Lessons In Time Management As Taught By The Movie, Groundhog Day (Season 2021, Episode 6)

Lessons In Time Management As Taught By The Movie, Groundhog Day (Season 2021, Episode 6)

Last Tuesday was February 2nd, 2021 – Groundhog Day. AMC played the movie staring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell on constant repeat all day that day. I know ’cause I watched it twice.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the movie a 96% on the Tomatometer. Here’s how they summarize the movie, for you slackards who have never seen it:

Phil (Bill Murray), a weatherman, is out to cover the annual emergence of the groundhog from its hole. He gets caught in a blizzard that he didn’t predict and finds himself trapped in a time warp. He is doomed to relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right.

It’s a classic and I have a tough time resisting whenever it’s on. True confession.

Phil, Bill Murray’s character, not the groundhog, starts off as a self-indulgent jerk TV weatherman. Rude, crude, and obnoxious, it takes repeating Groundhog Day over and over and over before it slowly dawns on him there’s a better way to spend his one day that’s stuck on repeat. The movie was one of the funniest movies of the 1990s, but when I first saw it I wondered – as many viewers did – how I might spend my time if I were stuck repeating one day over and over.

On February 10, 2014 Bill Murray was on The Charlie Rose Show where he was asked a question that prompted an answer you wouldn’t expect from a guy as funny as Bill. Bill’s answer speaks directly to the lessons in time management taught by the movie, Groundhog Day. The primary lesson being what Bill told Charlie Rose – being present. Being in the moment. For Bill’s character in the movie, it was drilled down further into thoughtfulness. Being helpful. And kind.

Those are the lessons I find most valuable in the movie. And yes, it seems to me they all – every single one of them – deal with time management because they address the questions:

What will I do with my time?

How will I spend my time?

Pull the covers back further and I think time management is really about what matters most to us. Not what should matter most. But what DOES matter most. Because that’s what we do with our time. We spend it or invest it where we want to.

I know, I know. I can hear you protesting, “I don’t have control of my time. I have a boss. I have other people who tell me what to do.” Let’s get something clear. We all have people and things that impose on our schedule. But we still have a choice.

Do you remember the TV show, The Wonder Years? IMDB says this about the show, “The series depicts the social and family life of a boy in a typical American suburban middle-class family from 1968 to 1973, covering the ages of 12 through 17.” It closely mirrors the years when I was in that age range. In season 2 the main character, Kevin, is in junior high. The Viet Nam war is raging and the student council decides they want to walk out of homeroom class one day and all go out to the football field of the school. The Assistant Principal finds out about the plan and warns them that students who walk out of class without authorization will be suspended and it will become part of their permanent record. He overly stresses the word “permanent” causing them to fear not being able to get a job or anything else…all because they walked out of a single class in junior high. Well, the teacher advising the student council neither pushes or prevents their decision. He simply asks them direct questions. As the Principal’s threats intensify, the advising teacher asks the students how important it is to them to stand against the Viet Nam war. In short, he asks, “Are you willing to suffer the consequences? Is it that important to you?” Turns out it is and every student in the school leaves homeroom, gathers on the football field where, in unison, they sing, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” Nobody gets suspended.

What we choose to do is what we choose to do. Our time is still ours. It belongs exclusively to us. We can and often do choose to let others – like a boss or somebody in authority over us – impose on our time. In return, we’re good, productive employees. In return, we get paid and earn income. In return, we receive a number of positives. Else, why do it? It’s still our time and like those junior high kids protesting the Viet Nam war in their small way…we make up our mind to accept the consequences or rewards of spending our time on something we deem important.

It’s still up to us to set the priority – how we’ll spend our time.

168 hours a week. 24 hours a day.

Every human has exactly the same amount. It’s the one element of life where we’re all equal.

The one area where we’re not equal is our wisdom in how we spend our time. What’s important varies from person to person. The intensity of that importance also varies. “How much do you want it?” is a common refrain to illustrate focus or desire. Presumably, the higher the desire the higher the commitment, but you and I both know that life isn’t that simple. Or easy.

I’ve had desperate times in my life just like you. Think about a time – maybe right now – when you felt desperate. Desperate to achieve something. Desperate to improve something. So you try harder, right? Yeah, me too. I don’t know how that worked out for you, but it usually didn’t work out for me.

