“Why Can’t I Find The Time To Get Everything Done?”
This is a question I hear a lot from my clients. We live in an age of information overload – a constant bombardment of texting, emails, tweeting, Instagram, Facebook, news feeds – just to name a few. There is an astounding amount of information and a plethora of communication options literally at our fingertips. This can be incredibly helpful and a huge time saver. However, it is often a tremendous distraction, taking time away from our life’s priorities.
As I sit down to write this, I am forcing myself to use one of the most important time management tools I suggest to my clients – “focus” time. My phone is turned off, my email program is closed and my writing is off to a good start as a result (or so I hope).
Manage Your Time Or Manage Yourself?
“I don’t have enough time” is the most common response when people are asked why they are feeling overwhelmed. Well, assuming you work 40 hours per week and sleep 8 hours per night, you have 72 hours of “free” time per week! And “free” implies you have some choice in the matter. How you spend your time is a choice that you make every single day. Whether you realize it or not. Becoming aware of this is key to an effective time-management strategy. The term “time management” is a bit of a misnomer. We don’t really need to manage our time – we need to manage ourselves and how we chose to spend the time we have.
What Are Your Priorities?
In Stephen Covey’s best-selling book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Habit 3 is “Put First Things First.” Covey encourages readers to clarify and prioritize their values and then compare the relative worth of activities based on their relationship with those values. He goes on to describe this concept as a matrix with four quadrants. Only two factors define our activities and which quadrant we are operating in – the level of urgency attached to the activity and the importance of the activity. So we essentially spend our time in four ways:
- Quadrant 1 – Important and Urgent activities such as crises, pressing problems and deadline-driven activities
- Quadrant 2 – Important and Not Urgent activities such as relationship building, recognizing new opportunities, planning for the future, prevention of Quadrant 1 activities and recreation
- Quadrant 3 – Not Important and Urgent activities such as interruptions, “pressing” emails, some texts, some meetings, other people’s “priorities”
- Quadrant 4 – Not Important and Not Urgent – trivia, busy work, some emails, some texts, time wasters
Effective Personal Management
The quadrant of effective personal management is Quadrant 2. In it lies our choice to build our relationships, set goals for ourselves, take care of our health, and plan for the future.
What few things could you do in your personal and professional life that, if you did on a regular basis, would make a significant positive impact on your life?
Your answers to this question are some of your Quadrant 2 activities that you may not be paying enough attention to.
“If You Don’t Prioritize Your Life, Someone Else Will”
Greg McKeown emphasizes this in his best-selling book “Essentialism.” He goes on to explain that there are two paths in life:
“This is what matters to me – therefore I am going to pursue this and prioritize it in my life.”
“I try to do it all and then wake up one day and realize I’ve been making small increments of progress in several directions that don’t really matter to me.”
To Choose Is To Exclude
Saying “YES” to your priorities means saying “NO” to a lot of non-essential experiences and opportunities. And making these tough trade-offs is at the root of any effective time-management strategy. Everything, perfectly, right now is NOT a reality.
My friend, Tracy, was struggling to make time for herself while also taking care of her four children. One day, while at my house for a cup of coffee, she noticed my kitchen was quite messy and the sink was full of dishes. I explained to her that the dirty dishes were there because I was waiting for my son to unload the dishwasher when he got home from school. I could easily unload it for him and then load the dirty ones, but this would condition my son to postpone this chore whenever possible and make more work for me. I also explained to her that I save my “kitchen duties” such as cleaning pots, pans, and dishes and wiping down my counters for when my kids are home and I am in “mom mode.”
My Quadrant 2 priorities such as coaching responsibilities, time with friends, and exercise are what I choose to focus on during school hours. Tracy told me that seeing me prioritize my time this way was life-changing for her and has adopted this practice herself.
Another strategy I use a lot (much to the dismay of my husband and children) is an abundance of small sticky notes. (I realize this is not super eco-friendly but I try to make up for it in other ways). I write down the things I need to accomplish today and put them right in my direct line of sight. They are everywhere I frequent – my kitchen counter, my bathroom counter, on the door I go through to leave my house and on my car’s dashboard and steering wheel. My steering wheel doesn’t look exactly like this, but close. I can’t go far without remembering what my priorities are for the day.
How Can You Manage Yourself (And Your Time) Better?
- Decide what your Quadrant 2 activities are and prioritize them in your day, your week and your life.
- Set 1-2 weekly goals for yourself in 3 areas -Personal, Business and Relationships. Allocate pockets of time to make these things happen. And don’t underestimate the importance of personal downtime or “white space” to go for a leisurely walk or a bike ride. To slow down and just “be.” Creativity surges during these times as we actually have time to think about new ways of conceptualizing and doing things.
- Set aside “focus” time a few times a week to really concentrate on your more important task-oriented weekly goals and projects. Two to three hours with no interruptions. People make incredible breakthroughs when concentrating hard on a task or project.
- Don’t let the “good” be the enemy of the “essential”. Shoot to focus on things that are “90 percent” essential or close to it. “Good” or “fun” options can distract you from what is essential to you.
- Learn to pause before saying “yes.” Give yourself time to assess the importance of the activity to you and what you might inadvertently be saying “no” to if you agree to do it. “Thank you for thinking of me. That sounds really interesting. Let me consider it.” is a good way to give yourself this time. Then you can come back in a few days and say a polite “no,” suggest an alternative, or just have a conversation about it without committing.
- Choose discomfort over resentment. A few seconds of discomfort as you politely say “no” is a much better choice than being resentful for many days or weeks to come as you commit to something that is not essential to you – and takes time away from the things you really care about. And, as an added bonus, people respect those who live in alignment with their values and personal priorities more than those who say “yes” to everything.
Not only will these six strategies help you manage yourself and your time better, you will become more productive, confident, resilient and calm.
And with that, my “focus” time is up. I hope you enjoyed this post. ☺
Amy Larson is a life coach and career coach who meets with local clients in her comfortable office at 1877 Broadway in Boulder, CO and with clients from around the country via phone and Skype. Amy has worked in Investment Banking, Management Consulting and Consumer Products Marketing holds an undergraduate business degree from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach.
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