Carpe Tiempo: Seize The Time

Last week, my air conditioner finally died. Well, almost finally. After a few choice curses, wrench turns, bruised and bloody knuckles, trips to the refrigeration wholesaler, frantic phone calls to a friend who’s in the air conditioning business, an exchange of photographs with him about my before and after wiring, a Freon burn and a near death experience, both my upstairs and downstairs units are blowing cold again.

For the past several years in August, I always swear I’ll replace them before the next summer. But then they blow just cold enough one more time and all is right with the world. Easily forgotten, though, is on a stifling night in August, I would pay ten times the going rate if I could actually get somebody to show up to fix my units.

Suffice to say, I’m a product of my culture I’m whim-driven. We want it all, we want it now and we turn into petulant children when somebody tells us no. As a result, I often find myself favoring short-term and immediate gratification and solutions. I know this isn’t the most effective method of operating, but with my impossible travel schedule, where am I going to find the time to do things any differently?

Many law enforcement agencies take the same approach when it comes to training and program development. I’ve heard, on many occasions, trainers lamenting that block training is only a couple of weeks away and they now have to pull something together. Like me, my failing air conditioner and my cobble-it-together-to-make-do-one-more-time approach to maintenance, throwing training together costs agencies much more in the long-run in terms of lives, livelihoods and lawsuits.

In his excellent book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey discusses this phenomenon to the extent that he has a grid that describes it. He slots time into four distinct quadrants:

  1. Not Important, Not Urgent
  2. Urgent, Not Important
  3. Important, Not Urgent
  4. Important, Urgent

The Not Important, Not Urgent category is where most of us spend (waste) much of our time, such as surfing the Web, playing video games, watching mindless television, etc., which are things that add pretty much nothing to our lives. Urgent, Not Important activities are those that seem important at the time because of their immediacy, such as a ringing phone, drop-in colleagues who are trying to saddle you with their problems, emails, instant messages, etc. Important, Not Urgent is the stuff that really needs to get done, but you just don’t seem to have time for things like my air conditioner, or for agencies, building and implementing training programs. Then there’s the Important, Urgent stuff: the deadline has arrived and your editor has to go to press (right, Law Officer staff?); your certification is about to expire and you’re scrambling to find some way to check the mandatory training box; the air conditioner quits, you can’t sleep in the sweltering heat, it costs you 500 bucks to check into a hotel and three times as much to get your machine fixed.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Covey says that to get a better handle on your life and to stop the cycle of crisis-to-crisis living, there are steps you can take, but they will take some discipline and organization as well as a recalibration of some of your underlying beliefs. The first thing to understand is that nothing remarkable and lasting happens quickly.

Taking Control
There’s a process to excellence. For example, I tell my students at the end of one of my five-day schools that they have not arrived at a destination, but rather at the beginning of a journey, one that’s likely going to take years to reach the ultimate goal they seek. For some, this is discouraging. For others, it’s liberating. I tell my students that in the world of reality-based training (RBT), five years is zero time, meaning it will likely take at least five years of hammering away at their organizations before they can begin to implement many of the teachings of the week and that’s within an organization that really wants to make those changes.

The changes I propose take a while for the organization to adopt, and it requires constant effort, vigilance and continued funding to achieve those goals. That’s why RBT has to be a program a funded program rather than a project for which a single infusion of financial resources is given with a stern admonition that “this is all you have, so make do.”

As Covey says, it requires discipline to take back control of your time. You will have to eliminate as best you can the time-wasting activities within the Not Important, Not Urgent quadrant. Just stop doing them. Get off the computer games and out of the chat rooms, and step away from the pencils and Sudoku puzzle book. Next, shut your office door or at least reorganize your space so that your back is to the entryway to your domain. This will deter many of the stopover time wasters who like to linger and chat. Schedule several times a day when you’ll make or return your phone calls and check and answer emails. Guard your time like the precious, nonrenewable resource that it is.

For the Urgent, Not Important items, much of this can be delegated. Don’t let anybody hand you their problems. Often, you’ll find that many of the items in this quadrant can be solved with taking the “that’s not my problem” attitude.

By divesting yourself of most, if not all, of the items in those first two quadrants, a lot of time is freed to focus on the Important, Not Urgent items, such as scheduling and attending training, creating new programs, budgeting for a new air conditioner and getting it fixed on your own terms. It’s amazing how much time is available when you release the demons in the first two quadrants.

What you will ultimately find is that when you eliminate the first two quadrants and focus on the third, you’ll have very few instances of Urgent, Important that drop out of the sky. They can’t be completely avoided, of course. For instance, in my part of the world, a hurricane cruises through every now and then and creates all sorts of Urgent, Important activities. Many of the complexities associated with such catastrophes, however, are quickly and efficiently addressed by those who have spent their time in preparation Important, Not Urgent through realistic training.

Everybody is crying the blues about time and money these days. But if you follow Covey’s principles, as well as my own Ten Minute Warrior concept, (10 minutes a day spent on training in some area that falls into the quadrant of Important, Not Urgent equals 60 hours of training each year) then an inordinate amount of training can be accomplished with much less discomfort and reduced expenses overall.

I’ve scheduled in a heating and cooling system overhaul for the fall. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that the only way change is going to happen on my terms is to take back the control. There will be some discomfort physical and financial but in the end, ripping out the problem once and for all and replacing it with something functional will be the most effective solution. Often, the same thing goes for training programs in an agency. In many instances it will require ripping out the old in favor of the new. It will be costly and uncomfortable in the short-term, but in the long run everything will be a lot cooler around your agency and on the street.

Until next time, train hard and train safe.

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