Discovering the things that are truly important is…well… truly important and often times truly difficult. This is something that has become apparent recently as I have worked with several leaders. So often we are overwhelmed with multiple, and frequently competing demands that we struggle with identifying where to start and where the majority of our time and energy should be applied. The demands become a dark cloud of chaos and stress that sucks our focus into a haze of confusion. How does this happen?
Well, many times the chaos is created by others (bosses, coworkers, peers, family members, friends, etc.), but even deeper, the chaos is created by ourselves. The fear of disappointing others, the inability to say “No”, or just overestimating our personal bandwidth of time and energy can be the root cause of being strong in staying true to our goals and expectations.
So what do we do? If we do nothing, inevitably at some point we will break, so we need to develop a process to minimize the waste and maximize the impact of our time. While many books have been written on managing time, here is a simplified approach that works for me…
Life and Death Drama
I think we can all agree to start here. Begin with the things that are going to dramatically impact the quality of life for other people or for yourself. When I say “dramatically”, I mean the crucial things that if not done could cause irreparable damage or harm. If a literal or figurative fire starts, put it out!
Will Prevent Life and Death Drama
Once the fires are handled, how can we prevent them from starting in the first place? That is where we need to go next. We need to look at doing all of the things that will proactively prevent the emergencies.
In our personal life, this is where family, friends, reading, exercise, and other spiritual, mental or emotional growth takes place. Hobbies, spending quality time with friends or eating family dinners together at the kitchen table… without the TV on… works wonders on our psyche and gives us the energy to take on the other demands of the world.
In the leadership workplace, this is where training, teaching, hiring talent, setting expectations, providing two-way communication, setting priorities, creating accountability, building commitment, and developing strong culture comes into play (essentially Gapology). This is where our time needs to be devoted, as these are the important things that will prevent the fires from starting in the first place when executed properly.
Okay, so this is lumping a lot of things together, I know. Perhaps it’s a bit optimistic, and maybe even a bit silly to think that all of it falls into this last bucket, but in the grand scheme of things and in deciding what is truly important, it all really does. The “Everything Else” bucket must come last and much of the time it doesn’t have to happen at all. This is where the wants (not needs) of other people fall or where even the time-draining drudge of the internet and television take place. There is a place for this stuff, of course. I love checking posts and tweets as much as the next guy, but I have to be very strict about when, where, and how I do it. If it impacts in the least bit the other two buckets, things get out of balance and start building that dark cloud of chaos and stress.
These three buckets should be front-of-mind when beginning our days and weeks so that we can be strategic and intentional about our actions in order to be effective with our time. We need to make choices. Sometimes they are difficult to make, especially when other people are involved, but they need to be made none-the-less. If we don’t make the choice to control and leverage our time, we are making the choice to sacrifice it.