I have nearly 250 semester hours of college credits. And have taken hundreds of hours of post graduate continuing education. I have spent thousands of dollars on personal development classes from “Productivity gurus” in order to “optimize my psychology.” Hell I even took improv and standup classes so that I could feel like I graduated. But the most important class that I have ever taken was during my junior year of high school. And maybe taking that simple after school class was the spark that I needed to set me up for the success that future courses would bring.
My life is busy, it always has been. I started down my workaholic path early and was always focused on getting things done. I was an achiever from an early age and always wanted to check all the boxes and get all the awards. While high school was probably my laziest period it was also one of my busiest. I would regularly leave the house at 7AM and not get back until almost 9. I filled my time by being the class president, a member of key club, national honor society, two trivia teams (one for quiz bowl and the other for the enirothon), band, jazz band, marching band, boy scouts, and other clubs that I am sure I forgot, all while being a 2 sport athlete and working on the weekends. Toss in the fact that I was a teenager trying to have friendships and a fun life and things were very busy.
My father is very good at time management and has a lot of experience trying to keep my chronically late mother on some semblance of a schedule. He did a great job pushing me to stay on time and fulfill any commitments that I had made, but as a rebellious teenager I wasn’t going to listen to most of his advice. Luckily I found a mentor who was able to make a mark and get me to live up to my potential. I was fortunate to have a lot of very good teachers, coaches, and advisers who made a lasting impact, but this one teacher doing an after school class made the biggest difference.
Tom Ciaccio played quarterback at Holy Cross and blew up their record books, played in Europe and signed as a free agent with the Arizona Cardinals, but then he got into teaching. I never had him as a teacher or as a coach, but his name rang out in the halls. He was just a few years older than we were, and a really nice and friendly guy, with that natural leadership bearing that some people radiate. He was a local who grew up 1 town over and did something that so few people from that area did, he went found success and then came back home. He was an inspiration, and he didn’t shy away from the fact that he could use his talents to inspire and motivate others. So he started an after school class on time management, and for some reason I decided to give it a try. I remember it costing something around $75 which was a bit of a hardship at the time since I was making $5 per hour under the table washing dishes, but looking back it was the best investment I could have made.
I didn’t save much from High School. It wasn’t a great time for me and I put it behind me pretty quickly. But I do really wish that I would have saved the workbook from this class. I can’t even remember the proper title, but I suppose that the impact is more important than the name. Things were perfectly geared to get us to understand our own psychology and motivations and were presented at our 10th grade level without feeling like we were being talked down to. There was a lot of thinkwork that needed to be done at home which was a nice change from the massive amount of essay writing that high school is known for. He asked a lot of questions that we wouldn’t normally ask ourselves at that time, the type of questions that I am seeing a lot of my friends just start asking 15 years later. We looked at our priorities and how we sorted our to do lists, while also developing plans to set and reach our goals and strategies to maximize our impact. In a way it was like a football playbook where he taught us the basics and allowed us to execute and trust our instincts.
At the time I appreciated it, but looking back it is unbelievable how much I got out of that class. My life is busy to the point of being hectic, but I have put enough systems in place that I am able to handle everything with few problems. For example last week I worked 5 days (53 hours), spent another 8 hours commuting, performed at an open mic, attended an improv show, did all my laundry, cleaned and vacuumed my whole apartment, went to a brewery, got my car fixed, packed for an 8 day road trip, all while cooking all my own meals, walking at least 5 miles a day, meditating daily, writing a few thousand words, reading parts of 3 different books, keeping in touch with several friends, and living a pretty normal life. And I was bored.
Maybe it is the fact that I spend most of my time doing things that I enjoy or can at least see direct benefit from, or maybe it is my natural capacity to multitask, or maybe it is the devotion to Tim Ferriss theories, or maybe it is the firm belief in systems and routines, but right now I am more productive than I have ever been. And I am able to do it all without falling into the business trap where people feel overwhelmed. I am far from superman, but by prioritizing and executing I am able to get more done with little stress, and it makes my life feel much easier. I sometimes use the term busy but fulfilled, where there is a lot going on but nothing worth flipping out over. It is nice going to bed knowing that you accomplished a lot in a day but not having too much to worry about. It may feel boring from time to time, but I will take bored in place of overwhelmed any day.
It might seem disingenuous to tie where I am right now to a single course, but I do believe that it was something that helped to hone my skills and make me look inside myself for the best results. All these years and classes later I am still grateful that I was able to get that motivation and insight at such an early age. From a purely return on investment standpoint in both money and time I have reaped the rewards thousands of times over. And for that I will always be grateful.