Everyone wants more time. More hours in the day. More chances to do what they love, spend time with others, read, learn, more time so they can ride their bike to work instead of driving.
Hence the huge number of time management tools out there. But here’s the thing: We can’t manage time, regardless of what choices we make we will all reach the future at the rate of 60 minutes per hour. So, time management is really just about self-awareness and self-management, the two most critical skills of life. We start managing ourselves by prioritizing the things that matter most to us.
Productivity increases when you know what’s important, and what isn’t. And once you start the process of self-management, you’ve already taken a big positive step towards being 20% more productive. Here’s how you can manage and improve your ability to match effort with outcome and prioritize what really matters.
Productivity increases when you know what you want
The first step towards time management is figuring out you want. It has been covered a hundred ways, but this is a long-term outlook, not one of immediate gratification. Stephen R. Covey encouraged us to “start with the end in mind”, before him Seneca instructed to “know the port to which one sails” and more recently Robert and Ryan Quinn suggested the question “what result do I want to achieve?” To answer this meaningfully, it helps to start broad. Really broad.
Start by thinking about what you value in life, and work to articulate it simply and clearly. For example, you might start with ‘I want to spend more time with my kids.’ Alternatively, you might say ‘I want to be more successful at my job.’
This is your sentiment, so there is no right or wrong answer. If you’re struggling, try to mine your life story for themes. Whatever it is that’s important to you, write it down.
Already, you’ve begun to take control of your efforts. Productivity increases when you start intentionally focusing on the things that matter most.
Prioritize your goals
Productivity increases when you consistently work on what’s important you. And in order to do this, you need to prioritize.
There are many different ways to do this. Even Excel has a solution if that’s your cup of tea!
One way is to take your list of high-level results that you want to achieve and write A, B, C, or D beside all of them.
This is probably the easiest way. At this stage, you’re well on your way to being more productive. Productivity increases when you have a clear goal and a clear set of prioritized objectives, which you’ve done.
Of course, there are plenty of other ways that you can prioritize your goals if this isn’t working for you. One especially popular way is to get a piece of paper and draw two lines on it, cutting it in half vertically and horizontally. Now you have a piece of paper with four quadrants.
Then, put titles at the top of each quadrant:
You can call the boxes whatever you want but the idea is you now have four priority buckets. Then, you plug in goals and tasks on your list using your prioritized list of goals as criteria to evaluate them.
I understand that most people reading this will recognize the activity, the funny thing is that few actually use this activity. When we resist consciously prioritizing and labeling our efforts, we can easily rationalize focusing on low impact activities; because this kind of busy work makes us feel productive, but in reality is the greatest thief of productivity.
Another benefit of this activity is that it puts objectives into perspective with relation to other objectives. It will help you optimize where things sit in how important they are with relation to each other.
Keep your goals in mind when you plan your efforts
So at this point, we have a list of goals and we’ve prioritized those goals, we’re well on our way to self-management and thus, better effort allocation.
Now it’s time to turn our abstract goals and life priorities into actual productivity improvements.
Track your effort so you know where it's directed
One you have prioritized goals and objectives, it’s important to know how your efforts line up with those priorities. This is the easiest indicator of whether you’re progressing towards your goals or not. This takes a couple of things.
There are plenty of tracking apps out there if you insist on being accurate and granular. Alternatively, you can take a big picture approach by simply recording what you did that day and how long it took in a journal.
Either approach is fine, as long as there is time for reflection. Too often the use of tools discourages reflection because we assume the valuable data is being shown to us. However, reflection on your efforts can help reveal what motivated you, when you stall, how you felt about various activities, etc. etc.; all things that straight data cannot offer.
Frequent reflection of our efforts should be coupled with periodically evaluating efforts every three or six months. The same way it pays to sit down and review your budget, it pays to look at how you actually spent your efforts.
And remember your original list of goals and objectives?
Now is the time to review and map your daily activity onto those goals.
For example, if one of your objectives is to spend more time with family. One way to do that is to prepare for the next day each night, so your days are more efficient and you avoid the need to stay late.
