Time and Time Again

About two-and-a-half years ago, I had the idea of creating an official blog and website for the USA-Northeast region. This afternoon, I turned leadership of the site over to some new blood.

Shedding this responsibility is a huge relief. For many months, my actual involvement with managing the website had been all but nonexistent. I thought about the project often, but never found the time to translate those thoughts into action. This reduced the website to an incessant regret, a millstone around my neck and my todo list.

Nonetheless, I managed to convince myself that this state of affairs was only temporary. Sometime this weekend, or next week, or on that plane ride, I would carve out time to work on the website. I would start scheduling time for it on my weekly routine. Someday, I would, I would, I would…

But I never would.

Looking back on my involvement with the site, I can see now that the state of affairs I’ve described was not a one-off occurrence, but a recurring one. The trajectory of my leadership’s effectiveness reminds me of a series of loops: increasing for a while, before ultimately collapsing back in on itself. Not once, not twice, but at least three times I assembled a team, outlined a vision, divided that vision into actionable parts, assigned tasks, and then — nothing. I repeatedly failed to effectively manage other team members, to execute, to follow-through. I was too busy to put in the time.

Or was I?

“I’m too busy.”

“I don’t have time right now.”

“There’s just so much going on.”

How we spend our time is a choice. “I’m too busy” and its variants are just lies we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better about those choices. And like all lies, the more we tell it, the easier it gets to believe.

To be truly honest with myself and others, I need to follow the advice Mani once gave me: Whenever I feel compelled to say “I don’t have time for that”, I should replace it with “it’s not a priority” and see how that makes me feel. Some recent examples:

“I didn’t finish your advancement review because it’s not a priority.”

“The Northeast website just isn’t a priority for me right now.”

“I meant to give you some feedback from our last event, but your development just isn’t a priority.”

I don’t know about you, but those phrases make my skin crawl. In the words of Laura Vanderkam, “Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.”

To be clear, I believe that taking time for yourself (and your friends, family, and loved ones) is absolutely vital. It’s not the end of the world to bump something that is neither urgent nor important back a day in order to clear some mental and emotional breathing room. But when putting things off becomes a pattern rather than an exception, something deeper is wrong.

This revelation was like dynamite blowing up the dam of obligation I felt towards the Northeast website. I realized the real reason behind my lack of involvement wasn’t some flaw in my work habits. It was that the website simply wasn’t one of my priorities anymore. No amount of self-improvement could change that fact. And so, the best thing I could do was bow out and pass the reins to someone else.

Fortunately, picking that person was easy enough. About six months ago, Chris Wendelboe jumped into the project feet-first by writing an intro guide to JudgeApps and publishing monthly newsletters. His initiative and self-motivation were very inspiring, and I’m really excited to see where he takes things.

On the whole, I’m proud of the role I played in creating the Northeast website. On a personal level, I learned a lot (even though many of those lessons were about how not to lead). More importantly, it’s been an incredibly helpful resource for judges in my region, and will continue to serve that purpose for months and even years to come.

I also have many regrets. Even now, I can’t shake the feeling that the site could have been so much more, if only I had made it more of a priority. And yet, beneath that guilt, I also have a glimmer of hope.

The website’s story is not over. It will continue to grow, evolve, and — hopefully — become even better than I had imagined.

I will not be the one to drive that forward. And I’m OK with that. After all, I’m too busy.

5 thoughts on “Time and Time Again

  1. This article kind of sums up my relationship with the judge program lately. For me, the re-framed arguments are along the lines of “judging every event I can is not a priority” or “going for L3 is not a priority.” I like acknowledging these things, but harboring any guilt over it isn’t that productive.

  2. I’ve always considered myself falling victim to this. Even worse is when I do outline my priorities it doesn’t correlate with where my actual time is spent. Some things that would improve my career, for instance, are higher priority to me than the Judge program, while getting alts leveled in in video games is clearly a lower priority than all of that, but I know where too much of my time is being spent. Similarly, exercising/getting healthy is probably the most known example, since most people just “can’t find the time” to go to the gym, or cook healthy meals at home.

    The solution is simple, yet sometimes difficult to actually do. It’s much easier to quit completely whatever activity is taking too much time than it is to reduce time spent, but there is always more distractions so it eventually comes down to effective time management, and effective focus. This doesn’t always work out as well as I’d like, in that even if I spend my entire weekend with the mindset of studying for a certification, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be effective at studying, I might just stare at a book for 4 hours.

    Nonetheless, a great post. It mirrors my internal thinking, but also reinforces how important actually being honest with yourself is.

  3. I do a very similar thing and I like the results. Confronting a thing and making the decision without denial is important. I make sure to evaluate the relative priority of the two options. I’ve gone less with “it’s not a priority” but more with “it’s a lower priority than.” For example, some players have been on me about not going to Legacy FNMs. I am not “too busy” to go, but rather, “Being home on Fridays is a higher priority than the admittedly tempting Magic event.” It’s not that local Legacy is not a priority, but that there is a higher one. Similarly, I’m not too busy to judge that PreTQ but rather playing the Grand Prix that weekend is a higher priority. Sometimes of course my answer to why I didn’t do a thing was “I made something I shouldn’t have a higher priority” and that’s a bad feeling, but confronting that idea up front can help avoid that situation.

  4. I think it can be dangerous to replace “I don’t have enough time for that,” with “It’s not a priority to me.” Most importantly, priority is a spectrum rather than a binary. Telling someone, “Your advancement isn’t a priority to me,” sounds very harsh, when the real reason could be, “Enough other things in my life hold a higher priority to me.”

    1. The exercise of replacing “I don’t have time” with “it’s not a priority” should be an internal one. I’m not advocating actually telling people “you aren’t a priority in my life”; as you say, that’s too harsh.

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