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What’s in your life’s suitcase?

You have probably heard or read the admonition by Benjamin Franklin, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time for that is the stuff that life is made of.” Time may not actually make up life as we experience it, but certainly it is the stuff that we trade for the activities that do make up our lives.

I visualize life as a suitcase initially filled with time – a commodity that we trade for the things that we need or desire (mostly in the form of activities) during our life’s journey. Although we may have no control over the amount of time we originally have in our suitcase, the same amount of time is released for our use each day until it has been exhausted.

And use it we must. If we fail to use the full 24 hours allocated each day, it disappears regardless.

24 hours a day is more than enough for a successful journey. But we must use it wisely. Trading most of it for activities and stuff related to work, for instance, could cause our suitcase to bulge at the seams and cost us dearly. Not in terms of dollars, as it might when travelling with a real suitcase; but in terms of our health and well-being.

Our journey through life could also be cut short by the unwise use of time. Inadequate amounts of time traded for such things as sleep, exercise, renewal and relationships could actually shorten our lifespans.

The key to a long, successful and happy life is in how you use the time given to you. As you approach your destination, you don’t want to wish you had chosen differently when preparing for the journey. Some people may regret the lack of time devoted to planning for their senior years – or even their choice of travelling companions. In their haste to get on with life, they may not have used adequate time to prepare.

You wouldn’t attempt to fly any great distance without first obtaining your pilot’s license or taking extensive courses and learning the ins and outs of flying. Nor should you fly solo through life without first getting sufficient grounding in the basics of living a purposeful, fulfilling life.

Even a meaningful trip to a foreign country requires some knowledge of the people, the terrain, and the best places to visit. Most people realize that to pack for a long journey requires at least a basic knowledge of packing so that you can easily fit into your suitcase everything you acquire enroute. Therefore a knowledge of organizing is important, as is time management, since you want to trade your time for the right activities and be able to fit those things into your suitcase of life without causing stress and hardship.

Although you can’t get more time, you can get more out of the time you have by investing it in time-saving activities such as training, delegation and planning, and in time-lengthening activities such as healthy living.

If you manage your time well, you will soon have a suitcase filled with meaningful and life-enhancing activities, which eventually will be transformed into the memories of a life well-lived, and a legacy of examples that can help your offspring and others you have mentored prepare for their journey through life.

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Tools and techniques that help speed up my writing.

My goal has been to write four e-Books  year, one newsletter a quarter, five tweets a week, one blog article a week, and as many “Special Reports” as possible in the time available. So far, I’m more or less on course – at least for the last few years.

I couldn’t do it without the help of a few tools and techniques such as the following.

Dragon Naturally Speaking. It’s not the only voice-activated software available; but it was the one I was weaned on and have seen it improve with each update. It more than compensates for my lack of typing skills and it keeps pace with my rapid speech.

Bibme.org. A website that allows me to compile a bibliography for my books and reports in minutes rather than hours. As long as I can recall the author’s name or the book title – or even a portion of it, it gives me a list of books from which to select the right one, and subsequently formats the complete bibliography for me.

Grammarly. An app that highlights poor grammar as well as typos and spelling mistakes, and reminds me that I am taking liberties by omitting pronouns, using slang words and awkward phrases. Of course I sometimes ignore it.

Pocket Dockets. Mini-notepads that I stash in a pocket of my coats, my computer bag, car glove box, and elsewhere so I am never without someplace to jot down ideas when I’m on the go. Sometimes they go missing for a few weeks, but I have yet to fail to retrieve them along with the ideas.

Leak-proof pens. Not only a time saver but an annoyance saver as well if you’re a frequent flyer. Wish I could have avoided all those blobs of ink on my books, clothes and traveling companions before fly-proof pens were invented.

Topical file folders. This is more a technique than a product – marking the chapter titles of my future books on hard copy and electronic folders – to house the articles torn from magazines and those cut and pasted from the Internet (for reference when writing the books and articles)

Morning walks. Another technique of generating ideas and actually composing articles, which are later combined to form books; walking in the fresh air and exercising both body and mind. I get my best ideas and clarity of thinking as I walk – determining how to express the idea in words. But it must be immediately followed by an opportunity to write it all down before it disappears.

