Geological: Take the Long View

“What matters is the whole span of your life, not the one or two things you do or don’t do now.” (Alexander X. Byrd, Good Busy, p. 47)

In Chapter 6 of Good Busy, Alexander X. Byrd, an Associate Professor of History at Rice University, says that he sets his watch to what he calls “geological time.” Geological means articulating two or three intentions that matter most to you and living by their content every day–for years.

At the time of our interview, Alex’s internal clock was marked by the following intentions: “See my children go to elementary school, die married, go to heaven” (Good Busy p. 48). Because he was an Assistant Professor at the time of our interview, he added the hope of finishing his academic book before tenure review.

Even in the slow passage of geological time, one of two kids is now in middle school. Alex has become a tenured professor and his book Captives and Voyagers:  Black Migrants across the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic World won a top award from the American Historical Association. Over time, Alex’s intentions remain the same, though he must occasionally adjust his watch. These changes, however, are reflective of his original intentions.

The practice of being geological is to help us all remember that, in the end, we don’t leave much behind that matters.  As an historian, Alex came to know geological time in the archives, as a reader of “dead people’s mail” (p. 47).  He pored over ship logs where the only trace of one human being’s life was an “x” mark. There has been no greater wake up call in my own archival research than to see a cart emerge with a few boxes of letters, ephemera, or records meant to encapsulate one person’s life.

As I have reflected on Good Busy this year, I have come to believe that time management is about being more geological, not necessarily more efficient or speedy in our daily lives. If you want to be like Alex, you will simplify your to-do lists and resist the temptation to feel pressured by others to cram more into each day.

What are the two or three intentions by which you set your internal clock?

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