Being Impeccable With Your Time: Making Every Moment Matter

It’s a colder-than-usual April morning, and I have been up since 4:47 a.m., reading and writing, thinking and learning, meditating and relaxing. It’s a ritual of mine that I have practiced for nearly 30 years, and it has made all the difference in living a full and inspired life.

I am a self-described early-morning person. I know that my greatest productivity happens as the sun is rising, and knowing this has allowed me to structure my entire lifestyle around my hours of highest energy and focus.

It’s not for everybody, this early-morning routine. There’s just something about making those accomplishments so early in the day that makes me feel better about everything else I might be doing later. It ignites my creativity and my confidence in everything else I do. In other words, it helps me make every moment matter.

vw finish line half mara

Here I am, crossing the finishing line of the Baltimore Half-Marathon in October 2012.

I do a lot, and I enjoy everything I do, simply because I choose to do it. Last April, I realized that my weight was becoming an issue, especially in getting older. I made the decision to lose weight and participate in the Baltimore Half-Marathon. Through hard work, careful management of my time, and keeping my focus on my goal, I was successful. I have experienced very few moments of pride and accomplishment that rival crossing that finish line in October.

That was six months ago, though. Since that time, I have shifted my focus to other things that I enjoy (with a continued emphasis on writing and working with building stronger communities). As a result, my health has suffered, and I find myself a year later in April readjusting my time and my priorities.

In just a couple of years I will be 50, and what I have realized in this past year is that, to be impeccable with your time, you need to be diligent in how you use every moment. For me, I cannot allow myself to lose that focus for a single moment, for any reason. If I do, I know I will succumb to rationalizations that somehow justify my failures.

I need to be vigilant, every moment of every day, to stay the course and reach my goals.

One of the reasons why I am writing this post is because, recently, I’ve made some decisions to shift my focus so that my energy and productivity will help a larger number of people, while allowing me to reach some new wellness and financial goals. This requires me to think about more aspects of how I spend my time, including taking better care of myself.

My first instinct is to find role models who are already doing this with their own lives. There are many famous examples for us all to follow, but they are so… inaccessible when it comes to chatting with them about the inner workings of really being impeccable with time.

So I looked locally for that “perfect” role model, and I thought immediately of a former student of mine, Sam Hawkins.

Who Is Sam Hawkins?

sam hawkins 2013

Sam was crowned Miss Appalachia 2013 in January.

When I taught Sam a few years ago, she was our newspaper’s photo editor, an organized, focused, and likeable individual who always finished what she started. She took incredible risks with her photography, entering — and winning — local and regional contests. She needed no motivation or inspiration; she tapped into the energy within her to determine what she wanted, how to achieve it, and then succeed in reaching her goal.

Not so long ago, Sam decided to enter the world of pageantry, and like her ambition and drive in high school, she applied her will and determination to succeed in this arena. She was recently crowned Miss Appalachia 2013, and she is working hard at becoming Miss Maryland this June.

What does Sam do? A lot. She is currently taking five college classes with a 3.95 cummulative college GPA. She is a Humanities Scholar at UMBC and a member of the UMBC Honors College. She studies piano once a week at Peabody, volunteers with the St. Francis Neighborhood Center, and organizes fundraisers for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. She just received an Undergraduate Research Award to write a book on Baltimore (tentative publication is early 2014). She trains at the gym, works out with a personal trainer, maintains a strict diet/nutrition plan, and frequently attends other appearances related to Miss MD. As if that is not enough, she has an active social life and a boyfriend.

So What Is The Secret?

I asked Sam, directly, what the secret was to her success. Like everything else with Sam, she was direct.

Let me first say that I’m no expert and this is something that I’m continuing to improve upon. But, the way I see it, everyone has the same amount of time in every day. You and I have the same 24 hours per day that Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, and Bill Gates had. Look at how much they accomplished!

It’s not an issue of having the time, it’s an issue of making the most of the time that you have. This is where priorities come into play.

I think the key to be high-achieving is to make a list of 5 priorities. For me, they go: 1. Health (physical, emotional, sleep, and essential relaxation), 2. Academics, 3. Friends, 4. Miss Maryland, 5. Work and other activities.

When it comes down to what I need to do in the day, I take care of things according to the priority list. For example, the first thing I do is make sure I have all my meals packed and ready for the day and make sure that I’m well rested. If you aren’t eating well or haven’t gotten enough sleep, you won’t be good at doing anything else.

Next up is academic stuff– I try to sit down and do whatever homework is due for the next few days an hour or two every day. This is done a lot of the time when I wait for the bus, am eating lunch, or whenever I designate time throughout the day. Friends and family are important too! I make time every few days for an evening where I don’t do anything but hang out. It helps you retain your sanity! Miss Maryland stuff I schedule in advance and then work my schedule around. It gives you a way to map things out, make to-do lists, etc.

Be Proactive In Your Planning

Sam continues:

Planning and preparation are truly the key for success. Figure out what you need to do and start knocking things out! Conquer your highest priorities first. If you’re just starting out with trying to increase your productivity I would suggest trying to keep a log of what you are doing on a daily basis and then looking back at it. Are you spending 3 hours every day on Facebook? Are you watching television instead of doing homework? Are you putting off work until the last minute? Chances are, you have the time available– you just don’t realize it.

