U.C.L.A. basketball coach John Wooden, at the first squad meeting each season, had his players practice putting their socks on. He demonstrated just how to do it: he carefully rolled each sock over his toes, up his foot, around the heel, and pulled it up snug, then went back to his toes and smoothed out the material along the sock’s length, making sure there were no wrinkles or creases. He had two purposes in doing this. First, wrinkles cause blisters. Blisters cost games. Second, he wanted his players to learn how crucial seemingly trivial details could be. “Details create success” was the creed of a coach who won ten N.C.A.A. men’s basketball championships. Other coaches worked on timed drills, incremental success, and measured improvement. Coach Wooden focused on the quality of every detail, not the quantity of work.
Each one of us can rattle off a list of activities that results in how “busy” we are. For me, I have a full time job, 5 very active children whose “busy” schedules are transposed onto my wife and I’s schedules, a time consuming ecclesiastical calling, a family farm to oversee, a doctoral program I am trying to finish, my 4-H club leader responsibilities, maintaining a very large garden and orchard, coaching sports, a regular workout regimen, and rental properties to manage. Not included in this list are things I’d like to do more including spending time with my wonderful wife outside of a gym, an auditorium, or a parents meeting for our kids, attending the temple more, doing family history work, and helping my widowed mother more. My neighbors include one elderly lady, one divorced lady, and a lady suffering with cancer. I’d love to help them all out more. Scout leaders, youth coaches, and city volunteers all could use my help more. I wish I had more time to do more. I’ve thought long and hard what I can do to fit more into my schedule of limited time.
Without you even thinking about it your heart beats one hundred times a minute. You take a breath every four seconds. And every two seconds your eyes blink. Your body manufactures new skin every few months and other parts of your body are constantly being renewed according to some timed pattern, because cells have a clockwork of their own. Our bodies have a very specific schedule. Nature, animals, and plants all have schedules that they run on.
But of all our Heavenly Father’s earth creatures, only man purposely records the passage of time. Early man saw the shadow cast by a stick poking out of the ground change positions as the sun moved across the sky. When the sun was gone at night he watched the positions of the moon and stars change as the night passed.
Later, the Egyptians built a primitive sundial using an obelisk. This tall, upright stone pillar tapers to a triangular point at the top and casts a shadow just like the stick stuck in the ground. But the positions of its shadow were marked on either the ground or wall of a nearby building to tell how much time had gone by. The 365-day year was also an invention of the Egyptians, as was the 24-hour day.
The Greeks measured smaller amounts of time with a clepsydra (water thief), which was handy because it was portable. This water clock consisted of two jars about the same size that were set one above the other. The top one had a tiny hole in its bottom that trickled water into the one below it. The inside walls of one jar were marked to measure the changing water level and the time it took for the water to either drip in or out. However, the clepsydra had some problems. In winter the water froze and cracked the jars and it was also hard to regulate.
In ancient China dampened ropes were knotted at equal intervals and then ignited. As the fire smoldered past each knot a unit of time was counted off.
In the ninth century King Alfred the Great of England used a candle clock to tell how long he had worked. He had candles made that lasted for four hours each with three markings per hour on them. As soon as one candle burned out, his priests lit another one. Other people used larger candles that burned more slowly and that could measure up to twelve hours.
Sundials, which are still found in all parts of the world, were first used in Babylon. They are mentioned in the Old Testament and it isn’t impossible that the prophet Abraham used one.
Clocks as we know them have had a remarkable history. Large, early ones had no hands, but bells or gongs were sounded on the hour as determined from the time measured on the sundial. Later clocks were powered by water or weights. In 1335 the first reliably recorded clock was set up in a church in Milan, Italy. Some clocks included little mechanical people or soldiers that would come from inside the clock to hit gongs or ring bells every hour.
I have not mentioned the extremely accurate calendar stones of the Mayan people or the calendars of the Sumerians, Egyptians, and Greeks. Some of the stones remaining at 3,500-year-old Stonehenge in England also formed part of a calendar and weighed up to a hundred tons each. Many were hauled from as far away as 140 miles.
There is still much about measuring time that mystifies men, but one thing we know for sure is that it never stops—with the exception of two accounts in the Bible. In the first, the sun and the moon stand still until Joshua and his people “avenge themselves upon their enemies” (Josh. 10:12–13). In the second account the shadow goes backwards on the sundial as a sign to the faithful Hezekiah that he will be healed (2 Kgs. 20:1–11).
And so as I began my day this morning with a tightly regimented schedule, and a robust list of activities/tasks/responsibilities to accomplish, I reflected back on the lesson of John Wooden. It’s not the quantity of time that is important in my life, I’ll never have enough time. But it’s the quality of time that makes a difference in my relationships, my happiness, and my success in life. I need to make every interaction more meaningful realizing it’s the amount of concern, not the amount of time. I need to make every listening moment about understanding, not length. Effective teaching depends on the content and delivery, not how much can be packed into a measured time. Instead of worrying how to mathematically fit everything into a schedule, I need to worry about how much of myself I invest into my life. It’s about time for me to do better.