The most significant thing that has happened to me over the past ten years is how I’ve learned look at using time. Yesterday, as I sat on the couch at Dad’s birthday party yesterday talking to a dear friend, Cara. She is a bit younger than me, however, is grappling with getting older. As I shared this with her, it resonated. So, I thought as I pursue this 80 days of excellence, it is worth sharing.
When we talk about time management, we most often mean list and appointment making. Indeed, there are things we must do. When you’re a Mom of children, those lists can be rather long. Same for teachers or leaders or creatives.
But those people who are genuinely excellent are those who make moments. As my pastor, Michael Catt, always
“walk slowly through the crowd for everyone has a hurt.”
I’m finding that slow crowd walking whether I’m at school or an event or church is an essential aspect of seeking meaningful moments. But there’s more.
Making Time Memorable and Meaningful
I could live a life of accomplishing a million to-do’s and leave nothing memorable behind.
I think the best examples of this kind of time excellence are two speeches given at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. That month 51,000 soldiers were killed on that battlefield. So, United States officials gathered to consecrate a cemetery on that site.
The Most Memorable Speech at Gettysburg Wasn’t From the Keynote Speaker
That day, a famous orator, Edward Everett, was the keynote speaker. He stood up and spoke to the crowd for 117 minutes – wowing even Abraham Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln stood and spoke for 2 ½ minutes, and it resonated through history.
What was the difference? What made one speech forgettable even though delivered with flowery perfection? Why was a short statement so memorable although simple?
As a speaker, I find so many people are obsessed with being the keynote that they miss their opportunity to introduce someone or give an inspiring remark.
Fleeting Opportunities at Opportune Moments
And that, my friends, is Kairos time that we’re discussing in this post. A moment in time not defined by all checkboxes and fancy schmanzy ruffles and feathers people say you need to have to be “excellent.”
Sometimes the greatest moments of our lives are a simple opportunity seized at the right moment.
Being memorable. Leaving a legacy. Being life changing. This sort of excellence is born out of our ability to use time well. But what is time and how do we know how to spend it well?
Don’t we want to do things in life that matter and not just do things?
How do we understand the two forms of time?
In ancient Greek, there are two words used for time: chronos and kairos. As we dig into these two concepts, we see two aspects of our time management to balance as work to be more excellent.
Chronos Time: The Clock
So, chronos time is what you’re used to. According to the Greek, the name for sequential time. Named after the Greek god, Chronos, who was and three-headed being with the head of a man, a snake, and a lion — chronos is the ticking time we’re used to.
Chronos is a snake because it deceives you into devaluing its importance and a lion because when it runs out on you, it kills you. And chronos is a man because as Booker T Washington in his autobiography Up From Slavery says,
“The number of people who stand ready to consume one’s time, to no purpose, is almost countless.”
Chronos is important because we do need to get tasks done.
Being trustworthy with tasks is important
I’ve found that now more than ever when people say they’ll do something, most of us don’t believe that person. Unless they are one of those few people who their yes is yes and their no is no.
Those who master chronos are people of integrity who can be trusted. They may not always have the title or prestige, chronos masterers are the person holding the reigns of organizations throughout the world.
Lee Cockerell, 10 year VP of Walt Disney World resorts says,
“Someday, ASAP, and when I get time… is not a system.”
Chronos masters have a system and get things DONE.
Admittedly, all of us only get 24 hours in a day. There have been times I felt like my over commitment was a form of greed and not a good thing. And sometimes chronos list-making kept me from throwing my list out the window and doing what was really important.
Action item: Do you have a task system that works? When you make appointments and promises do people know you will keep them? If not, what do you need to do so that your “yes” is your “yes” and your “no” is your “no”?
Kairos Time: Making Moments that Matter
However, there is more to time than endless lists, appointments, and to do’s. Meet kairos. I’ve gone through periods in my life when I have scheduled every single moment. Because, as Michael Hyatt says, “what gets scheduled gets done.”
Undoubtedly, though, you can do every small thing and never do the one thing you were meant to do with your life or your day. Kairos is that moment. Kairos means
“the right, critical, or opportune moment.”
In modern Greek it means
Quite literally Kairos can be those once in a lifetime chances. Those things that you must stop and seize and smell and savor for they will be gone.
There’s something transcendent about kairos time.
For example, I remember the moment when Pastor Harris Malcolm said,
“I now wish to introduce to you Mrs. and Mrs. Kip Davis.”