The next step would be to make goals. I try to make 3 week, 3 month, and 3 year goals. WRITE THEM DOWN! Make goals, make a plan, put it into action. Rework your time to fit your goals. Instead of spending 3 hours watching television or playing on the computer, use 2 of those hours to make progress toward your goals.

Set time aside in advance and hold yourself accountable! If you want to get to the gym more, make it as important to you as a job interview would be. Set a time and then get to it! Always remember your priorities and that will help you stay focused.

Being super productive is not easy– if it was, everyone would be! But it’s totally possible and 100% worth it. You only have one life so make the most of it!

Be Impeccable With Your Time And Live Fully

Sam concludes:

Accomplish everything that you want to and never have what if’s. I promise that you’ll remember the moments where you worked hard to achieve a goal over the moments where you wasted time away staring at a screen. Make a point to go to bed every day satisfied and with the knowledge that you’ve accomplished something. Make steps to be the person that you admire and soon enough you will be that person. Good things don’t come to those who wait for them, they come to those who work hard and put in the time to get them.

Sam Hawkins, participating in Read Across America Day.

Sam Hawkins, participating in Read Across America Day.

For more information about Sam and her volunteer work (as well as her journey to the Miss Maryland Pageant in June), you can follow her on her website and on Facebook.

Life Was Never Meant To Be Experienced Risk-Free!

For the last 90 days, I have been on a new and challenging path training for the Baltimore Half-Marathon on October 13 (you can follow my progress at my fitness blog here). One of the most common questions I get when I share this journey with others is about my motivation, and what happens after I run the race.

The answer to the first part of that question, on the surface, is very simple. In the beginning of this journey, that was my focus: What do I have to do in the next six months that will make me conditioned to run 13.1 miles? Everything was about “The Plan.” I studied books by Jeff Galloway, read all of the special features on marathon training in the running magazines, and talked to my friends and family members who have been there, done that.

But that was in the beginning. Now, I see far beyond the half-marathon finish line. What happens after the race is over is, really, just the beginning.

This is not about a race; this is about living in the greatest, most extreme definition of the term.

In the summer of 1991, I took a real risk and failed miserably. I decided earlier that year that I was going to hike a northern section of the Appalachian Trail. The plan was to start with friends at Bear Mountain Park in New York, and then head north toward Mt. Katahdin in Maine. I would spend two weeks with my hiking friends, and then they would leave the trail and I would resume my trek north going solo for another four weeks.

The journey began horribly. Within one mile of the trip, I was bent over on the side of the trail, vomiting. I let that set the pace for the rest of the day, and the negative self-speak and feelings of failure permeated every cell in my body.

The next day, one of my friends got word that he was needed back home a week earlier than expected, and so they decided to cut their hike short by seven days. I pondered this for another day or so. What would I do? How would I let their change in plans affect my original goal of staying on the trail for six full weeks?

On the third day of our hike, the rains were heavy, and I convinced the others that I did not want to hike another 9 miles in bad weather. We stayed all day in a shelter, reading left-behind westerns and repacking our sacks over and over again. It was then that I made the decision that I, too, would be going home with them.

When I had first started training for the hike, I heard a lot of negativity from others about heading out into the woods by myself. And when I found myself weakened by the trail on that first day, I allowed all of that negativity to flow in and convince me that, indeed, everyone was right. I was crazy, and people shouldn’t take risks like that. Plain and simple. This is the kind of thing that happens when you leave your comfort zone.

On the bus ride home from New York’s Port Authority terminal, I was silent the entire way. I was feeding the negativity, the self-doubt, and it continued to work its way in me and in my actions years afterward.

If I failed at anything before the hike even started, it was simply not training for it in a smart way. I didn’t educate myself enough about hiking long distances, and just wasn’t prepared to handle such a challenge. I thought that it was enough to just throw myself into the situation and then just figure it out once I got going.

Since that self-deprecating ride home, I have managed to return to the trail a few times, and one particular 13-mile hike four years later, in 1995, was especially redeeming. Still, these have been isolated redemptions and not the transformation that I have been after all these years.

So as I have been training for the half-marathon, I have received similar comments about being crazy; while many have cheered me on, others have been very negative about my decision, or judgmental about how a guy starting out at weighing over 300 pounds can think that he is going to run a half-marathon later in the year.

This time, though, I am educating myself, and I am listening to the shouts of support and silencing the naysayers. For this journey is so much more than running that race.

To answer the second part of their question — What happens after the race (will you run more marathons? Other races?), I am already shouting it from the rooftops that, yes, 5K races will be a part of my monthly plan. But so will monthly hikes, too, along the Appalachian Trail. I have never been a born runner, but I have been a born hiker. With the same education, energy, and confidence that I have put into this training, I will do the same for my hikes along the Trail from Georgia to Maine. It has been my lifelong goal to section-hike the entire 2,178-mile journey.

And now, as I continue to train for this race and get my body in the best shape it has ever been in, I will be able to take that risk and see just how far I can really go.