24 and No More

"You get 24 and no more." That's what the old man said after I told him about all the things I wanted to accomplish. My response: "Huh?"

He went on, "Son, each day the good Lord gives each of us 24 hours. You can't buy no more, you can't sweet-talk no more, you can't steal no more. That's all you get no matter who you are. So you got to make the most of what you got."

Those words have stuck with me ever since I heard that old man say them. So how do we make the most of those hours?

The first thing to recognize is that we need sleep.
We can't stay awake for 24 hours a day. That is, our bodies require sleep. In college and seminary I could stay up all night studying for an exam or putting the finishing touches on a project. I could catch up on sleep at the break between classes, or just get in the bed a little earlier that night and feel just fine the next day. But now that I'm older my body and brain just don't have the resilience they once did. An all-nighter leaves me groggy and grouchy for the next week!

Make the most of it:
Sleep is required, and that may require us to adopt better practices than we had as teenagers and college students. Neil Fiore, psychologist and executive coach, tells it straight: "Thinking you can function on abbreviated sleep is thinking you're a god. You're not; you're a human being who needs to sleep"[1]. The targeted amount of sleep for an adult is 7 to 8 hours [2]. Set a bedtime, and then create a routine that works toward the bed in stages. So, for example, if light's out is at 10:30pm, then brush your teeth at 10:00pm, lay out your clothes for the next day at 10:15pm, and at 10:25pm set the timer on the coffeepot to start brewing in the morning. Those are just little "triggers" that tell your body what it's going to do, instead of the other way around.

Sleep is essential, but so is setting the alarm clock and getting out of the bed when it's time to work. So...

The second thing to recognize is that we need a job.
We can't survive without a job because we have bills that must be paid. I don't know of an electric company that accept IOUs, and I am still looking for a cell phone company that would accept my Barry Bonds rookie card as payment. Companies provide services in exchange for money, therefore if you want to enjoy the use of hot water (or a host of other amenities) then you need a job that pays you money so you can pay the service-provider the money you owe them so they will continue providing their service to you. It's a nice cycle of service, as long as you have a job.

Make the most of it:
Work is a satisfying part of being human. We want to cultivate and create, and generally leave things better or farther along than when we found them. Because computers and automation have caused many jobs to transition from "hands-on" to "brains-on," we need to create systems that prove to ourselves we accomplished something during the day. The sense that he wasn't actually accomplishing anything is what led Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft, out of the Washington think tanks and back into a motorcycle repair shop. But for those of us who lack the skills of a tradesman, we have to rely on something else to demonstrate our usefulness to ourselves. It may be as simple as a check list of items that we cross off as the day goes by, or a scan of the "sent mail" folder at the end of each day to see how the organization is better off because we showed up.

Sleep, if done right, takes 8 hours. Work, if done full-time, takes 8 hours (at least). And remember, you get 24 and no more, so...

The third thing to recognize is that we are have approximately 8 hours each day to do what we want to do. These are the hours, strangely enough, that can make or break your life. That's the conclusion reached by Robert Pagliarini in his book The Other 8 Hours. He writes:
"The 8 hours you sleep are lost. The 8 hours you sell for a paycheck are gone. What you have - really, all you have - are the other 8 hours. Life not only happens in those other 8 hours, but life is the other 8 hours. Where you work, the size of your paycheck, the amount of debt you have, what you weigh, the number of people you can count on in an emergency, you connection to God, the relationship you have with your spouse and children, and just about everything else that is meaningful to you is the result of how you've used the other 8 hours"[3].

Make the most of it:
Turn off the television. As humans we require sleep, work, and relationships. We have a need to know other people and, at the same time, to experience ourselves as known by other people. And yet some people's deepest friendships were with Rachel, Ross, and Phoebe from the television show "Friends." I'm serious, there were really people who attended grief therapy when that show went off the air; they were mourning as if they had lost real friends! With television off, a whole world of possibility is opened up: go for a walk, ride a bike, play basketball with the neighbor's kids, call your mom on the phone, read a book, write a poem, grab coffee with a friend or play the guitar. Another idea is to plan a memorable experience. A study performed by San Francisco State University found that people who spent money on experiences enjoyed life more than those bought more "stuff." While the pleasure of a new item dissolves within 6 weeks, participating in and reflecting on memorable experiences brings richness and depth to our lives that we can recall for years to come. So plan a romantic night out, buy tickets a Broadway show, go see a high school baseball game, fly to Niagra Falls, or take dancing lessons. Or, as the slogan for AirTran Airways says: "Go. There's nothing stopping you."

[1] Quoted by Mike Zimmerman, "How To Live Better on 24 Hours a Day," Men's Health, September 2010, p. 140.
[2] http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/how-many-hours-of-sleep-are-enough/AN01487 (accessed 6/12/11)
[3] Robert Pagliarini, The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth & Purpose (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2010), 6.

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Let the Old Folks Speak
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