However, if it’s revealed in your effort tracking that you only did that seven times, you might want to refocus your energy on that activity. Productivity increases when we become aware of what we’re doing and have a plan in place to adjust.
Become aware when you’re making excuses
As a close follow up to knowing where efforts are directed, you need to recognize when you’re making excuses. If you find yourself saying, ‘yeah, well I didn’t leave on time because it’s a busy time at work right now’ that’s an excuse.
What you need to do is first own your behavior, and then recognize that what you’re doing is changing your habits.
And guess what?
There’s never going to be a convenient time to change your habits. Right now, your default has a set of priorities. These have probably been imposed on you, and you’re looking to use your new awareness to change them.
But to do that, you need to realize that it’s not going to be easy, and something is going to have to give. The plus side is that you’ll end up happier because you’ll be managing your efforts, your mental and physical capabilities, and your potential by working toward meaningful objectives.
Making the most out of your time isn’t about downloading a better app or ticking more and more stuff off a to-do list.
It’s about understanding that time is a limited resource that you have no control over – all you can do is figure out what’s important to YOU, and then allocate your efforts accordingly. With a focus on self-awareness and self-management, you’ll be more capable and better prepared to face the world, all the while achieving the results you want.
Want to learn more about self-management? Get in touch for an introductory call to see how we can help you today!
You see it on the horizon like an ominous storm and it’s not long before light and hope are hidden behind the dark clouds of disappointment. Frustration, sadness and dismay wash over you in huge drops of defeat, leaving you hopeless.
Disappointment is defined as, “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one's hopes or expectations.” Even though it is a natural part of life, this definition doesn’t capture the despair that one can feel in the pit of disappointment. When not managed well, disappointment can be devastating. It is the consequence of pushing yourself to achieve goals or accomplish something that stretches your abilities. However, not all disappointment is destructive. There are healthy types of disappointment as well as unhealthy types.
Healthy disappointment is acute or temporary. It is the result of clear and reasonable expectations you place on yourself that push you to grow and progress.
"When you feel healthy disappointment, it is uncomfortable, but at the same time it motivates you because it is evidence that you see greater potential in yourself."
Unhealthy disappointment is the result of unclear or unreasonable expectations that you place on yourself. When these expectations are more than you can handle, they may linger for long periods of time. When they are unclear, they amplify frustration, because there is no distinct path forward.
Fortunately, there are five steps (Five R’s) you can take to productively deal with disappointment. They are 1) Recognize what is causing it, 2) Redefine those things that are unhealthy, 3) Recommit to those things that are healthy, 4) Reward yourself for progress and 5) Regroup through planning and action.
The first step is to recognize what is causing the disappointment and distinguish between healthy and unhealthy items. One way to do this is to ask the question, “What set of conditions must exist for me to feel happy or successful?” As you consider the answer, make a list and prioritize the conditions you identify. Also, consider why these conditions will make you feel happy or successful.
Once you have a prioritized list of conditions, it’s important to recognize which items on the list are healthy and which are unhealthy. Ask yourself “would I require this of someone else?” If the answer is “no”, it indicates that the condition is unreasonable. If you wouldn’t require it for someone else’s happiness or success, why do you require it for your own? Next, ask “is it within my control?” Again, if the answer is “no”, it indicates an unreasonable condition. If you cannot control it, it makes no sense to hold yourself accountable to it. Anything that you wouldn’t require for someone else and/or you don’t have control over is an unhealthy condition. It is unhealthy because your ability to create that condition is severely limited.
Whenever you identify a condition that is unreasonable or unhealthy, work to Redefine it in a healthy way.
"A healthy condition is clear, is something you would reasonably require of someone else and is within your control."
You can start by revisiting why you believe that condition will make you feel happy or successful. Then focus on that reason and redefine your condition in reasonable (reasonable doesn’t mean easy) and clear terms. Let’s say you are disappointed because you didn’t achieve the six-pack abs you’ve been dreaming about. Instead of a condition of “perfection”, which is something you wouldn’t require of someone else, you may redefine it in this way. “I feel happy and successful when I exercise 3 times a week”. This is clear, meaning we can evaluate our progress, it is also reasonable and within our control.
