When I was a young lad growing up in the Heartlands, I felt the days were almost never-ending, especially in the summer. The available time stretched infinitely off toward the horizon and I often wondered how I would fill all that time. As I grew, I learned some great things about time.
Our perception of time changes as we grow. As an adolescent, only the part of day-time that involved farm work or schoolwork remained apparently never-ending. All other time, even those long, dark winter nights, definitely had a shelf-life and I increasingly felt as though I was running out of what used to be a never-ending commodity.
As an adult, this perception has continued to constrain my feelings about the availability of time. I have been ruled by clocks and stop-watches, growing increasingly aware that time is slipping away and I am not using it as I might or as I ought.
“I need more time”
“I do not have enough time”
“I have too much to do to plan it out”
“I need (deserve) a break”
“I will do this first because a) I like doing it or b) I do it well”
These are some of the many things I now find myself saying more often and often as time goes by. You might notice that some of these revolve around whining about not having enough time, while others focus on rationalizing spending my time doing what I want, rather than what I ought.
One thing I realize now: Time is a gift which I am not using effectively.
It occurs to me that three elements need to be considered here:
As many have observed, everything we do is a choice, which is always at least a decision to go one way and not another, to do one thing and not something else, to be or not to be. Even the act of avoiding making that decision is a choice in itself.
We cannot escape making choices and we will not thrive until we make choices that involve three elements:
Quality – the decision should be one that makes our world better for us and for others.
Valor – the best choice is seldom the easiest or least risky choice.
Focus – A choice should be specific and point a clear way from where we are to where we want to be, even if measured in inches at a time.
Motivation is about influencing yourself and others to do things. Much of how we decide what to do when making all those choices is driven by two things: Urgency and Importance.
Most of us are familiar with Stephen Covey’s matrix for determining the relative urgency and importance of things which confront us. We probably have all seen some variation of the graph which plots the strength of urgency versus the strength of importance for a task, resulting in a neat little four-square chart. However, did you know that Dwight Eisenhower had the idea long before Covey?
Regardless of who identified these two critical elements, the simple question you need to ask yourself is this:
Am I driven by the Urgent or the Important?
Most of us might respond here with “maybe, sometimes …” to signify that our environment may influence how well we balance urgency and importance in our daily decision-making.
The reality is that sometimes the urgent must be primary … anyone who has experienced the unexpected illness of a loved one knows this. However, the important must be addressed consistently or your life will become a dizzying lurch from one crisis to the next.
If you make solid choices and are properly motivated, planning becomes just a functional aspect of moving on down the road.
If you have not mastered either of the first two elements or have not done them well, planning is a real drag and unproductive to boot.
Planning is what you do when you have made choices based on your best thinking around the ideal combination of urgent and important tasks for YOU.
Note: There is probably little in this post that is new or revealing to most of you. I wrote it because I need to consider these questions about time, my perceived lack of it, and what I need to consider to use it more effectively.