Part ONE of TWO

“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” — Samuel Johnson, 18th century poet, essayist, and journalist

  • What are you so busy doing? Are you working on high leverage activities that will catapult you, your team, and your organization toward your vision? Or are you just busy? In First Things First, Stephen Covey, Roger Merrill, and Rebecca Merrill write, “People expect us to be busy, overworked. It’s become a status symbol in our society — if we’re busy, we’re important; if we’re not busy, we’re almost embarrassed to admit it. Busyness is where we get our security. It’s validating, popular, and pleasing. It’s also a good excuse for not dealing with the first things in our lives.”
  • Know thy time. Figuring out how effective your busyness is, starts with a time log. This takes some real discipline, but the learning and personal effectiveness you’ll gain is immeasurable. For a few weeks, (ideally a month), keep a log of how you spend each 15-minute block of your day from the time you get up until the time you go to bed. Before you start, develop categories such as reading, learning, meetings, family time, relaxation, travel, telephone calls, visiting, preparing, planning, etc. Estimate how much time you spend in each activity before you start your log. Once your log is complete compare your estimates to the way you actually use your time. Then compare that to your vision, values, and context. Identify the key areas for improvement.
  • Plan your time. Use a time organizer system or notebook computer. Take it with you everywhere you go. Develop weekly or monthly activity lists that link to your vision, values, and purpose so you’re always doing the most important things. Over the weekend or first thing Monday morning, sketch out your week. Each morning reprioritize your day’s activities and plans.
  • Practice servant-leadership; put returning calls and messages at the very top of your daily priority list.
  • If you have activities of equal priority, start with those you hate to do most first. That will remove the dread and procrastination factor from your day’s work. It also guarantees that you won’t keep putting it off and having it eat at you. Once the unpleasant work is done, everything else is easier.
  • Don’t be a “time doodler.” Use your travel and waiting times effectively. I am constantly amazed at the number of managers who use their quiet, uninterrupted airplane time to watch movies, sleep, read casual material, or have idle conversations. I’ve read dozens of books and articles, opened and answered mail, wrote columns, articles, and book chapters, or prepared presentations on airplanes. If you consider this relaxation time, check your time log. I’ll bet the work you don’t get done during this highly productive time cuts into weekend or evening family time or other things you’ve said are important to you.
  • Always have a book, magazine, mail, or other reading material with you when you travel to a meeting or appointment. Leave lots of extra travel time to compensate for traffic or not being able to find your destination right away. If you’re early or kept waiting, catch up on your reading (or make a few phone calls).
  • Build an audiotape library. Listen to these tapes in your car. In the last few decades I’ve attended dozens of conferences (many record and sell audio tapes of conference presentations), read numerous books, and listened to many experts while stuck in traffic. Carry a portable tape player along to record ideas for later review and filing.