Believe it or not, the Infantry isn’t all about training for war every single day. More often than I’d like happen, we are tasked with details that can take numerous Soldiers away for a day or even weeks. Soldiers become sick and can be on quarters. Soldiers can be gone for schools, or at times not have the proper number of Soldiers assigned to a unit to fill the ranks. The higher up you get in the ranks, the heavier the administration tasks become. These include numerous meetings, writing monthly or yearly performance evaluations, or being the leader in charge of a detail. These small and simple examples are prime situations that I have seen leaders use as excuses to not, for whatever reason, do their job and what they are assigned to do, myself included. It’s the excuse of “I don’t have enough time.”
Our time is obviously one of our most precious and valuable things. We frantically and meticulously plan out every second of our day because we have to get all of these “tasks” done and accomplished. When I was deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2011, I had a conversation with a village elder while out on patrol. I was young and still learning principles of being a leader and really being a professional. I knew I had a timeline to hit that day and I kept checking my watch. The elder, who wasn’t wearing a watch, asked me “Do you know why many of us don’t wear watches in Afghanistan? Because we have time.” It was amazing for this 25 year old American Soldier to be presented with this unique concept of time, when in the United States we use the excuse that we never have enough of it. Why do we have so little while another part of the world has plenty? Is this a fair conclusion? If so, what can we draw and learn from it?
Let’s peel back the layers and talk about not having enough time. Let’s see if we can honestly say, and be confident that without a doubt, we have ruined ourselves in this country. We have so much to do that we take short cuts because time is limited. Here’s the first question I’ll present to everyone: What time do you wake up EVERY morning of every day? What disciplined routine do you have to start your day? For those who don’t believe this next statement, confirm it with the wife, but I wake up every day at 0500. Even on days I’m off work. How taboo is that in this day and age? Only old people go to bed early and wake up early, right? WRONG. People who have a purpose and a disciplined daily routine wake up early. People who say they are swamped and don’t have time should wake up early. Hopefully I don’t go into “rant mode” like I sometimes do. Let’s look at what waking up early accomplishes.
First off, waking up at 0430 or 0500 at the latest should be followed by a workout. You don’t want to get out of bed? Make yourself GET OUT OF BED. You don’t want to go to the gym? Make yourself GO TO THE GYM. Don’t want to lift the weight? Then LIFT THE WEIGHT. Don’t want to start hammering out that project? Guess what? HAMMER OUT THAT PROJECT. When you’re exercising and eating right and being healthy, you feel better when you arise early. When you’re awake that early, who is there to distract you and to turn your attention on other things? Maybe the kids. Just throw some cookies out and they’ll be good. You get a significant jump on the day when you wake up early. But, you have to do it every day. It has to be a disciplined effort to change your habit. DISCIPLINE EQUALS FREEDOM. When you start your daily errands, chores, or gym time late, and by late I mean like 0900, you leave the possibility of the boss keeping you later in the day to disrupt your plans. There will always be those unpredictable tasks that get thrown on. Emergencies happen. You begin getting tired and frustrated as the day goes on and you just want to go home, and any other example we can think of that disrupts our day. If you honestly assess that you don’t have enough time, that’s the simplest answer. Go find yourself an alarm clock. Find yourself. Wake up early.
Listen I get it. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I was 30 years old before I really started understanding time management and getting my mind right and getting after the things that slowed me down and stood in my way. It is a process, but it’s attainable. When you set out for a goal, whether it’s a short- or long-term goal, assign sub goals to accomplish it. We’ll use waking up early as an example. The goal is to wake up at 0500 every day and not go back to sleep. Some sub goals would be, go to bed earlier. Make your bed every every morning. Get dressed. Have a plan for your first 30 minutes awake. If we are being honest with ourselves, what productive things are we accomplishing past 9 PM when we talk about going to bed earlier? Are we harassing people on Twitter and Facebook? Are we moving down that dangerous path of YouTube videos where you looked at how to do proper pullups for your workout tomorrow and now you’re watching videos on what would happen if a rainbow entered a black hole? Are you four hours into that new TV series you started? If it’s Game of Thrones, that’s about the only exception I’d be willing to accept. Are you trying to level up on Candy Crush or whatever the new fun game? The point is, assess your nightly routines and how it’s affecting your daily routine. You wake up early. Start your day. Get your stuff done. Leave time for those hobbies that you like. Finish the day. And go to bed tired. If you aren’t going to bed absolutely exhausted to where you can’t even have a coherent conversation with your spouse or cat or whatever you have, then you missed the mark for the day.
Keep your head on a swivel. Look around and identify what takes your time away. Assess and overcome. Life will constantly lead you on the path of least resistance. The “easy way.” That path is the voice in your head that says “Keep sleeping. You can quit. You tried your best, now just give up. Not today. That’s too hard. Cut the workout short.” Be careful on that path. I promise the enemy knows our location on this path and will lie and wait and ambush you with those thoughts and destroy you. When you allow that ambush to constantly win, everything you cut short gets put off. It piles up. You lose your discipline and you are no longer free.
In the military, when we pack our ruck sacks for foot marches, Soldiers make it difficult on themselves by saying “Eh it’s just one thing. It’s small. It’s not that much” when talking about adding items to their packing list. There’s a saying we have that says “Ounces equals pounds.” All those little things that are light in weight by themselves will eventually turn in heavier pounds later and will affect your performance. This is so true to our time management. All those minutes we don’t allocate correctly turn into hours and can pile on and turn into days. Every second counts.
Sun Tzu, a Chinese General in the 500s BC who is credited with the military strategy book “The Art of War,” puts the importance of time like this. “Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted…Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.” Our time management, bad habits and bad routines are the enemy. You want control of the battlefield? Want control of the day? Attack it early. Be there waiting. Take the day by surprise. Getting better every day in our lives and changing habits is a campaign. Campaigns are complex. The end state changes often. How we maneuver through this campaign needs to be modified regularly. Each battle within the campaign that is won brings you closer to winning the war. And it’s my belief that arising every day at 0500 to not only be waiting on the field of battle, but to attack the day is the first step in gaining control of our time and completely eliminating the phrase “I don’t have enough time” out of our vocabulary. That time gained then gets put into the ones that we lead. We become better. The individuals under our command reap the benefits and are better for it. Discipline…Equals…Freedom!