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Time, and Life the Universe and Everything

There are more questions than answers
And the more I find out the less I know

~ Johnny Nash

It certainly seems that way with the answer to “Life, the Universe and Everything” according to Douglas Adams in “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”, a trilogy in four parts.

Yes, I know, that’s one book too many, and is typical of the wacky humour to be found in his books.  Oh, and just for those that weren’t aware, the answer to Life the Universe and Everything is apparently 42.  

The computer that was created to provide the answer to “Life, the Universe and Everything” was called “Deep Thought”, and finally came up with the famous answer after about seven and a half million years of carefully detailed thinking.  The answer was “42”, and it transpired that they would need an even bigger computer to explain what the question actually meant.

There have been many suggestions as to why Adams came up with the number 42, and he has this to say to the myriad of ideas people have conjured with as to why he choose that number:

For me, 42 also provides the answer to what is often described as the challenge of Effective Time Management.  In today’s busy lifestyles how do we manage our time most effectively; to be able to do everything we want to do and get everything done that we want to get done.  

“The answer to this is very simple,” Adams said. “It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base 13, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat on my desk, stared into the garden and thought 42 will do. I typed it out. End of story.” 

~ Douglas Adams

The first thing to understand is that we can’t actually manage time.  It manages quite well on its own, thank you very much!  Other than taking account of the fascinating effect of Einsteins Special Theory of Relativity, time marches on relentlessly at pretty much the same rate wherever we are.  Time is like a stream, flowing constantly, incessantly, and with no help from me at all.

So, we can’t actually manage time, we can only manage the things we do with it.  We have all been given 24 hours in every day, and that’s “just enough”.  After that it all comes down to priorities.  I’ve yet to come across someone who has got to the end of a week and said: “Oh my, I completely forgot to eat anything this week”, or “I totally forgot to go to sleep”.  Just after we’ve had a meal, having something to eat falls pretty low on the scale of things to do next, but as the day moves on it slowly becomes more important, and for most of us it gets to the top of the list at the next mealtime.  

“When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute — then it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity!“ 

~ Albert Einstein

So this is where the number 42 comes into play for me, for you, and for anyone else that needs to manage their priorities.  Let me explain it this way.

We could consider each day to be like a fixed sum of money (say 24 hours at £10, that would be  £240) and we have all day to spend it on whatever we want to spend it on.  If we spend in on this, we can’t spend it on that; if we spend it on a cappuccino and croissant at Starbucks, we can’t spend it on a big mac and milkshake at McDonalds.  

Alternatively, we could consider each day to be like a fresh new cheque (or a new check, in US currency) in a chequebook, and we can choose the value to write on that cheque.  We can choose to have a lazy day and write a value of £10 for the day, or we can choose to have a really productive day and write £1,000 for the day.  We choose: I choose, you choose.  Every day.

Now imagine that you have a chequebook with 42 cheques in, one for each day in the next 6 weeks, what value will we write on each of these cheques?  We could turn to each new cheque as we wake up and decide on the day what we want to spend it on, and for some people, that works really well.  Or we could start with our top priorities, and identify the things that really need to get done with our chequebook.  These are the things that we know we really need to focus on, yet so often they often seem to slip through into next week, and then into next month, and then … oh well, we all know how it goes.

“Nothing else distinguishes effective executives as much as their tender loving care of time”

~ Peter Drucker

What if we started each new 6 week period with a fresh idea of the things that really needed to get done in the next 42 days?  The other things that clamour for attention would then have to fall in line, and if there wasn’t sufficient time then it is these less important tasks that would get left for another day.  Then we could write the value on each cheque with a clear value in mind.  I can focus on that one thing that only I can do, that will have the biggest impact on my business, career, or other aspect of my life and those around me.

I like to add in an additional week into each season for something a bit special too, so that makes an approach with two cycles every quarter, eight chequebooks every year to be spent on the things that will have the biggest impact for me and those around me.

Then we simply need something to help us make sure that they happen.  We all know that “if we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always got”.  To break that cycle we need to do something NEW, and I call that my Next Exciting Win.  It’s something that will have a really big impact on my life; it’s rewarding because it’s worthwhile and the logical side of my brain says that makes sense.  We also need to focus on what makes it Exciting, the thing that appeals to the creative side of the brain and says: “I want it”.

My Next Exciting Win is that one thing that only I can do, that will have the biggest impact on my business, career, or other aspect of my life.  What’s yours?

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.