Managing Time: How to Pay Yourself With Our Most Important Currency
The best book I ever read was The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey – essentially a workbook with a number of really practical tools for getting what you want out of life. I took it away with me on my seven-month trip to Central America and read it at a pivotal moment in my life. It changed my approach forever.
We all need to get more clever at managing our time. We all have the same 24 hours, so how come some people are achieving massive things, and some just aren’t? We can’t just blame the clock with “Oh, there’s just never enough time to do all the things I want to“.
Think about this: according to recent research, most Americans (I couldn’t find any European stats!) watch four hours of TV a day, that’s a grand total of 13 years! Add to that the constant, addictive phone-checking the endless scrolling on Facebook and other social media channels, and that’s a huge chunk of life lost to our screens.
Is that you? I know it’s been me. But six months ago I did something seemingly small: I turned off ALL notifications on my phone except whatsapp (because many of my clients use it with me) and it immediately freed me up. But it wasn’t the perfect magic pill I’d been hoping for because I soon realised I was a big part of the problem. When I was in flow or actually concentrating suddenly I would have a longing for a distraction, then my hand would cunningly reach across to my phone and before I knew it I was sucked into the matrix! A quick dip into Instagram or Facebook doesn’t hurt does it? Well, it hurts more than you think! We have the science now to prove that a three- second distraction will cost us 15 minutes. Even if you immediately return back to what you were doing you won’t regain the same level of focus for at least 15 minutes. Imagine if you do that three times in an hour, you’ve basically just doubled the time it will take you to do anything – now that’s a scary thought!!
There’s no point starting on something important if we leave ourselves open (and vulnerable!) to distractions. We need to get smart and turn it all off! Last week I went one step further and DELETED FACEBOOK from my phone. I know! Can you believe it? I was half expecting the police to knock down my door Minority Report style. Have I missed it? Yep, when I’m in a queue for something, bored by my surroundings I have reached for my phone and then remembered there’s nothing there to aimlessly scroll through.
And you know what? I feel free. In those moments now I’ve saved myself from unnecessary distraction, or if I’m really in a line up I day dream, call someone I haven’t spoken to in a while or flick through my photos instead – a much better use of time.
So, how else can we create some time for ourselves?
Or more importantly, how can we get smart about how we use our time? We’ve got to allow time to let creativity into our lives, or we’ll get what we’ve always got (the same results). Here in Valencia, I’m surrounded by 14th century churches whose bells constantly remind me of the passing of time in my day. I notice I seem to come alive at about 4pm and often at 9pm, which some productivity experts swear is when we can be most fruitful with our time. But we need to be realistic about getting enough sleep to recharge ourselves so don’t go for this one if you rely on a 7am start! But if you can’t hack into your evening time, hack into the morning. It’s incredible how much you can get done if you commit to getting up an hour earlier than everyone else around you, before your daily life begins.
Beware of the capability trap
Another trick is to learn to focus on what’s most important for you to do and the things that ONLY you can do, rather than constantly keeping busy with what you’re easily capable of. Otherwise you can waste literally hours, every day, every week, being productive at the expense of being creative. And that leads to me to one of my favourite ‘life tools´: Stephen Covey’s productivity matrix.
Most of us start our day with email. In fact, we pretty much spend all of our time in Quadrant 1 (important/urgent) because people email us about things, call us, send us meeting requests etc., but really we need to spend our time offline, in Quadrant 2 (important/not urgent), setting up meetings with ourselves or setting ourselves deadlines to create motivation. Those truly valuable things are always the stuff that gets done last and should get done first. If you linger in Quadrant 1, then a lot of other people’s to do lists basically end up on ours!
My advice is to delegate as many of your Quadrant 3 (not important/urgent) tasks as possible. Yep, they need doing, but does it need to be YOU who does it all? As for Quadrant 4 (not important/not urgent), actively avoid it as much as possible. You need to set strict rules for yourself on this one!
I repeat, all you ‘doers’ out there: the place where you should be spending as much time as you dare is the top right! The stuff in here is your LIFE! It contains your dreams, your potential, your bigger contributions. Ideally we’d all be spending a good two hours a day here if we want a chance of feeling truly fulfilled. Yet too many of us neglect this place because no one’s knocking on our door to make its contents happen.
Time is our currency. Pay yourself first! If we’re not focussing on Quadrant 2, we’re not moving towards our life’s ambitions.
So, when you write your next to-do list, populate its contents into these 4 quadrants and start each day working with something that’s in your Quadrant 2 – you’ll feel more fulfilled and more usefully energised too. Trust me, it will make ALL the difference!
Let me know in the comments if you already knew this method.