Do you chronically feel like you’re rushing from one urgent task to another?
Does the pressure of your to-do list sap the joy out of what you do?
Does the onslaught of daily tasks get in the way of dealing with long-term priorities?
Have you become habituated (dare I say “addicted”) to the energy and adrenaline of urgency?
How do you feel about continuing at your current pace for the next five years?
Begin by downloading and completing the first tool, The Urgency Index. It’s simple self-survey designed to help you assess your relationship to stress. It might lead you to question some of your habits and assumptions (or even your sanity). A warning: this tool may be hazardous to maintaining your current level of stress!
Whether or not your score on the Index shows you’ve become habituated or even addicted to urgency, all of us can use help from our second tool…
Separate the urgent from the important
Completing our to-do list actually has little to do with productivity or achieving your goals. As the number of tasks on your list grows, it becomes more and more important to separate out what feels urgent from what’s truly important.
You may be familiar with this second tool, The Covey Time Chart:
Look at Quadrant 1—the things that are both urgent and important. This is where too many of us are living too much of our lives.
Quadrant 3 is called the Quadrant of Deception because a sense of urgency makes them feel more important than they actually are. We get so caught up in our to-do list that we fail to assess the these activities against the real priorities that will make or break our key mission.
Quadrant 4—the things that are neither urgent not important—is called the Quadrant of Waste. More time is likely being spent here than you realize.
This brings us to Quadrant 2—the Quadrant of Leadership. While rarely urgent on any given day, these activities are vitally important to your success—things like planning, capacity-building, investing in key relationships, coaching, and self-care.
Lost in the urgency of Quadrants 1 and 3, we don’t do sufficient planning, preparation, relationship building, capacity building, or process improvement, which makes us even more likely go be putting out fires all the time.
Sorting tasks with the Covey Time Chart can guide us to eliminate activities in the Quadrant of Waste, cut all that we can from the Quadrant of Deception, and re-invest the time saved into the Quadrant of Leadership. This investment will in turn help reduce time spent in the Quadrant of Urgency.
We get so busy mopping the floor, we don’t focus on turning off the faucet.” Anon.
Know where your time goes
How well would you be able to manage your budget if you had no idea what you were actually spending?
It would be nearly impossible.
In this case, time is like money. Unless you know where your time is going, you can’t effectively manage it. You periodically need to keep a Time Log, the third tool in this article. Many hundreds of leaders have used our Time Log tool to track where their precious time goes, and it’s an eye-opening experience. You will be surprised, possibly unsettled, and hopefully inspired and empowered to make changes. If you’re resistant to this idea, you probably really need to do it!
The magic trick to managing your time: reality
The magic trick is to understand that there isn’t any magic involved in managing your time. In fact, magical thinking about what is possible or how long things take is often what makes time management so challenging.
When managing money, you hopefully know the total amount you have available to spend. If you overspend in one budget category, you have to reduce the amount of money you spend in another category, or you’ll go broke.
We tend to think about time in magical ways, but it’s just as unyielding as money. We think we can keep making more and more commitments and the time will somehow make itself available. That never happens, but we keep doing it!
You need to sober up and get real with the fourth tool, Zero-sum Time/Energy Budgeting. There’s no separate link for this tool, it’s just a deceptively simple and extremely important discipline.
Once your plate is full your time/energy budget is set. That’s all the resources you have in your “time/energy bank.”
New opportunities and new urgencies will arise, so any time you want to add additional responsibilities or tasks to your already full plate, you need to do the following:
Step 1: Estimate (soberly) how much time/energy it will take.
Step 2: Absolutely do not say “yes” until you determine exactly what you will take off your plate that uses equivalent time/energy.
It’s very simple, and effective. If you are disciplined in applying the tool, it keeps your to-do list from overwhelming you.
Take charge of your to-do list using these four tools, and take charge of your life.