It’s About Time—Improve Your Life with this Simple Tool!

Over my career, I have had the privilege of teaching workshops and delivering keynote speeches for some of the most respected professional development companies in the world (FranklinCovey, Shipley Associates, etc.). Another of those companies was DAY-TIMER—the time management company. My mentor there, Warren (Trapper) Woods (affectionately known as “Father Time” to those of us who knew him well), was one of the nicest people I have ever worked with. Warren has since passed, but his timeless wisdom, and the lessons he taught me, are with me every time I stand to teach or speak.

On one occasion, while I was delivering a workshop for DAY-TIMER, one of the participants asked me this question, “If you could give us one time management tip that would change our lives, what would it be?” (You know, sometimes participants ask incredibly good questions—this was one.) I was taken aback for a moment or two, while I quickly surveyed my life experience with regards to time management. Almost Immediately, I remembered an evening during my time at the university, where I had a powerful and relevant experience that literally changed my life…

There was a prominent man in our neighborhood, who was a successful businessman, religious leader, and civic leader. His name was Mr. Shumway. We had recently engaged in a conversation regarding my progress at the university and my career aspirations. A few days later, as I was walking in the door from school, the phone started ringing. I answered it, and on the other end was Mr. Shumway. He told me that he had done some thinking since our last conversation and had some additional things he wanted to discuss with me. He then asked me if I would like to get a burger at a local drive-in that evening and talk. Respecting Mr. Shumway and his insight the way I did, I readily accepted his offer and anxiously awaited our discussion.

When we arrived at the drive-in that evening, he rolled down his window and we each decided what we wanted for dinner from the lighted menu display. Mr. Shumway then pushed the button and waited for a response. While he presented our order to the attendant, I admired all the nice features of his car. As I was looking at the center console, a small note pad caught my attention. I could see it had some writing on it, so, I have to admit, I looked closer to see what it said. I could tell that it was some kind of list. I noticed that about half of the items had been checked off, so I figured it was a to-do list.

Then I saw it! My name appeared about half way down the list. Everything above my name had been neatly checked off. I quickly looked away and quietly wondered to myself how such a busy man could find time for me and my questions. I was embarrassed to be taking up his precious time. But for the next hour or so, you wouldn’t have had any idea that Mr. Shumway had anything else to do that day but chat with me.

I learned a number of things from Mr. Shumway during our discussion on that long-ago evening. But one of the most important things I learned didn’t come from our discussion. It came from seeing a little note pad on the console of his luxury car. That evening, I discovered that you don’t need an elaborate scheme to plan your daily priorities. Mr. Shumway was one of the most successful people I knew, and yet, he planned his days on a little note pad…

I turned to the students in my DAY-TIMER workshop and in response to the question I had been asked, I told them the above story. I ended by telling them that the most important thing they could do—time management wise—to improve their lives, dramatically, would be to take five minutes at the end of each day to plan the next. During each day of our lives, circumstances and priorities change. However, at the end of the day, you and I pretty well know what our priorities for the following day should be. Taking five minutes to create a prioritized to-do list will allow you to accomplish some important things:

  1. It will allow you to evaluate how you are spending your days and indicate where you might want to make changes. For example, are you keeping yourself busy on low, to no, priority things? Remember, busy does not necessarily equal productive.
  2. It will help you focus on priorities, so that the most important (vs. the most pressing) things get done.
  3. It will reduce “beginning of the day anxiety.” You will no longer be asking the question, What am I going to do today? Instead, you will be stating, This is what I will do first.

Back in the heyday of “day planners,” workshop participants enjoyed showing off their personal planning binders to me. Some people had developed such elaborate schemes and formulas to plan every area of their lives that the business of planning had actually become a hobby. I sometimes wondered how these folks had any time to live their lives after having spent so much time planning them.

Life and living don’t always have to be complicated to be effective. Often we humans overcomplicate things. Many years ago, while enjoying a burger with a friend, I learned that you can manage your life very effectively—one day at a time—with a simple note pad and a pencil.

Mr. Shumway is no longer with us in this world. Nevertheless, he is one of the 1000’s of people who have shaped my life for good. So, I’d like to close this Blog by simply saying, Thank you, Mr. Shumway.

-Mark Swain

Daily Renaissance offers a Professional Development Workshop titled: Principles of Time and Life Management. For more information, contact us.

Here are two clips of Mark delivering a 30-minute speech on time management for DAY-TIMER Corporation in Atlanta Georgia. This was the first time he ever used the story of Mr. Shumway in a speech. It is in two parts. The story of his experience with Mr. Shumway is at the end of the speech on clip two. Here are the links:

2 thoughts on “It’s About Time—Improve Your Life with this Simple Tool!

  1. His son is a shinning example of his dad…so are you Mark…welll back to “Change is the tool of Human Progress ” Napolian Hill/// Mark Swain Good thing I have a note pad and pen handy here so I can change/repent and get on with it.

    1. Yes, Roger is a great man too. He is a positive influence on many.

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