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Productivity, Priorities, Purpose & the Secret of Good Time Management

Updated: Nov 15, 2022



WARNING: This is not going to be a post on how to simply get more done. Here’s a little analogy to explain what I mean: A passenger jet was flying over the ocean when the pilot’s voice was suddenly heard over the loudspeaker. “Ladies and gentlemen, I have both bad news and good news for you. The bad news is that all our navigational systems have malfunctioned.


From this moment onwards, my crew and I have no control over the direction in which we are flying, and we have no idea where we will end up. The good news is that all 4 of the plane’s engines are functioning perfectly, so that, no matter where we are heading, we will arrive in a timely manner."


So often, we find ourselves trying to function on all cylinders, to be on top of everything, using all our engines, all our energy. But how often do we actually activate our navigation systems – how often do we have a clear sense of where we are going with all this activity?


Is productivity really the end goal of good time management? What if it's not? What if we are wrong to assume that the more productive we are, the more priorities we can get to and that will give our lives purpose and meaning? What if it's actually it’s the other way round? What if, when we are familiar with our purpose, the impact we want to have on the world – on our families, at work, socially; we can have clear goals for each of these roles we play. These goals are our priorities and when we attend to them, it energizes and fuels us. We feel good and motivated to get stuff done.



Is it even productive that we want to be? There’s a difference between being productive and being effective. Productive means getting a lot done. Effective is being productive with our priorities. This is good time management – functioning effectively and on purpose.

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PURPOSE:

It is a lifelong pursuit to be familiar with one’s purpose in the world, but here is a little exercise to get you started: Imagine it’s your 80th birthday bash and people are toasting you. What would you want them to be saying about you? Your spouse? Children? Colleagues? Employees? Friends? Acquaintances? Think of 3-4 important roles in your life. And then for each one, note how you want to be known in that role. For example, as a mother, I want to be known as someone dependable that they can always turn to.


Another thing that can help us get clear on our purpose is to think of our goals in terms of 3 categories: HAVE, DO & BE. What do you want to HAVE in your life? What results, possessions, outcomes? What do you want to be DOing, if you had all the resources that you would need – personally and professionally? What could your contribution to others be? And who do you want to BE? Who do you admire, that could serve as a model for you to aspire to be like? What qualities and values does this person have that you also want? What qualities do you admire in others?


PRIORITIES

Now with that solid grounding, it becomes clearer to us what our priorities are, the things that are most IMPORTANT to us. President Eisenhower is known to have said, “I have 2 kinds of problems, urgent ones and important ones. The urgent ones are not important, and the important ones are not urgent.



Steven Covey In his book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, expands on this idea. Basically, any task or project we have to do can fit into one of these quadrants. Here on the top row, we see there are 2 kinds of priorities – urgent and important priorities and just important priorities without any deadline.


The first kind of task (quadrant I) is both important and urgent. These things are in your face, they demand immediate attention, like going to the dentist when you have a bad toothache. It’s not difficult to decide when you need to do it. Sometimes they are unexpected. Sometimes they are things that we neglected or left to the last minute. These are the things we do, and should do, first.




The second kind of task is important but not urgent (quadrant II). These are things that get put on the backburner when we have a lot to do. They are often of a maintenance nature, like going to the dentist to have your teeth cleaned. Ironically, most of the tasks or projects connected to reaching your purpose (how you want to be known - who you want to BE, what you want to HAVE and DO) fall into this category, as they have no clear deadline. In my example, I mentioned that as a mother as a mother, I want to be known as someone dependable that they can always turn to. So a task here would be take each child out for coffee once a month. That’s important but not urgent. Classic neglected tasks are self-care or refueling activities like reading, working on personal projects that have no deadline, or health activities like exercising or eating well. Some of these tasks can move over to the urgent if not attended to. If you never attend to your relationships with spouse or kids, something's eventually going to happen to force you to urgently do so. If you never attend to decreasing your stress levels, your body is going to react in a way that will make it more urgent.


Quadrant III involves things that are also in your face, but if you took a took a step back, not doing them wouldn’t significantly impact your life. They are often interruptions or things that others demand of you, like answering WhatsApps and emails. They rob your time of what’s really important. If you were to ask yourself, “what are the consequences of NOT doing this now?”, the answer would not be hugely impactful. These things we should do later, or try to delegate.



And the 4th quadrant are really just time wasters. They are things we do that are neither urgent nor important, like mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or watching a bad TV show when we should be going to sleep. I’m not talking about things we do during our downtime to recharge, like connecting with friends on social media or watching a comedy to relieve stress, but ask yourself if you come away from this activity feeling replenished or depleted. Things that leave us more drained are things we should avoid or at least limit.

Getting back to quadrant II – the important but not urgent, or IBNUs – As we said before, these are out priorities and the key to living according to our priorities, is to make sure we schedule them in. It’s the only way we are going to ensure they are going to happen. Moreover, we need to schedule them first – before everything else in the other quadrants.



Here's how Stephen Covey explains it:



PRODUCTIVITY

There are a multitude of tips on how to be productive. Stay tuned for a future post about them. For now, you might just find that when you attend to your big rocks, you get energized and motivated to be more productive.



Finally, the key to making sure you get to those big rocks, is planning. One of the biggest mistakes we often make is jumping into our day or week without taking time to plan. There’s a saying that goes, "Prioritize or the world will do it for you." If we don’t consciously decide what to do with our time - nature abhors a vacuum - someone else is going to swoop in and we are going to end up responding to the demands of others or random circumstances. Planning means being proactive and in control.


When scheduling, we start with any time- bound tasks like appointments or meetings. Next, we schedule the big rocks- IBNU’s / priorities - quadrant II activities into our calendars.

Only then do we schedule our important and urgent (quadrant I) tasks for today or tomorrow. If you like to plan a week ahead, you can schedule tasks for the whole week.


I think this quote by writer and poet David Shimoni, encapsulates the take away on time -management that I hope you got here:



How do we create time? By scheduling the big rocks first.

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