Once you have identified and/or redefined healthy conditions, it’s important to mentally recommit to them. This is most effective when you write your commitment down.
"An important point is that you’re not only committing to the action, you are also committing to the response. "
In our previous example, you are not only committing to “exercise 3 times a week” you are also committing to “feel happy and successful” when we’ve done that. This is important, because without that commitment, you may default to unhealthy disappointment. The commitment to the response is what will help you avoid and quickly manage disappointment in the future.
Your commitment to feel happy and successful based on healthy conditions is the first step to rewarding yourself. All to often people feel disappointed about something they should reward themselves for. So you didn’t get those six-pack abs, but you started exercising for the first time in three years, consistently did it 3 times a week and lost 10 pounds. These are all things that should be rewarded as progress, not punished because of an unhealthy condition you set for yourself. Disappointment is productive when it drives progress, so its vitally important to reward healthy progress, no matter how small. This is why redefining your conditions is so important, because by redefining your conditions, you give yourself permission to be rewarded.
The last step is to regroup through planning and action to immediately start making progress. Regrouping is what ensures that your recommitment doesn’t get lost and you find yourself disappointed in 3 months. This is where you get intentional about your commitments. Simply plan for how you will create the healthy conditions for happiness and success and immediately get to work creating them.
In the end, the storm of disappointment can either pelt you or it can water seeds that will grow. Don’t allow yourself to be chronically disappointed by unreasonable and unhealthy conditions. You need to Recognize what they are, Redefine them, mentally Recommit, Reward yourself for progress and Regroup through planning and immediate action. When you do these things, you will find power in your disappointment and regain the control to make progress.
The decision chart attached is a useful tool to walk through this process
There are four inches of fabric separating the two runners. These aren’t just any runners; they are sprinting in perfect unison, with four inches of separation and doing it under an 11 second pace – a pace that is near to the world record. What’s more, one of them is running blind…literally. The four inches of fabric is the tether between David Brown, who is blind and Jerome Avery who is his full sight sprinting guide.
David developed Kawasaki disease at the age of 15 months and within a few years it was evident that he would lose his sight. It wasn’t until years later that David and Jerome’s paths would cross. Through the encouragement of a physical education teacher, David took up running and quickly advanced past guides. It became increasingly difficult to find guides that were capable of keeping up with David; those who could keep up and push David were chasing their own sprinting dreams. Fortunately Jerome had a realization, he says, “I thought running for myself was my goal in life, I was good at it. Come to find out I’m REALLY good at guide running.”
So why didn’t David use his blindness as an excuse? How is it that different people can face nearly identical circumstances and perceive their options so differently? How come we see such drastically different lists of excuses?
The first thing to understand is that overwhelmingly excuse is a matter of perception. It’s not an inherent fact about the circumstance or the situation, that’s why similar people under similar circumstances come up with different lists of excuses.
“Anything that is a matter of perception is also a matter of projection”
How we perceive the world around us is a reflection of who we are and how we think – in other words we project ourselves out onto the world around us. So, anything that is a matter of perception is also a matter of projection. Our excuses are a mental construct of our own creation – meaning that our excuses are a very powerful mirror. This isn’t easy to accept, that the excuses we come up with say something about who we are, but it is true.
“The excuses we come up with, say a lot about who we are”
To learn from our excuses, we should identify the implications, every excuse implies something about us. The two most common implications are that we do not believe we can change it and that our goal not a priority. If we believed we could change something about our excuse, it would no longer “release us from obligation, duty or responsibility”. It’s important to keep in mind that not having the solution to a problem is different than not believing you can solve the problem. Solutions come over time, but not if we don’t believe we can acquire the knowledge, skill and resources to come up with a solution.