The coffee shop effect. I agree with the results of the research that indicates the background noises of a coffee shop are ideal for both creativity and productivity. A one-hour or 90-minute stop at a coffee shop before returning home from my walk allows me to quickly put my thoughts in writing. Most of my articles and large portions of me books took form at a Tim Horton’s.

Most people have their own favorite techniques and habits that help them with their writing. Some might seem to waste time rather than save time; but for that person, it is effective. For instance, I do most of my writing longhand and then dictate what I have written, editing as I go. I also find a book to daunting a task to tackle so I simply write articles for each chapter, which I post on my blog website – and then expand each article into a chapter.  I also may have two or more books on the go at the same time, and perhaps only two of them may see the light of day and the other one becomes a series of articles only.

I also spend as much time extracting ideas and quotes from someone else’s book as I do actually reading the book. I feel I have wasted time reading a book if I don’t get something out of it that I can use later.

The important thing is to try different things and see what works best. Then you can develop your own routines and habits. Certainly not having to decide what to do next saves time.

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Print books are still alive and well.

Not only did I buy a Kindle for e-books, I downloaded the app for my PC, iPad, iPhone and android. I thought for sure we were heading for a world of digital when it came to books, magazines and newspapers.

I didn’t like the idea since I loved my hardcover books that I revisited frequently whenever I wrote an article, newsletter, report or book. I found it so easy to highlight passages, scribble notes in the margins – mainly ideas generated by the author’s remarks – and I used print books as references for the 20 odd e-books I authored for Bookboon.com.

But I didn’t want to be left behind in the oncoming digital age of speed. I was committed to at least keep my brain up to date even while my aging body advertised otherwise.

So I have hundreds of e-books on my various devices, which I still refer to when I travel – and in waiting rooms, airports and buses. Many of them, however, are simply duplicates of the print books I’m reading at the time.

You can imagine my surprise and sheer joy when I started reading reports of the recent decline in electronic book sales, and in spite of all the bookstore closures, print book sales had stopped declining.

I noticed it first in an Inc. article written by Glenn Leibowitz titled “7 reasons why e-book sales are falling – and print book sales are rising again.” According to the Wall Street Journal, sales of traditional print books rose by 5% in the U.S. the previous year, while sales of e-books plunged by 17%.

Another article posted by Dave Schumacher on June 20, 2017 reported that during the first nine months of 2016, e-book sales in the US declined by a dramatic 18.7% compared to the same period in 2015. Dollar sales fell to about $877 million while print books grew slightly to more than $1.6 billion.

Publishers weekly showed that hardcover print unit sales had held steady over the past five years while e-books declined – and that hardcover books outsold e-books in 2016 for the first time since 2011.

Of course an actual trend is not yet conclusive. One writer mentioned the popular adult colouring books that can’t be replicated in digital format, for example.

And what about the young people? Are they firmly committed to e-books – especially with their use by schools, and their ease of access and low cost? Well, I found a student report that surveyed other college students using SurveyMonkey. The sample size was only 300, but half the respondents said they buy in both formats, and a surprising 40% said they prefer reading print books.

Like me they like the convenience of having 1000 books at their fingertips. But also like me, they made remarks such as “I spend enough time on computers; I need a break; I like the feel of the pages” and so on.

Of course, as mentioned in last week’s blog, there are plenty of other advantages of the good old-fashioned, reliable, durable print books as well.

I don’t think e-books will keep declining. But neither will print books. Rather than one format taking over a bigger share of the market, I feel the two formats will both share in a bigger market as more people discover the joy – and wisdom – of reading.

At least I like to think so.

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The pros and cons of e-Books and Print books.

I summarized below some of the advantages of both eBooks and Print books. And there could be many others.

For example, printed books may offer a feeling of pride or prestige when you have an impressive library in your office or studio. In the same way, being an earlier adopter of the latest e-Reader, and showing off your latest technological acquisitions may boost your self-image and impress your friends and associates. Or curling up with a good book in front of the fireplace might bring comfort and relieve stress. Or maybe you prefer the smell, feel, and texture of a hardcover book.

But what about the disadvantages of each? Well, in most cases you could just say the advantage of one would be a disadvantage of the other. But what about the impact on your health and well-being?