I’m a hockey fan and in hockey, a goal scorer, like a baseball hitter, can hit a slump. Game after game without scoring a goal. Add to it the pressure of the press, a fitting name, huh? Add to it the mental stress the player puts on himself because of the expectations…and the multi-million dollar contract. It happens regularly throughout the league – the National Hockey League – and you always hear the same thing. Namely, that the player is trying, pressing, and gripping his stick too tightly. It’s as though the harder the player tries, the deeper into the slump he goes. Attend the team practice and you’ll likely see that player putting in the work, but it seems nothing works. Some players feel as though they may never score another goal.

So much for the easy assumption that life rewards us when we devote the time, attention, and work to something.

Not always.

It doesn’t mean focus is unimportant. It doesn’t mean hard work isn’t required. But we love binary conceptions. Do this, get that. Do this other thing, get that other result. Always. Every single time.

Sometimes I chuckle at the cultural depictions of entrepreneurship that dramatically conflict. The hustle culture on one hand. The life of leisure on the other. Two extremes. Work, work, work and sleep 4 hours a night. Spend the rest of your time building your career or business. Versus, work 4 hours a week and spend the rest of time enjoying yourself. Which is it? For most of us, it’s neither. It’s moments of running a full sprint with your hair on fire, followed by moments where you’re not even thinking of running. Or having your hair ablaze. So it goes.

Time. What’s our best use of it? How much of it do we devote to this or that? And what do we actually do when we’re focusing time on that thing?

These are the questions that always come up in my coaching engagements because they’re important questions each of us must figure out. I’m often asked, “What’s the difference between consulting and coaching?” One day I’ll do an entire show on that, but for now, I’ll tell you how I usually respond.

Consulting is mostly viewed as a “do it for you” kind of affair. Catch a man a fish sort of thing.

Coaching is typically viewed as a “teach a person” kind of affair. Teach a man to fish thing.

Personally, that’s not my approach because I haven’t found it helpful or successful in serving clients desperate for growth and improvement. We love the term, transformation. I get it. There have been times when I wanted to transform by losing 30 pounds. By the way, the more I seemed to focus on the weight I wanted to lose the harder it seemed to be. So much for that time and attention angle! But back to my personal view of effective coaching…

My single goal in every coaching engagement is to help my clients figure it out – whatever IT is. As for the consulting versus coaching discussion, I do my best to help clients figure out if they even like fish! That’s a big difference.

That’s important because it determines where to put the effort and what to do to move forward. Historically, slumping elite professional athletes have found that sometimes the most helpful thing is to stop trying. To step away from the game. To get their mind onto something completely different. To relax. Then to come back to the game with a freshness that the slump robbed them of. In these cases, more time and effort to conquer the problem often make the problem worse. But you and I know that feeling because like my pursuit of a 30-pound weight loss, we know all too well how that happens.

Bill Murray’s character in the movie resists humility for days as he relives this same day over and over. He goes from arrogance to anger. Realizing that nothing he does matters, he kills himself by dropping a toaster into his bath, stepping in front of a city bus, driving a pickup truck into a rock quarry, and jumping from a tower. He was angry and disgusted with life during those days. Slowly the movie shows him realize that the only path forward is humility with a focus on others, not himself. He only begins to make progress when he realizes he can spend each day building toward tomorrow. Because the quirk in the equation is that while he’s reliving the same day over and over he has the memory of each day. But nobody else does. That means the epiphany arrived when he humbled himself enough to realize he could leverage each day differently, even though the date was going to remain the same. So he begins to find out more about people. He takes an interest in others. He starts serving others. He learns to play the piano. You see him morph from an arrogant self-centered TV weatherman to a bitter, angry man stuck in time to a highly-energized person who has much to do. All in a single day!

The great lessons are that arrogance sticks us while humility frees us. Self-focus makes us miserable while focusing on others provides joy. Helping others, however small or big, can dominate our calendar, allowing us to have a more positive impact on our corner of the world – and our own life.

This brings me to the big elephant in the room when it comes to lessons taught by this movie – the why of our time is important. Murray’s character at the beginning of the movie is so self-absorbed he only has an interest in himself. As a result, he’s viewed by others as a miserable human being. No one likes him. He’s unkind and utterly oblivious to how affects others. Only when he starts looking at his actions as they impact others does his life turn toward giving him all the things he’s always wanted.

It’s not just a movie. It’s your life. It’s my life. It’s how our lives – all of our lives – work.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

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