There is a valuable exercise we can put ourselves through that will force deep consideration of what our excuses say about how we think. This exercise will also help us think through how we shift our thinking and overpower our excuses. Here is an example from a recent client of mine. (You can download a PDF of this activity at the bottom of the post)
1. Choose something meaningful that you have wanted to accomplish, but simply have not made progress on.
Open a second location for my business
2. Ask yourself, “What is keeping me from making progress on this goal?” (ex. Time, money, energy, support, ability etc. etc.) Order these from the biggest barrier to the smallest barrier (excuses)
a)I don’t have the time needed to work on it
b)They wouldn’t sell or lease to me the building I wanted
c)The amount of money I can invest limits me
3. Write 1-2 implication for each of these barriers (excuses)
4. For each implication, ask yourself, “Is this really who I am? Do I really believe this about myself?”
No, I hope I don’t believe these things about myself
5. Write each implication (belief) as a positive statement.
a)I control my time and can free up time from other activities. This is a priority to me.
b)I can learn and acquire the negotiation skills needed to close deals. I can control the location our business will be in.
c)I can acquire more money; I can change my financial situation.
6. How will you make progress on the statements you just wrote in step 5? Write 1-2 things you can do to make progress.
a)I will make it a priority by putting 15 minutes on my calendar to work on it every morning.
b)I will read a book about negotiating deals and find someone to help who has more of those skills than I do
c)I will talk to my bank and others to see what financing options are available to me
Many people will need to create a timeline and have someone hold them accountable for progress, so you may consider that as well. Also, if you have developed a habit of creating excuses, you will likely need to revisit this activity frequently. When you utilize this approach in a consistent way, you’ll find that it becomes harder and harder to come up with excuses for not working on meaningful things. While it is the shortest question to answer, the biggest breakthroughs often happen with Question 4 – so don’t breeze by this one. It can be uncomfortable to look in the mirror of excuses, but it can also be liberating, creating the power to achieve extraordinary results.
The mirror of excuse for David Brown offers a pretty powerful reflection, what does your mirror of excuse reflect?
You can download a free tool for this exercise below.
Seeing the potential in others and ourselves is one of the greatest skills we can learn. Significant research has been done around the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies – both on a social level (see Robert K. Merton) and on an interpersonal level (see Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson). A self-fulfilling prophecy is a phenomenon that occurs when an individual’s (or group’s) expectations influence their behavior and ultimately the very situation that they are concerned with. The study that Rosenthal and Jacobson performed was in a classroom. They led teachers to believe that some of their students were “potential bloomers” whose IQ would see significant gains throughout the school year. These students were in fact randomly selected – the expectations the teachers developed were based on fiction. Yet, the researchers found this belief led the teachers to offer more feedback, challenge and encouragement to those randomly selected students and the fictional prediction of IQ gains became reality.
The potential you see in yourself and in others, will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It creates the expectations you have and will ultimately influence your behavior. So, let’s look for the best in others, and ourselves so we can all Achieve Our Extraordinary.
There’s something to learn from the following examples.
In 1919, a young man working for the Kansas City Star was fired because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Sure, Walt Disney’s editor would have said he had little potential, but of course, this story ends in tremendous success because of his imagination and good ideas. Eventually, The Walt Disney Co. bought the Kansas City Star.
If you asked Art Modell, the 1995 owner of the Cleveland Browns, if Coach Bill Belichick had a lot of potential, he probably would have said no, considering he fired him. However, Mr. Belichick later led the New England Patriots to five Super Bowl appearances, including three Super Bowl titles, and was awarded NFL Coach of the Year in 2003, 2007 and 2010.
When Henry Ford, Jr., led Ford Motor Co. in 1978, he fired Lee Iacocca, not seeing his potential. Chrysler on the other hand saw potential and hired Mr. Iacocca. He took the company from a $204 million loss in 1978 to nearly $1 billion in profit by 1983.
If you asked the leaders of home improvement chain Handy Dan if Bernie Marcus and Arthur Bank had much potential, they might have said no, considering they were both fired from the company. Over the next decade the two opened more than 100 new stores and earned more than $2.7 billion in sales under the name Home Depot.
On October 2, 1954, Elvis Presley performed at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry for the first and only time. After his performance of “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, he was advised to return to driving truck in Memphis. Elvis swore to never perform there again, a vow he kept.