Eyestrain is already mentioned below; but eBooks add more screen time to your life. In an average week in 2011, for instance, we spent about 28.5 hours watching TV and 2.8 hours watching Internet TV. Add the reading of digital books to that, in addition to weekly computer work, social media, electronic games and surfing websites, and there has to be more than just eyestrain occurring.

In fact, excessive screen time has been associated with sleep problems, headaches, lack of focus and reduced social skills. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no media use for children younger than 18 to 24 months old. Even six-year olds and older are urged to be limited to two hours a day.

It has also been suggested that comprehension and recall increase when reading Print books as opposed to e-Books.

In one survey on why people read Print books rather than e-Books, some did it to get a break from all the screen time they experienced during the day. They found it more relaxing.

One team at the Boston Consulting Group took a full day a week free of any connectivity at all, and found more enjoyment in their work, better communication among themselves, more learning, and a better product delivered to the client.

Whether you choose to read Print books or e-Books is a matter of personal preference; but when it comes to total screen time, moderation is the best policy.

Personally I read both; but prefer Print books. Since I read so many non-fiction books, and rarely read an entire book, I find it easier to skip, skim and search out specific information from a Print book than an e-Book. I usually buy any Amazon $1.99 Kindle specials that are relevant to my areas of interest for my iPad and iPhone and laptop. Combined with the habit of downloading many of the same e-Books that I have in print, I have a portable library no matter where I travel.

Advantages of e-books

Less expensive to purchase.

Interactive, and can link to dictionary, different translations, websites, and so on.

May have advantages for those with reading disabilities or sight problems since font size, brightness, and words per line can be adjusted.

Lighter and more portable. Can carry over 1000 books in the palm of your hand.

Easier to store, locate, organize the various books.

No shipping cost involved when ordering online.

Easier to travel with books. Require less space.

Advantages of print books.

More comfortable to read, easier on the eyes.

Easier to share, trade or loan.

More visually aesthetic, great for decorating, more attractive and tactile.

Easier on the eyes, less eye strain.

Able to write notes on pages in addition to highlighting.

Make more meaningful gifts.

Greater variety of topics and genres available.

Last longer, vintage books, historical, collectibles.

Easier to flip through the pages searching for information.

Facilitate visual sticky notes to bookmark pages.

In the next blog article I will discuss the future of Print books and E-books. Are we heading for a digital world when it comes to reading or will Print books be making a comeback?

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Add a little more music to your life.

In 2016 I wrote and posted here an article on the power of music that summarized over a dozen benefits of music. It included its beneficial impact on stress, creativity, pain, depression, healing, sleep, fatigue, memory, performance, blood pressure and more.

But music affects different areas of the brain in different ways. For example, sad music can make some people feel sad while not affecting others. A moderate noise level is the sweet spot for creativity while loud noises can impede creativity. Listening to music can drown out fatigue during low or moderate-intensity exercise, but not during high-intensity exercise, and so on.

With music, in some cases it’s a trial and error process of determining what works for you.

Music can actually distract us while driving – although most people believe otherwise. Studies have shown that it is safer not to listen to your favourite music. Drivers listening to their own choice of music made more mistakes and drove more aggressively. It would appear that unfamiliar or uninteresting music is better when it comes to driving safely.

Although the above comments indicate that music is not a panacea for health and happiness, research keeps revealing more and more advantages of introducing music into our lives at any age.

An article from New York Times magazine stated that “surrounding ourselves with music and an environment and décor from our younger years can help keep our attitudes young.

Ephraim P. Engleman, a noted rheumatologist who was still active before he died at 104, when interviewed for an article on aging in the January, 2015 issue of Reader’s Digest, claimed that “playing music is a real stimulus, and very, very good for the soul.”

Research has pointed to the astounding effects of learning an instrument; one study carried out by the Radiological Society of North America found that taking music lessons increases brain fibre connections in children, which is why music is such an important part of learning.

Doctors are recommending that older people learn to play a musical instrument to keep their brain young; much in the way that brain games enhance important skills such as problem solving and creativity, music, too, can keep the brain sharp, staving off memory loss and dementia.

Pat Martino was one of the most original of the jazz-based guitarists to emerge in the 1960s, made a remarkable comeback after brain surgery in 1980 to correct an aneurysm that caused him to lose his memory and completely forget how to play. It took years, but he regained his ability, partly by listening to his older records.

