Jury Duty for 4 Months: Advanced Lessons in Time Management

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(Extended intro for the few that may be interested, the rest of you can scroll past all this)

Here is the problem with talking about time management… it ends up being a contest to one-up each other either on 1) how “busy” you are, and/or, 2) how much you can get “done”. So there are usually two extremes that sensible people take. They either don’t talk about it at all because they are wise enough to avoid the unprofitable conversation altogether, so basically they keep to themselves. Or, they look online or in books so they can kindly filter out the writer’s own issues, and after filtering then see if anything useful is left. I’m going to throw all those warnings out the door for a second and tell you a few things I’ve learned recently, filter at will…

I’d say I’m relatively busy. And let me interject that I pretty much hate the word “busy” because it is laden with passiveness, as if “time” has somehow devised a plot against you. So, let me restate, I’d say I’m relatively committed. Yes, I’ve made a fair amount of commitments that I have to keep going (notice this is not passive, I actually made these commitments myself, this is an important part of time management). I could also take a another detour about the phrase “time management” since you can’t actually manage “time”, just yourself, but I won’t. I guess I made my point anyway. My commitments include being a husband, father of three young children, taking my kids to school, helping with their activities and practices, being the Area Director of a large YL area, helping with regional, divisional, and national tasks for YL, being a volunteer leader at my high school club, being at YL camps about 8 times per year in various capacities, writing for YLhelp, being an adjunct professor for Grand Canyon University in the College of Theology, working on my PhD in Theology in Scotland (luckily I do almost all of it at home), friends outside of YL, exercising, time with extended family, hobbies (reading for fun, golf, that’s about it…) And somehow it all works for me. But then I got something in the mail that made my mind spin…

I received a notice to be in a grand jury. In case you don’t know, a grand jury sees about 15-20 cases per day, all day long, two days a week downtown (45-60 minutes driving each way for me), for four months, and decides if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial. So I did what everyone does, I sent in a notice saying I couldn’t do it because I was going to be gone on YL summer assignment (which was true). It worked. But then I received another notice about two months later that said if I didn’t come downtown that they could track me down and put me in jail for-ev-er. Not really, but something close to that. So I went down with the best of advice from my friends about how to get out of jury duty. As it turns out, since you see so many cases it doesn’t matter what you think about any topic in the world. It comes down to one thing: will your job fire you if you need this much time off? Mine doesn’t. So there you go… 20+ hours a week added to my life that I really really didn’t have laying around. I got a letter from my boss saying this would adversely impact my job, etc. Reply from Judge XYY… “Rejected”. Honestly the impending load on my life really sent me in a funk (so did the first day when we had to listen to a computer read the entire Arizona criminal code word-for-word… for SEVEN hours).

You may have noticed less posts on YLHelp, and grand jury duty is one reason why. I only have two weeks left. To be honest, going into this I was already very proficient at time management, but this season has forced me to learn even more about how to make the most of the time I have been given. Here are a few important pointers:

  1. If you are married, or have a significant person in your life, check-in with this person at least weekly not only with the facts (i.e. let’s compare schedules), but also the feelings/experience (i.e. how does our time feel?) One question I’ve learned to ask my wife is “how do you think I’m doing”? Because when I am busy it is difficult to do-self assessment. If you are single, you might ask someone, perhaps a mentor or someone similar, to do the same for you.
  2. Don’t re-invent the wheel, but let it work for you. For years/decades I’ve built up systems of to-do lists, frequent reviews, email responses, batch processing, keystoke automation, etc. that work for me. Use the systems that already work for you. I’m not including these because this is the “advanced” lesson, maybe later I’ll have to time to write those out if anyone is interested. So for me, I need to use those tools and use them often. This is not the time to download a new workflow app, pick up a book on time management, search online for hours reading articles, you likely know what works for you… just do more of that and move on to your next task.
  3. Don’t waste time. Sounds simple, huh? Video games? None. TV shows? Maybe 2-3 a week with my kids (Shark Tank, Undercover Boss, Chopped from DVR). Not 2-3 hours, 2-3 shows minus commercials, which is about half of that. Mindless surfing on social media? Try to be ruthless and ask yourself if that time is worth trading for time with your kids, wife, or close friends.
  4. My life professionally and privately is based around relationships, so how do I manage those? The closer you are to me personally the more time I give you. So my wife, kids, family are always going to get first dibs. After that it is the leaders in my area, then my club kids and donors. After that, be very careful what you say “yes” to. I’ve said ‘no’, referred people elsewhere, given people a first step (and then get back to me for more), and similar a lot during this season.
  5. Be intentional about your spiritual life. By the grace of God I’ve stayed in scripture frequently, but I’ve also been intentional to listen to more worship music to nourish my soul, I’ve also been listening to some classic Christian books while I drive (Augustine’s Confessions primarily which has been great).
  6. Don’t waste time on apps and such but I’ve found the “do not disturb” setting on my iPhone more helpful than I could imagine, it allows those closest to me to get me when they need me and it filters out all of the other stuff that can wait a half hour or so. Recently my committee also got me a gift of noise-canceling headphones, those have been helpful too. One last technology thing, I bought a mobile hotspot. I’m a bit of a penny pincher so I couldn’t drive myself to just add the hotspot package to my phone. I quickly found one that is free (up to 512MB per month), I just had to buy the hardware ($50). It is called Freedompop. I don’t use it much, but it comes in handy so I’m not wasting time trying to find a coffee shop or something like that (indecision and travel can be huge timewasters).
  7. Plan the logistics of your day carefully. Many of us have to be several places throughout the day. You may simply be at work all day and then to your child’s sports practice and then home. For others of us your day may include a dozen stops all day long. Think ahead and try to use as many of the “gaps” as possible. For instance, if you know that you have 30 minutes in between commitments, don’t just scroll through Twitter on your phone. Stay at your previous location longer, or get to the other location earlier, or stop somewhere along the way and have a task in mind that can be completed in that time. As I am a student and professor, sometimes I just stop in a parking lot and read books or grade papers in my car.
  8. Stay up late and get up early. No one said it would be easy. Take short naps when needed. Make sure you rest more on Sundays.

These lessons have helped me a lot. Now if this was not just a four month season I’d likely need to make bigger changes in my commitments, I doubt I could get much more out of my time, but life has a way to stretch us from one season to the next!

Some of you just read this and spent most of your time comparing commitments. That is a waste of time too. Know your calling. Know your priorities. Know your strengths. Be content. Also don’t walk around on the west side of Phoenix south of McDowell late at night by yourself, just a tip after hearing 324 criminal cases in the past few months. Stay safe 🙂

-Sean

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