Why didn’t they see the potential in Walt Disney, Bill Belichick, Lea Iacocca, Bernie Marcus, Arthur Bank and Elvis Presley? I’m sure there are thousands of potential reasons, but I’m reminded of a statement from Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen. He said when he reaches Heaven he will ask God three questions and one of those questions is, “why did you only give us data from the past to make decisions about the future?” This, I think is the root of our problem in recognizing potential; we believe that data from the past about others and ourselves is a reliable predictor of the future. This data then becomes the barrier to future potential – it becomes our self-fulfilling prophecy.
We think, “I’ve never been able to do it before, so why would I be able to do it now?” How absurd a thought! That’s the very definition of progress and potential! If it has already been realized, it is no longer potential – potential is about what has yet to be realized. So stop looking at yourself and others and assuming because you or someone else have yet to accomplish something, that that somehow means you won’t or can’t! Don’t rely on information about the past to determine potential in the future, it is faulty, unreliable and will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rather, gain inspiration from what others have done; remind yourself that all those who have achieved something extraordinary, at some point only had the potential to do so. And last, if you are going to look at data from your past, look at the right data – the data that indicates progress and potential, no matter how small. Once you can do this for yourself, do it for others. This effort of seeing potential beyond past data will uplift, inspire and encourage extraordinary achievement.
It is true and I see it in you. You, my friends have tremendous Potential. You my friends, are Extraordinary.
She stepped to the edge, her heart racing and sweat building up on her brow. In that moment, she wasn’t sure if she would jump or simply fall off the edge after passing out. Regardless of how it happened, she was definitely going off the edge! From the time she was a child she had been afraid of heights and with the encouragement of her friends, she was now about to jump out of an airplane! Her instincts told her it was a terrible idea, yet something was compelling her, a deep feeling that she needed to do something completely out of her comfort zone – and here it was, her moment of extraordinary courage. She didn’t pass out, but she did jump and it was incredible!
That experience became a shining moment for Janie. She would talk about it at parties and felt empowered by the courage she demonstrated. Sometimes, when she would think about it, her heart would begin racing and she felt like she was standing on the edge all over again. Yet, she never considered doing it again or what the next feat of extraordinary courage would be. Janie, like so many of us believed that stepping out of her comfort zone was a one and done experience. That somehow that single moment would transform everything else in her life. While it’s true that there were residual effects, especially immediately after her bravery – she felt empowered, she felt accomplished, she had more confidence in her ability to overcome fear – those residual effects quickly disappeared. The experience of skydiving became a singular moment that Janie clung to for validation that she was capable. As time went on though, the experience became weaker and weaker validation.
Getting out of your comfort zone is essential for success. Just as muscles don’t grow without resistance, neither does our confidence and ability. If we want to grow, we have to push ourselves; we have to go beyond our comfort zones. In my experience most people understand this and in somewhat rare moments will push themselves out of their comfort zone. The problem is that getting out of your comfort zone can’t be a one and done event, if you really want to grow it needs to be a continuous effort. What benefit would it be to your health if you only exercised once a year? The same question can be asked about stepping out of your comfort zone.
How you measure success today should not be how you measure success tomorrow. That is the issue with one and done attempts at stepping out of your comfort zone. In Matthew McConaughey’s acceptance speech for winning Best Actor in 2014, he gave three important things in life, someone to look up to, something to look forward to and someone to chase. When speaking about his “someone to chase” he said it was himself…10 years from now. He said this, because he knew that he would never be as extraordinary today as he will be in ten years, so he will always have someone to chase. A measure of success that never changes is the very definition of complacency. When your measure of success consistently changes for the good, it is evidence of growth.
So, rather than looking for that one big moment to step out of your comfort zone, look for the small simple opportunities that present themselves everyday. This consistent habit of stepping out of your comfort zone will force your idea of success to change. As you continually stretch yourself, you will experience tremendous growth. Why not get started – go do something right now no matter how small that requires a little effort and feels a bit uncomfortable. You are more capable than you imagine and as you stretch yourself by stepping out of your comfort zone, you’ll discover exactly that.
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