Time is the currency of life, and spending it intentionally is an art and a discipline. Most of us would like to spend less time dealing with crises. There is a constant struggle to balance time spent on responsibilities at work and at home. We find ourselves sitting in meetings and dealing with many communications in which we see no purpose. We may avoid undesirable tasks, such as giving an employee unwanted feedback, by procrastinating. These are all signs that we are on autopilot, acting unintentionally, and letting other people make important choices regarding our schedules. Are other people spending your life?
I am not suggesting that you stop doing all the unfavorable tasks, such as sacrificing for the good of others. I am advising that spending more time in planning, prevention, and staying healthy in body, mind, and spirit will help you be more productive for a longer duration.
How do we find more time to do this planning and prevention? We can do so by declaring war on time-wasters. The biggest waste may be the time we spend on its unquestioned uses. We attend or even lead meetings that have outlived their usefulness or could be run by someone else. You will save time by questioning your entire schedule and choosing to be where you create the most value. How much time do you spend solving proximate problems for employees or customers? The most frustrating of these are the repetitive problems. These crises take precedence over whatever you may have scheduled. So, you may spend time to solve them over and over. In this mode, most neglect to take the time to study those problems and prevent them from returning. My personal goal is to spend at least 20 percent of my time in prevention and intentional work toward creating the desired impact in my work and private life.
One way to become more intentional about time expenditures is to set goals for each important role in life. We must move beyond the roles we have accepted without question. This includes being intentional about the way we lead, because if we are not deliberate, we will lead in someone else’s style. Leading on autopilot is ineffective, because we default to mimicking the behavior of a model manager we have known, or overcorrecting to be different from that model. Articulating conscious objectives for targeted improvement in a particular role will help you to set goals for behavior that will create the impact you desire. It will also help you to say no to the distractions and time-wasters of procrastination. You won’t settle for good results in areas where you desire to work toward greatness.
To begin, think about the various life roles you play. Certainly your various career responsibilities deserve their own role designation, as do the various other roles (e.g., spouse, parent, sibling, community contributor, etc.). Use one sheet of paper per role to sketch the impact you desire in that role, as well as the goals you will need to act on in order to achieve those outcomes. Once you see the many roles you play, you will realize that it is no wonder you have trouble keeping everyone happy, including yourself. At that point you may need to prioritize.
Consider this: If you woke up tomorrow and found that the rest of the world had amnesia regarding your existence, what would you work to reinstate? Would it be work? Which relationships would you invest in if there were no expectations? This thought process may help you to set the priorities according to your values, and may lend insight into where your priorities could shift today. At first, try to keep the list down to six roles, and make sure that one of them involves keeping yourself healthy physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. That role is essential if you are to be successful over time in any of the others.
That is also the reason there is mention here of life outside of work. The fact is that workaholics burn out and create disruption; the best employee is a balanced employee who is working to be healthy in all aspects of life.
The following is a brief example of how one person responded to the exercise regarding his role as a department leader:
Role: Accounting Department Leader
Goal(the impact I intend to have on a key customer of this role):
I am a leader who gets things done with the team, not just working alone. A leader who grows the capabilities of the team by delegation, training, and coaching, withholding nothing and trusting that when others can do what I do that I will be ready for the next challenge.
Current State(tell yourself the brutal facts): I don’t communicate well, or in a timely manner, to give myself or those I delegate to a chance to be successful. This justifies my resistance to letting others do important tasks. It limits them and has likely limited my ability to advance.
Truth Guiding Quote: “Don’t be a bottleneck. If a matter is not a decision for the president or you, delegate it. Force responsibility down and out. Find problem areas, add structure, and delegate. The pressure is to do the reverse. Resist it.”
— Donald Rumsfeld
Immediate Assignment: Ask my direct reports how I can improve in both listening and delivering information. Just take the feedback without arguing or retaliating for honest opinions.
Once your key roles and goals are defined, you will have created a compass to guide your employees in their accomplishment. Staying on course is much easier when weekly plans are made in terms of activities that will serve your goals. Adding a task list to your calendar will guide your planning. Rather than a to-do list, this is a summary reminder of the promises you have made to yourself. I call these promises “proactive priorities.” The reward will be a life spent in a more balanced, rewarding, and productive way.