Music is used to rev up spectators at hockey games and other sporting events – so it might rev you up as well if you find life is not as exciting as it used to be.

And anything that helps develop cognitive reserve is worth some time.

 

 

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Cut costs to improve your bottom line.

Back in 2005, Angie Mohr, in her book, Managing Business Growth, claimed that 96% of all small businesses fail within 10 years. Today it isn’t much different. Brian Martucci, in an article posted in Small Business, states that according to Bloomberg, 8 out of 10 businesses fail within the first 18 months. Richard Legg, in his 2017 book, Hidden Profits, claims that business owners get so caught up in their business that they’re unable to work “on” their business.

As business owners, we must be able to step back from the business and keep tabs on what’s going on. We must spend more time managing the business and spending less time doing what the business does. Most business writers and consultants claim the major cause of business failure is “poor management. “ But according to Dun and Bradstreet, more than 85% of business failures are preventable.

I don’t think it’s so much poor management as it is a lack of management.

For example, if we can’t afford to take the time to learn and apply new ideas, attend workshops, read the latest books and keep up with the times – because we are so busy doing what we are in business to do – our business will soon be in trouble.

A major purpose of a Chamber of Commerce, for example, is to provide its members with information essential to growing strong businesses.  It would be wise for the members to take advantage of the learning opportunities, and to suggest other topics if the information does not meet their specific needs.

I know that one of my problems in running a business was my tendency to spend like crazy when times were good, and then try to cut corners and skimp when business was slow. It took a while to learn that cutting costs, not quality or service, was an ongoing activity that maintained a healthy bottom line, and avoided any cash flow problems when sales dipped.

Checking bank charges to ensure the best plan for your level of activity, switching to fluorescent light bulbs , which are said to use as much as 22% energy, printing on both sides of computer paper, hiring virtual freelancers from websites such as “Upwork,” finding a use for your by-products – there is no end to the possibilities for reducing costs.

It only requires a questioning attitude and the odd brainstorming session with yourself or others, and a commitment to not get so involved in doing the work that you don’t have time to manage the work.

Some of the ideas from my 30-page special “Promotion on a shoestring” report also reduce costs, such as using classified ads instead of display ads, sending out news releases to the media, trimming your product line, including sales pitches with product shipments, and offering downloadable products. In fact anything that increases sales indirectly reduces costs.

This Promotion on a Shoestring report is available for download for $4.95 CDN at our website. Click here for a detailed description of the report.

 

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Work on the critical, the crucial, and the quick.

Always focus on the critical, the crucial and the quick tasks in order to maximize your use of time. Everyone tells us to prioritize or work on important things first or avoid the tyranny of the urgent or to draw a priority grid consisting of four possible combinations of important and urgent items.

But if we see prioritizing as being too complicated or have problems determining which items are the most important, we simply fail to prioritize at all. After all, it’s a lot easier to simply cross items off a “To Do” list – starting with whatever seems most urgent at the time. As a result we tend to get a lot done of questionable value.

It might simplify the process if you think of all tasks and projects worthy of attention as being critical, crucial or quick.

Critical tasks are ones that are both important and urgent, meaning they will have a direct impact on achieving your goals, and simply too valuable to pass up. Work on these right away – in the morning or whenever your energy level is highest.

Crucial tasks are those that will impact your goals and fulfill your commitments and may even be just as important, but are frequently not urgent, and can be scheduled into your planner as commitments on future days.

Quick tasks are those that will take no longer than five minutes, add value to your day, and give you an immediate sense of accomplishment. They are motivational, and the brain thrives on short tasks. These can be worked on during idle time, while waiting or whenever you finish a task earlier than expected. These are the ones that are added to your daily or weekly “To Do” list rather than being scheduled for a specific time.

If you’re always working on tasks or activities that are critical, crucial or quick, the least important, non-urgent, tasks will fall by the wayside. They are the ones that you can leave on a master “To Do” list to die a natural death. They didn’t make the cut.

And who knows, someday you may have extra time on your hands and you can quickly review them to see whether their importance has changed in the interim.

But don’t be concerned with the growing length of this list. It only represents time you have saved by not being involved in trivial things. You have been working on the critical, the crucial, and the quick.

