In the 1970s, my father introduced us to Alan Lakein’s book How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life. Even as I write to you now, I wonder pleasantly whether a yellowed and faded copy still rests in my parent’s library.
The essence of Lakein’s processes involves planning, listing, and prioritizing. As I worked with those exercises developing near, mid-term, and long-term goals for my life, I never realized how strategic thinking and planning was bred in me at an early age, nor how much fruit it would bear in my professional life.
It was one among many lifetime gifts my father gave me.
Recently, as I was preparing to commit 7 to 10 hours a week to a goal in my already full schedule, I did an exercise consistent with the traditional time management processes I cut my teeth on. I created a weekly calendar color-coded by committed time, flexible time, and open time. (Do this yourself–it isn’t a task to delegate! If you are an MS Outlook user, you can create a blank weekly calendar with which to work.)
In that simple visual artifact, I learned several things.
- I discovered a basic time management mistake–I had not accounted for the “small transitions” between major activities. Week after week, there was one time slot where things never quite flowed. The more focused I was, the more I got done but the more pressed and stressed I felt. Looking at the calendar, I saw why. In that 1.5-hour time slot, I had two hours of activities and failed to account for the transitions between them. I’ve coached leaders on similar behaviors and on helping change cultures to better fulfill commitments. Sometimes, it’s getting a handle on the “little transitions” that makes the critical difference between success and failure.
- With so much of my life about “doing,” the more important my “non-doing” time (meditation) becomes. I learned long ago that my meditation practice should not cause more stress than it relieves! It took many more years for me to be okay with a “mere” 20 minutes. A short meditation, I found, contributes to frequency and consistency whereas a daily hour-long meditation becomes a burden that won’t be sustained.
- Seeing the visual of my schedule was like strength training for my management skills. It helped me get rigorously selective. I challenged how I was choosing to invest my time. As a result, I became much more intentional. In fact, I am so clear that sometimes I have to catch myself, softening my “no” when someone has asked for time that I cannot easily offer or do not want to offer.
So, if you “don’t have time,” try my exercise. You may be able to find some. And if not, here’s to hoping the exercise helps you get rigorous about how you are managing that leadership and life investment.
And if you’ve mastered the essentials? Then consider further enriching them with other processes and philosophies such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity and Jim Loehr’s The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy Not Time is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal.
U.S. Library of Congress ISSN 2164-7240
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