time management

There was once a busy professional who kept bringing home unfinished office work just about every single evening. Finally, his son (who was in the first grade) asked, “Why, Daddy?” “Son,” came the reply, “You simply don’t understand. I have a lot of work to do, so much that I can’t finish it all during the day.” The son replied, “In that case Daddy, why don’t they just put you in a slower group?”

I am sure those of you with small children can relate.

Today’s world is fast paced. Too many emails, unimportant meetings and phone calls, pressing activities, crisis, fires, and interruptions are all part of the everyday norm. All of us, both personally and professionally, are being asked to do more with less. I recently read that the average individual needs to handle more information, on a daily basis, than the average mid-sized company did just 20 years ago. It is no wonder that most people are stressed and overwhelmed.

STEP ONE: Focus on Your Rocks (focus on the important and not just the urgent)

I recently asked the participants at one of my workshops the question, “What would you do with an extra hour a day if you could invest it back into your personal or professional life?” The answers I received were things like: read more, learn to cook, spend time with my spouse and children, exercise, plan and organize more, new business development, relationship building, systems development, etc. Funny how no one said: more mindless television, more interruptions at work, more unimportant meetings, more surfing of the web, or “please, can you add a few more emails to my already overloaded inbox?” Yet each day many of us allow these time wasters to act on us. They sap our productivity and compromise our ability to think clearly.   Most of us let the urgent things become more of a priority than the important things! What do I mean by that? Important things are activities that if NOT completed, will have some sort of serious consequence; a lost job, missed goal, a damaged relationship, health issues, stress, etc.

Urgency is defined as anything that is pressing or demanding immediate action. They are NOT the same. Can an activity be urgent AND important? Sure, we call that a crisis. Your boss gives you a last minute assignment, an upset client calls, your child is sick at school, putting off taxes until 10:00 p.m. on April 14th are all examples. These things are part of life and must be done, but we don’t want to “live” in this constant fire-fighting mode.

The biggest time management mistake that most people make (the one that will absolutely bankrupt your personal and professional life) is focusing on those deceptive activities that are urgent, but NOT important. They are deceptive because we tend to confuse urgency with importance. We break away from an important work project to check our emails again, we immediately respond to every text, we focus on our smart phones instead of our smart children, we allow other people’s issues to rule our time, or we spend hours per week just looking for things in our own home or office that we can’t find.

The average person spends nearly 30-40% of their waking hours on these types of activities! It makes us stressed, harried, and destroys our self-esteem. We are certainly busy, but we are accomplishing none of the things that are in line with our personal mission or priorities.

Stop it! Learn to say no, or delegate or defer some of these activities. Take the notifications off of your Outlook, turn the phone off, put police tape in front of your office door to stave off the interruptions. There are many techniques to eliminate these activities, but to fix the problem at the root, learn to focus on those activities that are important…but NOT urgent: planning for your business, a family mission statement, time for spiritual pursuits, exercise, new business development, training your employees, preparation and prevention activities, relationship building (you get the idea).

We call these the BIG ROCKS of your life. Your focus on your big rocks is your key to the reduction of stress. It is also the key to effectiveness, balance and success. Let’s learn how to do that in step 2.

STEP 2: Know Your Roles (the key to lasting balance and success)

I am of the belief that ultimately the impact that we have on our key relationships is the measure of our success and level of happiness. Far too often we neglect key relationships (God, spouse, family, friends, employees, and self) at the expense of another OR we get so caught up in the urgent that we don’t have time to invest in these relationships. These key relationships are called Roles.

The first step to balance and effectiveness is to ask, “What are the 5-7 key roles that I play that are MOST important to me AND who does that role impact?” In my role as a father, for instance, I impact my children Sarah, Annika, and Garrett. To neglect this role, would be to ultimately hurt the relationship between me and my children.

Once you are clear on your 5-7 roles, invest 20 minutes, someplace quiet, before the week begins to plan out your week. Write down your key roles, then ask yourself, “What are one or two Big Rocks that I will accomplish in this role this week?” Write those next to each one of your roles. Try this just once, and you will feel a sense of excitement as you start to design the picture of a truly effective and impactful week!

Lastly, schedule these Big Rocks for each role into your week. They might be a calendar appointment that you put into your Outlook, or a task or reminder that you put into your paper planner. Whatever time-management system you currently use, continue to use it. A planning system that works for you is the key!

Thanks for reading!

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