The golden hours of the early morning are precious. With a clear mind and no distractions I accomplish more in the early hours than during the entire day. I know that the earlier I start my mornings the more I achieve, but often I start them later than I would like. I stay up too late the night before and allow my late nights to rob me of my morning glory.
Like most people I go to sleep either when I have finished what I have to do or when I am too tired to continue and seldom take my valuable early morning hours into account. The result is that I sacrifice some of my sparkling morning to the waning night. Really the only factor that ought to determine the time we go to sleep is the time we want to get up (not the time we have to get up).
To change the way we determine the end of our day we must redefine the idea of completion. There are two ways to determine when a task is complete. The first is when the preset criteria for completion have been met. If my task is to finish the book I am reading then when I have read the last page my task is complete. The second way to determine that a task is complete is when the time I allocated for it runs out. If I said I will read this book until 10pm, then at that time my task is complete. The difficulty arises when we allocate two criteria for completion and I hit the one before the other: I will finish this book by 10pm. If I finish earlier, I have some free time. But what if 10 o'clock comes around and I haven't finished the book?
In this scenario I have three options. I could continue past my deadline, robbing myself of either the sleep I need or the morning hours I value. I could let the task flow over to the next day. Or I could live with the disappointment of non-completion like I regrettably did as an inexperienced undergraduate, turning in an incomplete test because the class period was up. If we take our limited time on earth seriously, however, we might consider a different approach.
This different approach requires that we do not steal tomorrow's time for today nor that we swamp tomorrow with today's unfinished work. This compels one to confront his or her time limitation rigorously when constructing a To Do list knowing that the things to which we attach neither high urgency nor great importance will probably not get done. We should then delete the things that will probably not get done that day from our list. Don't leave them on your list to plague you, remove them to liberate you. This simple action proves difficult because deleting a whole lot of stuff from your list forces you to confront your mortality. Confronting mortality is not the same as confronting death. Confronting mortality is the practice of honoring your time limitation each day and making choices about which activities give life to your values, to your purpose in the world, and to your beliefs about what is truly important to you.
Time scarcity gives time its value. Confronting this lack of time when making choices and prioritizing activities gives value to your choices. Allowing your To Do list to grow a never-ending tail of uncompleted tasks erodes your self worth and deludes you into thinking "one day I will get to this." It deprives you of rigorous thought about your values. If you find it hard to delete so many things from your list, create a bucket folder into which you dump these tasks to which you are so attached --- probably never to be seen again!
Maintaining your To Do list is not only an organizational tool, it is also a spiritual practice. If time didn't run out, everything could be equally important, yet when everything is equally important nothing is important. Time is valuable exactly because it runs out.