As I sit at my desk preparing for a productivity program to a group of 14 executives next week, I ask myself, what would this group find valuable? What’s not working for them? Where are the opportunities to do something differently and increase productivity? The executives are from a wide variety of industries, and I won’t meet them until the day of the program. But in seven years of working with companies and individuals to increase personal productivity, there are a set of beliefs, habits and action steps I believe are necessary for long-term success no matter who you are.
1. Time management is self management
When we think of time management as self management, it changes the lens. We begin to see things we can influence, and figure out what we can do. We dump the excuses and begin to find ways to adjust our attitudes and beliefs about how to get things done. Am I pleasing too much and not setting clear expectations and boundaries with others? Or, perhaps I tend to underestimate how long something is going to take or fly by the seat of my pants, and find myself procrastinating? Finally, maybe it’s a perfectionist tendency and I find myself wrapped too tightly around my value of others’ perceptions of my work. Examining our attitudes and beliefs around our work can give us new opportunities to do things differently.
2. Time management is commitment management
Ok, so time management begins with us, but can also be defined as how we make, complete and follow up on commitments with ourselves and others – the bedrock of accountability. One of the symptoms of organizational life is “I don’t have enough time.” The root cause is frequently a breakdown in communication, and in turn, strains the commitment.
3. Keeping a crystal clear vision
I used to pass a creek on a daily run, and especially on sunny days, it continued to inspire me with various colors of light reflecting back at me. I loved being able to see the bottom and all of the life moving about. It seemed all was working together. Those who not only have a vision of where they are going, but know their values to help them understand why the vision is important, are able to take the pieces of their lives and create meaning for them to work together.
4. Commit to a system
With all of the technological gadgets and tools available, it’s easy to get caught up getting the newest device with the hope of being more efficient. The key is to commit to a system and stick with it. I’ve seen all kinds of tools work, (yes, even post-it note systems) but the key is consistency. Each part of your process needs to speak to the other. Action steps you make in conversation with others or in a meeting need to find their way to one place for easy reference.
5. Make personal renewal a priority
With the fast pace of life, creating routines or activities to renew yourself in a holistic way – physical, social, emotional and spiritual – is not just a nice to have, it’s fundamental. Keeping yourself tuned up and energized is necessary to performing well today, and also helps you stay in the game tomorrow. When we feel give our minds a break, we often come back to work and experience a higher capacity for problem solving, innovation and creativity.
I often ask my coaching clients, “Where is your biggest opportunity?” Knowing that your commitments don’t all have the same value, asking yourself where to focus helps get to the 20% of the work which impacts 80% of the results. Growing our awareness of how we decide what to do can give us insight to be more intentional with where we place our energies.
7. Distinguish the urgent from important
It’s common to be in the hair-on-fire mode these days… with interruptions happening about every 45 seconds, it’s easier to go for the newest shiny object. Pressure to achieve results and fewer resources can make it more tempting to live in a reactive mode, but those who are successful long term focus on what’s important and valuable over the longer term. They invest time in determining exactly what their priorities are right now.
Finding daily times to take a breath or perhaps a weekly routine which gets you into a quiet place is essential. When we believe the answers lie within us, it frees us to look outside of ourselves. The challenge becomes quieting our racing minds and learning to be still and listen deeply to what is really there.