Personal Minimums

Timing is everything. I mean, do you ever notice that just when you’re dangling by a thread, nerves completely shot, certain that there’s no possible end to the high speed sprint required just to get through the list for the day, someone crosses your chaotic path and casually mentions the very words you need to hear? Luckily, it happens to me all the time. So when I recognize someone else in the same predicament, tasks exceeding time allotted, I try to pass on the poignant words.

Recently, I attended a flight instructor recurrent course (Yes my CFI is current and no, I don’t have a rational explanation why I keep renewing the rating even though I haven’t actually taught a student in an airplane since 1993.) Tired, bogged down and just overwhelmed in general, I sat in the hanger thinking about the thousand or so things on my perpetual “to do” list and wondered what possessed me to commit an entire Saturday for this class. (Actually, the course required three weekends, two of which I was certain to miss.) But then it happened. The universe struck and revealed the very phrase I needed to hear. The instructor asked the group a question. What are your personal minimums?

Well, in aviation at least, the answer was a no brainer. The FAA graciously published a two-inch-thick book (with very small print) spelling out the requirement, specifics and limits. Beyond that, pilots are trained to set another set of standards, individual parameters that help them decide how ready they are to fly. For example, am I rested, clear-minded, physically healthy, how many hours have I flown in the last thirty days, are all criteria considered each time professionals fly. Simple enough. But as the instructor moved on to the subject of time management, a curious thought entered my head. What are my personal minimums for my non-flying life? 

 Now I’m not sure I heard another thing the ground instructor said, but I got the exact piece of information I needed. I spent the next seven hours developing a practical plan. A checklist of questions to rank tasks and priorities, to help develop a ‘do I have enough time to face the scheduled events at hand’ plan. (work meetings, writing, lunches, errands, car pools, yard work, home maintenance, pets, homework, travel, voicemail, email, charity commitments.)

After some thought, this is what I came up with:

What are the absolute must “dos”?

What are the need to be “dones”–short-term?

What are the need to be “dones”– long term?

What are my passions? (What do I love to do or am interested in trying? I.E. What makes you squeal like a five-year old?)

When I answered the questions, I made a second list. Given an ideal day–decent night sleep, good breakfast, work-out, calm attitude, minimal stress , how many of the above items can I realistically accomplish? (being sure to include at least one thing I actually wanted or liked to do)

Then a third. What if I’m short on sleep, not eating healthy, don’t have time to exercise, and will encounter volatile people or intense situations? Then, what are my realistic capabilities as it relates to number of to dos I can accomplish?

After testing this exercise, every day for  a week, I realized that the skills I’ve been using deciding my level of fitness for flight also worked famously for setting task limits in my day to day life. (By the way, I also applied this process to answering emails and text messages.)

Heck this past Friday, as a result of streamlined scheduling, I even had enough time to actually get dressed at home for a black-tie event. (not my usual quick change in the back seat of the car–clam-glam no more.)

E.L. Chappel author of Risk/Spirit Dance

Narrowing in on a balanced existence

aka The Glamorous Wife

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