Time is so hard to describe. There seems to be so much of it when we are young or waiting for something wonderful to happen, and yet it speeds by when we are older and we get this heavy feeling that we are running out of it! It seems that the new way to greet each other in our culture looks a bit like this:
"Hi! How are you?"
"Hey. So busy. How about you?"
We seem to wear our "busy-ness" like a badge of work-ethic honor. I have a friend who loves to respond to this answer with, "Busy with what?" And that is where time management gets interesting.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower is credited with saying, "What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important."
Busy with what? Could it be that managing our time is more about getting clear on what’s important than just moving from task to task?
Susan Scott wrote a great book called "Fierce Conversations." In it, she talks about how having real conversations that get to the heart of an issue actually saves us time – time we were wasting on misunderstandings, misperceptions, misinterpretations, missed deadlines, wrong outcomes, etc., etc.
So what’s that single question you could ask yourself and then answer every morning before you start your workday that would create more time and help you get more done?
It is simply, "What is the number one driving vision that I need to be communicating about my company’s goals to my team, our customers and everyone in the company?"
Are you kidding me? That’s the question? That’s what you wanted $29.95 for in three easy payments? Yep. There’s not a pill. You have to skip dessert and start exercising if you want results.
You have to get clear on what you are about, what you are trying to achieve and how you are going to achieve it in order to fight off the time wasters – the urgent and not always important stuff that bombards your daily life and is the number one reason people are running around greeting each other with phrases about how busy they are.
So how do we get clear?
The first questions to ask yourself are:
▶ Where am I going?
▶ Why am I going there?
▶ Who is going with me?
▶ How am I going to get there?
Susan Scott calls this interrogating reality. We have to know what we are really aiming to do – not just today but over the long haul. What are the main goals that are going to get our company where we want it to be? Yes, there are surprises we can’t plan for, but if everyone in our company is not clear on what the goals are, how are they going to help meet them? Do they understand how their roles and their work performance in the company impact our goals?
As a leader, you must seek to create clarity at all times. Clarity will enable you to set clear goals, prioritize, manage distractions and stick to your priorities. Clarity will help you say "no" to activities that do not lead you to your desired outcome.
So let’s look at a way to examine how you are spending your time. This Eisenhower Matrix has been around for years, and it has stuck because it works. Stephen Covey used it, too. You have probably seen it. Everything you do is on a continuum somewhere between urgent and not-so-urgent and important and not-so-important.
Not Urgent And Not Important
Wasting time where you don’t really rest and you don’t really achieve anything of consequence is a good place to start looking at your time. Sometimes I come home from work feeling tired, and I decide to just sit and chill for 30 minutes in front of the television. Then I’ll get busy getting dinner, maybe working on an art project or something that would make me happy. But I end up in this altered reality where I can’t get up off the couch. I zone out, not really watching anything, and watching everything. My limbs weigh 500 pounds each, and I simply can’t move. Or I get a prompt from Facebook that I am tagged in a post. I go there. I promise myself I’m not going to spend time on Facebook tonight, but I get hooked. I watch a video about a funny dog that got rescued by a sweet homeless man. Then I move to an article about the election results and the angry posts that follow it. Then I scroll to see what Halloween photos folks from my hometown are posting. An hour has passed, and this is not how I wanted to spend my evening. I feel like a Social Media Zombie. This is the famous and deadly Not Urgent And Not Important quadrant, where good intentions pave the road…you know the saying.
Urgent And Not Important
Ringing phone – I don’t recognize the number. But I must answer. The dinging sound on my phone or laptop that tells me I have an email, a text, a notification from Instagram. The little red dot on my email or voicemail icon forces me to open it, delete the spam email or telemarketer voicemail, so I can remove that little red dot. Being interrupted constantly so I don’t finish writing that letter to my best customer or that proposal for a new project – these interruptions are meant to feel urgent, but they are not important to the goal at hand. Cleaning off my to-do list isn’t getting me to my goals if I haven’t crafted that to-do list based on my goals. I arrive home from work exhausted and wonder what I did all day. That’s the ole Urgent But Not Important quadrant. It’s a tricky one.
Urgent And Important
Putting out fires, responding to a crisis, meeting a looming deadline – all these push our activities into the urgent and important quadrant. Nothing else can be attended to because we are up against a deadline or something critical and we must respond right then, right there. This is where most of us live most of the time at work (and let’s face it, at home, too). Being in the customer service business, we have to respond to our customers’ needs. Just like a hospital emergency room, we have to respond to what comes in our doors that day. But if we aren’t proactive in how we manage our reacting – by creating systems for response that are efficient and complete – then we continue to live in Urgent And Important, and this is a great place for stress-related diseases to thrive and gives us no time for working on the long-term important goals.
Not Urgent And Important
Want to write a book? Want to lose 20 pounds? Want to create a system for responding to customer issues more efficiently? Want to beat your sales projections by 12 percent? Want to learn to knit, fly fish, or understand why your customers are shopping the competition? How about learning a new language, how to build a log cabin at the lake, how to generate more revenue in a lagging area of your business? None of this happens anywhere but in the Not Urgent But Important quadrant. This is the place where you work on things that move you forward over the long haul. This is the place where you do those little daily things that get you to your goal. This is the place where no one threatens to fire you if you don’t do it. No gun to your head to get it done. So the big enemy of this quadrant becomes your own procrastination.
Procrastination moves you from not urgent to urgent and from proactive to reactive.
How do we live more life in the Not Urgent And Important quadrant?
Build time into your mornings to work on the important tasks. There are too many distractions and crises that hit during the day – good reasons to put off working on the important long-term goals. If you do it early, you will build it in and actually do it. And you will still have time for Facebook, an argument with your teenager, and a lengthy phone call with an extra-happy customer.
The urgent tasks will propel you. The important tasks will wait patiently. So the only way to get it into your day is to schedule it into your day. Protect it. Make it your number one priority to figure out your priorities and protect them daily.
A great place to start? Do this exercise now. Simply ask yourself:
What is the number one driving vision that I need to be communicating about my company’s goals to my team, our customers and everyone in the company?
Now, with that vision in mind, answer the following:
What should I stop doing?
What should I keep doing?
What should I start doing?
If you are clear, and I mean crystal clear, about what you need to be achieving in your work and in your life – over time – then every decision you make about how you spend time is governed by that clarity. And you will actually get more done and reach that goal faster than if you spend your days always reacting to fires that need putting out. Spend time in the Not Urgent And Important quadrant. Go there. Start now. Model it for your team. Get the right things done.