Friday, April 4, 2008

Time Slip

I turn 45 this year. I'll admit that it's a bit old to be starting a new life in a foreign country, giving up tenure for a new job, raising a two-year old, and erasing many of the financial assets that took us so long to accumulate. There's also the challenge of forming new friendships while all the rest of this is going on. Sometimes I feel like I'm just starting out in my 20s again (although this time I have a toddler and a wife!). The major difference is that I probably have only 20-25 good work years ahead of me, rather than the 40-45 that I had in 1988. Thus, time has become much more precious to me. For instance, there is so much more that I want to accomplish in my career, but I know that I can't really work long days and nights with a family at home. Thus, I want to become more effective in managing my time so that I can end up spending more of it doing more meaningful things: more time playing with Will and talking to V., and less time watching "The Top 25 richest people in Entertainment;" more time developing my research and less time sitting in meetings that don't benefit me; more time getting exercise and less time sitting in the car.

Getting a handle on time management is probably easier for some, but for many of us our old habits are hard to change. I was recently inspired, however, by some lectures given by Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon University. Pausch is about three years old than me and has had a successful career in computer science (much of it having to do with virtual reality), and he has three young children and a wife at home. He's also dying of pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to his liver and spleen. In October 2007 he gave an inspiring "Last Lecture" at CMU, in which he talked about how to achieve one's childhood dreams. He has also posted a lecture on time management that he gave a few weeks later at the University of Virginia. The latter is interesting, given that Pausch learned to manage time highly effectively many years ago. I recommend that you watch both of these videos--you won't be wasting your time! A few tips that I have tried to incorporate from his time management lecture:
  • keep you email inbox empty, reading each email only once
  • schedule every minute of every day
  • keep your own meetings as short as possible
  • delegate when possible
  • keep your workspace tidy
  • develop an effective filing system, and use it
  • remind yourself what is most important to you and plan to spend your time accordingly
I may not have cancer, but I do feel like there's some urgency in my life, as much of it is starting over. Now, if I could just figure out what to do with all this silver hair on my head...

9 comments:

Audra said...

But what if I operate under the assumption that every minute does not have to be full to be valuable? What if I believe that empty time is worthwhile, and that organization is a vain attempt to stave off the inevitability of chaos? What if I have learned that trying is way more fun the achieving?

Audra said...

crap...THAN achieving.

The Prof said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Prof said...

Oh, to be 40 again and have my entire life in front of me!

But seriously, time management doesn't mean you can't schedule all the empty time you need. I certainly do. And I have no problems with the "trying" stuff. For me it would just be nice to have an achievement every once in a while to disrupt the monotony of trying.

Anonymous said...

Eric, Happy Birthday and congrats on all you have achieved, which is a lot.

Brett said...

This post really hit home with me. I embarked upon a "second" career over a decade ago now. After many years of schooling culminating in a Ph.D., I find myself in the last year of 2 year fellowship in Australia and the possibility of accepting a tenure track position at CUNY -Brooklyn College...at the ripe young age of 42 (by the time I start that job). While the ride has been worth it, I am looking at 20-25 years left in my academic career, and only hope that I can contribute something lasting (to the aquatic sciences), while still enjoying as much time as possible with Elsa (now 16 months) and her mum. I guess there's at least two of us in similar circumstances. Cheers.

Megan said...

You know, this entry really struck a chord with me. I'm younger than you at 27, but feeling the squeeze... I love my current independent life and the endless potential, but I want a family which does put an age constraint on what I can do (even if it's not quite so urgent these days), and then before I do that I still have to complete my studies and establish a career (which I don't just want to do, but want to do WELL) so that I can provide for said family. I started a little late on the career path but I wouldn't trade any of the travel I did for anything... and in fact, still want to travel a lot more, so there's another competing interest. My problem really is narrowing my focus and deciding what I want most. I don't think it matters how old you are, if you are very driven I think you always find there is not enough time left... particularly if you care about the quality of what you do, not just being able to say you've done stuff.

The Prof said...

Thanks for the birthday wishes, Anonymous. I won't have my birthday until June, but I do appreciate the sentiment.

Brett and Megan, it's comforting to hear that others feel the same way that I do sometimes. Thanks for taking the time to write a comment, given your own personal time schedules!! I wish you all the best in reaching your dreams too...

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