Maximizing the Use of Your Time
Getting the most out of your time to achieve balanced success
Every single human being alive on this planet has something in common ... we all have 24 hours, 1440 minutes, 86400 seconds available to us ... each and every day. Every moment we're allowed to draw a breath, we have the capacity to make choices about what we do with that time. Are we using it effectively and efficiently? Are we focused on the right things? How will we know? Let me suggest three key things to zero-in on to maximize the use of the valuable time we've been given:
It's All About Priorities ... and Circles
To get the most out of our time, we've got to think through what's important to us and whether or not what we've defined as important fits with where we see ourselves in the future ... there's simply no gettng around having to work through that process. Further, in executing on what we've defined, acting out day-to-day what we've deemed to be important, we must stop thinking linearly and start thinking about circles ... circles of priorities. Let me explain.
When it comes to identifying and working through priorities, many of us have always looked at it as a "1, 2, 3, 4 ..." type of thing. You know, God first (if your spiritual), family second, friendships third, work fourth, etc. (with self, by the way, usually a piously dead last!). And, we try to maintain that prioritization by applying our time and resources in certain quantities that hopefully reflect a sequential, or linear, order to what we think is important. The problem with this approach, however, is HOW do we consistently work out our defined sequential order (whatever that is) in our everyday lives? As an example, from a time perspective, most of us spend the vast majority of it at or involved in work activities. How do we relegate work to a "fourth-slot" status with most of us engaged in this obvious disparity? Do you ask for a three or four day work-week? Flatly refuse opportunities for overtime to earn extra money? Vow to always and forever, never take work home in the evenings or over the weekend? Or, again from a time perspective, how do I know when I've spent enough time on a higher priority area to then move to giving adequate attention to the next? Do I pay attention to giving "quality" time rather than sheer quantity of time to my family versus what I devote to my work obligations, or spending "deep" time in meditation and prayer versus extensive time with my friends at the mall, on the beach, or at the golf course?
You're getting the picture ... looking at things linearly really never works. But those of us who function in this fashion go right on making our sequential lists of things to do for the day, knowing that its chock full of complexities, contradictions and down-right violations to what we have defined as "priorities." With the linear approach to things, execution just becomes impractical, if not darn near impossible, to consistently achieve day-in and day-out.
So, what do we need to do? After banging my head against the preverbial brick-wall of linear thinking, some time ago I became exposed to some excellent advice from a few time & life management "gurus" as I read up on the topic.1/ I began looking at my priorities in a circular, or concentric, fashion. I started by identifying what I knew to be THE central core to my existence ... my first and most important priority. I then came to understand what was important in relationship to that center; that I had a responsiblity to two other areas of defined priority ... myself and other "neighbor" segments (things like family, friendships, community, work, government, etc.). I also came to learn that those responsible areas are closely related to each other ... as a matter of fact, they are inextricably bound together. All of life really is an integration, with a kind of "ebb and flow" that simply prohibits operating from a linear/sequential viewpoint. At one moment, life demands your attention in one area ... at another moment, you may have to quickly switch to another area, spending more or less time than the first. Then there are times when you'll have to work through a list of time or day sensitive tasks that span multiple areas, again with differing time and attention. Because of this reality, the better way to constructively and effectively handle life is to think in concentric circles ... with an appropriately placed center that permeates and infiltrates all that I am and all that I do, and works through me to affect all the relevant responsible areas of my existence.
You can read more about my perspective on this, along with my defined priorities, in a previous blog-post entitled "Do You Have 'Response-Ability'?"(click on the related article link below). Suffice it to say that, based on my experience, "going 'round in circles" will take your productivity to a whole new level.
Heed the Laws of Unseized Time
Another thing to ingrain into your thinking revolves around breaking the habit of letting time slip through you fingers in unproductive ways. The following are aspects that are well within your control to avoid:
- Don't let time flow to your weaknesses - all of us have areas that we're simply not good at. We should learn to share those types of tasks and activities with others who can execute on them better. This can free you up to do what you do best ... what you're really good at. And ... what you love to do, you'll do with more energy and verve.
- Don't let people dominate your time - I think all of us have experienced this to one degree or another. In the heat of daily battle we can have a lot of things, and people, coming at us from all directions ... at seemingly all times of the day (and sometimes the most inconvenient). In addition, some people and some things are "high maintenance," taxing both your time and energy (and your patience!). The best way to manage this is to learn to set time budgets for things that need our absolute attention to complete, and maybe at a specific time of day. We need to learn how to organize for those priorities by keeping a rigorous calendar ... a defined "hard landscape" of appointments and action commitments (to yourself and others) that's visible for your go-to reference at any time throughout the day, and that you'll protect and focus on.
