.”
The most interesting aspect of calendaring is what it reveals about your priorities. What activities are important enough to get early booking? Which commitments are strong enough to withstand the inevitable conflicts that come along later?
Unfortunately, my track record stinks. I do a much better job of calendaring work activities than I do family commitments. For example, I forgot about the Pinewood Derby that's happening this week. That was even after they announced it in church. And even after Wendy reminded me several times. It was even after she picked up a Pinewood Derby kit and laid out all the tools for me. But I scheduled myself onto a plane at the time of the event itself. And I left no room in my schedule to help Isaac work on building his car.
Instead, this Saturday was meant to be a miraculous day when I got all my work caught up. I had emails to answer, stacks of paper to sort, forms to edit, and loads of calendaring to calendar. I went to bed early on Friday night so I’d be rested. I woke up early on Saturday morning to get my desk set up. And I even asked a colleague to cover my phone for the day so that I wouldn’t get distracted.
So it was devastating when Wendy toed the line at 10 AM and reminded me that it was the only day I had left to get the Pinewood Derby done. I literally lay on my bed and cried. “You don’t understand,” I whimpered, “that will take up my whole day.”
It did take up my whole day.
I kenneled the dog, laid drop cloths in the kitchen, and brought in all the tools and paint Wendy had set out. We drove to the Boy Scout office where the nice ladies talked us into buying $50 worth of tools without ever demonstrating how to use them or proving that we needed them (it turned out we didn’t need any of them). We took a trip to Lowe’s for brushes and other sundries.
Then when we finally went home to our makeshift workspace, it only took a few minutes to be painfully reminded that that I’m horrible with woodwork and have no idea how to make a decent Pinewood Derby car. I make horrible cars that lose races by several lengths and embarrass my son—who politely tries to hide his disappointment. Unwilling to spend yet another Pinewood Derby teaching my son about the art of losing gracefully, I desperately emailed and texted friends all over the neighborhood begging for help.
Fortunately, our kind neighbors across the street invited us in and lent us a hand and offered the use of his extensive garage shop. We made several trips back and forth to cut wood, drill holes, and then to re-cut and re-drill to make up for mistakes made along the way. We painted and we glossed. We weighed and balanced. And we had a wonderful day.
By 8PM, not only did we have a great car for Isaac, but also a fun car for Olivia and even one for me. The kids had fun. Wendy was happy and grateful. And I feel fantastic. On Monday, I’ll wake up a few hours early and work with more enthusiasm and efficiency than I ever could have mustered without having had such a great Saturday.
Clayton Christensen reminds us that it’s both a folly of human nature to overinvest in activities that yield short-term returns and also that the stuff we do at work will always yield faster results than the more important work we do at home:
Of all the things that are competing for our energy and time, our careers offer by far the most tangible evidence of significant achievement. So we close a sale, ship a product, finish a project, complete a presentation, teach a great class, get paid, get promoted. All of these things are tangible evidences of our self worth and our achievement. Our activities with our family offer very few evidences of immediate and tangible achievements….it’s not until twenty years later that you can put your hands on your hips and say 'I raised great kids.' It’s a long-term investment.
Twenty years from now, I’m sure I won’t remember the details of this weekend; I’m sure my kids won’t either. But I hope that we will all look back with gratitude on a lifetime spent wherein weekends like this one made their way into our calendars and didn’t get bumped when lesser stuff came up.