I have no idea what time it was on the clock. Because, for our wedding, time stopped for me. I wasn’t thinking. It was an eternal moment in time when I married the love of my life, and he married me. Our wedding may have been an appointment and had lots of to do’s but at that moment – it was Kairos.
Yet, weddings don’t happen every day. So, how can we bring this to each day?
Kairos time in the day of a teacher
As a teacher, for example, I think this is particularly important. Great teachers have a way of stopping time (chronos) and making special moments happen (kairos) that become unforgettable in a person’s memory.
The day my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Grace Adkins, stopped time and taught us about Starry Night by Van Gogh.
Or, the time Dr. Adler in college looked at me and told me he wasn’t giving me an A unless it was my best. He said he could care less if I was better than everyone else in the class if it wasn’t my very best, I didn’t deserve an A.
Or the time Invenue Love-Stanley, Georgia’s first African American female architect and co-designer of the Olympic Natatorium at Georgia Tech taught me about finding balance as an adult woman. (I need to write about that in another post.)
I couldn’t name the date or time of those moments, but I remember the moments with every bit of clarity as if it happened seconds ago. They were kairos moments.
In my classroom
And that is what I want to have. The moment when I turned to a girl who didn’t care for her last name and gave her a new nickname that she loved. Those moments that kids tell you about years later when they stood a little taller or thought about life a bit differently.
Sometimes it is telling someone hard things, and sometimes it is helping them believe good things.
Sometimes it happens all the way across a world when you’re standing beside a student on the Great Wall of China, and a man comes out of the guardhouse with a Coca-Cola and a Snicker bar.
Sometimes it is when a child has just learned bad news, and you’re the first shoulder they run to in the schoolhouse.
Moments that must be seized like sunny weather and a breeze to sail a boat.
How can we find kairos moments each day?
Each day, I ask myself a few questions. (see yesterday’s post) Because I’m pretty organized and have more problems getting off the list, I’m asking myself this question:
“What Kairos moments am I pursuing today?”
Yesterday, on the first day of this journey, the application of kairos to my life was astounding. While I’m not at liberty to talk about what happened, here’s the overview. As I was journaling about kairos opportunity, someone had a need and texted me.
It was a hard thing – something I didn’t want to do but something that I will never forget that was the right thing.
It interrupted all of my chronos (time) tasks, but it was the one kairos (memory) that needed to be done and made.
Action item: Are you missing opportunities to connect with people in deeper ways? Is your to-do list getting in the way of who you want to be? What questions can you ask yourself now in order to look for kairos moments every day?
What is the difference between kairos and chronos?
Daniel Henderson in his book The Deeper Life gives a fantastic explanation of these two words chronos and kairos,
“Chronos is quantitative. Kairos is qualitative. The difference between these two words is the difference between a minute and a moment. A minute is measured by seconds, or by a clock. The experience and opportunity make up a moment.”
Can one lead to the other?
I’ve talked about the mudpuddle principle before. A young boy who stands on the edge of a mud puddle is probably going in. Likewise, we can, through our daily chronos habits, position ourselves near kairos opportunities.
For example, as a teacher, I’m surrounded by children. I have lots of opportunities to make a difference, but I’ve found if I can be in the hallway before and after school, I’m positioning myself for moments to happen — kairos moments.
Traveling is another excellent opportunity for these life-changing moments if you can make that happen.
If you work in a homeless shelter and can interact with others, you can position yourself for kairos moments. You could also just scrub dishes – and while that’s a service — the “walking slowly through the crowd” habit I mentioned earlier is a mud puddle principle.
When you interact and pay attention to others, you’ll find yourself crossing from chronos to kairos ever more frequently. When you work with those who have many and deep needs, you are positioning yourself for these moments.
Chronos time management is obsessed with saving time. Kairos is about savoring it.
Simply put, we need both to be excellent. We must:
- Organize our lives to get the right things done on time,
- Know when it is the right time to put down the list and seize a moment that matters,
- Discern when people are wasting our time with pointless pursuits, and
- Recognize when a once in a moment opportunity has arisen to make a difference.
I do not wish to waste my life checking off a million frivolous to-dos and not do the one thing I was put here to do. So, I constantly check to see if what I’m doing matters.
That would not be excellent at all.
Here’s to divine appointments and kairos opportunities that present themselves once and flit away like a Monarch butterfly on a fall breeze.
How will you spend kairos time today? Will you manage your chronos time efficiently? If we can get better at understanding and doing both of these, I think we can all live a more excellent life.
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