- Don't always surrender to emergencies - again .. stuff, and people, can come at us like a fire hose of high pressure water. And it can literally feel like a tyranny of urgency to drop everything and address it all ... right now! We need to learn and get comfortable with: asking questions about what's being asked of us, negotiating for time where possible, and ... SAYING NO! That's right ... it's OKAY to ask questions, get a feel for the real need of that something that someone is demanding to put on your plate, and to politely (but courageously and sternly) say no when needed.
- Receiving public acclaimation should NOT be your priority - learn to give attention to what truly may be most important at any given point in time ... regardless of whether that something will get you public kudos, make you popular or noted with your peers or the "in-crowd," or is something that another person or group would like you to do with the promise of recognition.
Understand Yourself and Capture Your Time Appropriately
Including attention to yourself in your system of priorities is critical (as I've alluded to above and in previous posts). A big part of that is taking the time to understand what makes you "YOU," and applying what you learn to how you use your time.
What do I mean by that? Well, every one of us has certain "patterns" (internal "wiring," if you will) that will have a definite bearing on how we function throughout the day/week/month/year and in certain contexts. For example ... we each have certain times where we're at our peak, and not so much, mentally and/or physically. Some of us are "morning" people, with our best times to work on something or engage with people is in the early hours of the day. For others of us, that best time is in the afternoon or evening. Some of us function much better after a meal, or a period of exercise (or not!). For still others, Monday mornings and/or Friday afternoons, are "off-limits" for intensive tasks or interactions ... others like spending these periods in "reflective" activities. Some of us have personality types that are outgoing and "people-oriented," with collaboration and team-work activities coming more naturally. For others having more of an introverted makeup, you may have to work a bit more at those times that require interaction and assertiveness with others ... on the other hand, carving out time to intently focus on a given task may come much more easily to you than for a person who can't go long periods without being around others.
It may sound obvious, but many of us haven't really paid attention to what our patterns and rythms really are, or what in our environments affect us what way. We float through the day, week, month and even years not tailoring our work habits to fit who we are and how we best function ... our personalities, energies and other factors. So, why not make some time to take stock, experiment and get to know yourself. How do you function daily, weekly, annually? What are your best (and worst) times to address certain tasks and interactions? What are your mood flows? Do you need a certain type of environment, ambience or structure to work at your best and make effective progress through that tough task or thorny project?
Based on what you gleen about yourself, engagement with your new-found (or, re-vamped) priority structure, and taking the appropriate steps to safe-guard your time, regularly think through some additional questions that will aid in your choosing how to use your time well:
- What are the necessities ... the non-negotiables? Have I carved out this time on my "hard landscape" calendar? Don't forget:
- "results driven" things that contribute to your mission, vision, working out of values, high-priority goals, and things that require proactivity.
- "re-energizing" activities like proper rest, reflection, recreation and exercise.
- What things are discretionary and negotiable?
- What context are you in at any given moment ... what can you do given the time of day, the enviroment you find yourself in, and the resources you have available (i.e., phone, computer, access to the internet, etc.)?
- What can you work on with the time you have available at the moment?
- How much energy and attention do I need (is it an intensive or "light" task)?; can I accomplish it now, or need to schedule for another time of day, week, etc.?
- What can I effectively delegate to others (because I don't have the time, and/or someone else can do it better)? If I can delegate, do I have a mechanism for tracking what I'm waiting for from them?
To end, I'd like to share a couple of quotes that I've found myself reflecting on a lot over the years ... I hope you'll find them beneficial as well:
"Your challenge will not be in separating out the 'good' from the 'bad,' but in getting the BEST out of all the possible good. Your mission must be to make the critical choices of selection and rejection amidst all the opportunities that come up in life's path." - Gordon MacDonald
"The enemy of the 'best' is often the 'good'. Keep in mind that you are always saying 'no' to something. If it isn't to the apparently urgent things in your life, it is probably to the more fundamental, highly important things. Even when the urgent is good, the good can keep you from your best, keep you from your unique contribution - if you let it."- Stephen Covey
At the risk of using a well-worn cliche, get out there and "Seize the Day!" ... effectively maximizing your time in the process. May you find success, fellow traveler, along life's journey as you do!