 

 

 

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Making time to sell

In no profession is time management more important than in sales. For a salesperson, the greatest resource is the time available for customer contact.

All the selling skills in the world are to no avail if there is not enough time to put those skills into practice. Today’s salespeople are spending the majority of their time on activities other than sales, according to a recent article in Forbes magazine. According to the January, 2018 article by Ken Krogue, nearly 2/3 of a rep’s time, on average, is spent in non-revenue-generating activities, leaving only 35.2% for functions related to selling.

Time management for salespersons should not involve rushing the sale, but reducing the amount of time spent on the other activities, thereby leaving more time for face-to-face selling. Time tips that work for manufacturing or finance people will also work for salespeople.

Everyone’s time is valuable, but the value of the salesperson’s time notably so because it translates directly into increased income for the company and for the salesperson.

James F. Bender, in How to Sell Well, reports that the seven most oft-mentioned weaknesses of salespersons as identified by a life insurance company are as follows:

  1. Failure to utilize time at work.
  2. Failure to organize work.
  3. Failure to plan work.
  4. Failure to use enough selling time.
  5. Failure to use enough product information.
  6. Failure to use enough effort.
  7. Failure to prospect for new business.

Many of these weaknesses would disappear if salespeople would organize themselves and better utilize the time at their disposal. Some sales managers note that out-of-town sales trips result in more calls per day and more sales than an equivalent amount of time spent in the home town.

Could it be that time is managed more carefully out of town? There’s no doubt that everyone is aware of the cost of travel, the limited amount of time available in this distant city, and the deadline imposed by the return airline ticket. There are also fewer distractions – little opportunity for friendly chit-chat over coffee, elongated lunches, trivial errands, or unnecessary phone calls.

Out-of-town trips seem to have a sense of urgency attached to them, and an incentive to give it your best shot. After all, it’s not easy to make a repeat call the next day and carry on where you left off.

But the increased effectiveness out of town is probably due more to the planning. Calls and routes are planned well in advance; appointments are made and confirmed; time allotted to the calls is kept to a minimum to accommodate more calls; additional prospects are listed in the event of a last-minute cancellation or an abbreviated meeting; only prime, “A” class prospects are included on the call list; the full day’s “selling time” is utilized; and preparation has been done the day or night before.

In other words, time is managed the way it should be managed. There is a tendency to lose respect for time when you’re “at home.” And if you don’t respect your time, your customer or prospect certainly won’t respect your time.

Next week, pretend you’re not at home. Manage your time and territory as though you have only this one opportunity to reap the sales. Then compare the results.

If you feel that you need help to utilize your time more effectively whether at home or out of town, read my e-book, Time to be productive, published by Bookboon.com, review the ideas, and apply those that will help free up time. You will find that time will be your ally, not your enemy.

Technology has opened new opportunities to increase personal productivity and free up more time for selling. Although it takes an initial investment of time to learn how to set up contact management software and databases and fully take advantage of high tech devices, the return is great.

Do not resist technology, embrace it. Never stop searching for new ways to save time. It’s not enough to be able to sell: you must have time to sell.

 

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Plan for a purposeful retirement.

The trouble with steady, full-time jobs for over 40 years or more is that we become associated with our job. We know as much about our fellow workers’ families as we do about our own. We make friends at work, learn skills at work, receive enjoyment and self-esteem at work – and for many of us, work consumes the greater portion of us – our time, our energy, our thoughts and our physical presence.

When we retire, we have a problem because all of that is suddenly taken away from us.

During your working days people ask “What do you do? After retirement, they ask “What did you do?”

Retirement is not as much an end as it is a beginning to a new stage in life where your increased freedom allows you to more fully examine your life purpose and to explore new fields of involvement.

People who retire, die sooner. It’s a fact. Researchers looked at employees of a global oil company who retired early at 55 and those who retired at the traditional 65. The early retirees were 89% more likely to die within the 10 years after retirement than those who retired at 65.

I would wager that most of those who survive longer are those who plan ahead, and have something to retire to – whether it is part-time consulting, a new business, an extensive travel itinerary or a volunteer position with a non-profit organization.

When you retire from a job; you should never retire from making contributions, whether through volunteering, mentoring or helping others in some other way.

The first two thirds of our lives, for the most part, have been a time and getting. Getting a job, getting possessions, getting a house, getting a family, getting new friends and new adventures. The final third of our lives needs to be primarily a time for giving. Giving our time, energy, financial resources, skills and talents.

Do something that will give you a reason to get out of the bed in the morning – something that will give purpose to your retirement. As Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. “It’s important to be actively serving others for your own mental, emotional and spiritual health and well-being.

It has been proven that when people feel they are making a difference, they are happier. Through MRI technology, researchers have discovered that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Helping others can make us healthier, happier, and more productive, more fulfilled and even increase our longevity.

A study published by BMC Public health concluded that taking time to volunteer could reduce early mortality rates by 22% compared to those who do not volunteer.

Retirement gives you the opportunity to focus on things that are really important.

If you have already retired, it’s still not too late to plan your future. But you must stay alive by participating in life. You are never old until you start spending more time on past memories than on future goals.

The trouble with having nothing to do is that you never know when you’re done. And if your job is doing nothing, how can you ever take a day off? Activity is one of the keys to longevity.

Finally, don’t become obsessed with the idea of being remembered. Some people seem to seek immortality by having something named after them, whether it is a building, scholarship, park bench or whatever. The people who really matter to you will never forget you. The people who do forget you are not the people who matter to you.

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Time is the currency of life.

Don’t make your job your whole life. If you become too focused on picking the fruit you may miss the flowers that are there as well. Always keeping busy at your work not only keeps you from working smart, it keeps you from fully enjoying life.  Participating in other things and enjoy what life itself has to offer. There is an old anonymous saying, “The work will wait while you show a child the rainbow; but the rainbow won’t wait until you do the work.”

You are not what you do. If you believe you are what you do, when you don’t, you aren’t. Someday you will no longer be able to do what you do now – either due to retirement, infirmity or whatever. Everyone should love their job; but not to the extent that they are unable to find happiness doing anything else.

Life doesn’t really begin at 40 any more than it ends at 65. I think as an octogenarian I am qualified to say this – at least as a personal observation. One thing I have observed is that some retirees adjust poorly to their new environment and lifestyle. And I believe that the reason that many of them do poorly when facing major changes such as retirement, moving to the country or taking up residence in a senior’s home is that they are unable or reluctant to change the way they use their time. They are too firmly entrenched in the work – sleep – work cycle. And when the work is gone, what is left to replace it?

For example, when I moved from a condo in the city of Toronto to an apartment in the small town of Sussex, New Brunswick, I didn’t expect I would be enjoying stage plays or attending the same church or taking the subway to an underground shopping mall or golfing with my best friend or taking in the odd afternoon movie. If I did, I would be miserable; because none of those things are readily available to me – not the same neighbours or same friends or the familiar coffee shop where I spent a lot of time or one of my sons who had lived just a few miles away.

But within a year, I had made new friends, participated regularly in new activities, joined a new church, volunteered in different organizations, and have a different favorite coffee shop where I do the biggest chunk of my writing.

You must be willing to change the way you use your time – not on worse things, just on different things. True happiness does not come from the things you do or the people you meet or where you live. True happiness comes from within, not from specific things that you may have spent your life doing.

It’s easier to get involved in other things after retirement if you’ve being more flexible with your use of time during your working years. I started my career as a workaholic – dedicated fully to my job to the detriment of my family life and social life. Books I read, workshops I attended, trips I took – all revolved around the career I was committed to at the time.

Perhaps it was the broken marriage, the bleeding ulcers and the failing part-time business that first got my attention – and prompted some major changes in my mindset.

That resulted in my lifetime purpose – my calling – to help others manage their time and their lives. But more important, it introduced me to the real source of joy – the happiness within – the one who does the calling – God Himself.

It didn’t take me a year to feel comfortable in my new surroundings. My faith is the source of my strength, my lifestyle and my attitude as well as my purpose in life. I believe we are all created for a purpose and it’s up to us to discover it. The bible tells us that we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It’s difficult to discover our purpose by keeping our nose to the grindstone, working from dawn to dusk. That would only give us a flat nose.

We must explore life on a daily basis, open our minds and hearts to relationships, nature, hobbies and other outside interests as well as our spirituality.

Don’t spend all your time on one activity until the day you retire. Time is the currency of life. Spend it wisely.