Is time your friend?
Leadership guru John Maxwell says:
“Time management is an oxymoron. Time is beyond our control, and the clock keeps ticking regardless of how we lead our lives. Priority management is the answer to maximizing the time we have.”
Last month we got the discussion rolling about how time actually CAN be our friend. Now it’s time to discuss how to take those many, many responsibilities that seem to end up on our plate each day and prioritize them. And since we’re thinking about those overstuffed plates, let’s fill them with healthy fare by making a priority management salad.
How are we going to do that? Let’s start with the most important ingredient.
Bed of Greens
There is one food all salads start with: the greens. Whether it’s romaine, arugula, spinach, kale, or iceberg, the bed of greens is the foundation of the salad, and we build the rest of the salad on that one foundation.
From a priority management perspective, we should only have one “bed of greens” per day, and some days we won’t have any (because who craves salad every day?). A “bed of greens” is a responsibility that must be started and finished on the very same day. We cannot start it this afternoon and finish it tomorrow. Running payroll reports is a good example of a priority-management bed-of-greens.
To prioritize our bed of greens, we should schedule it early in the day to ensure there is enough time to complete it. Also, we may need to ask for an uninterrupted time when necessary. It’s amazing how often we are given an important responsibility, and then the very same person who gave us that responsibility interrupts our work while we’re laying that foundation of greens. Assuming best interest in others tells us that others forget what’s on our plates. Remind them respectfully, kindly, and assertively so the work can be completed.
Veggies come next in our priority management salad. When you think of adding cucumber to a salad, do you envision plopping an entire cucumber on top of your salad? No, probably not. We need to slice or chop our cucumbers and other veggies before plopping them on our salad.
In our priority management salad, it works the same way. These veggies represent large projects we have on our plate—cleaning out the garage, preparing annual performance reviews for the 12 people on our work team, writing that book we’ve always dreamed of writing. To succeed with long-term projects, it’s essential that we break those projects down into smaller, bite-size pieces. By doing this, that monumental task on our plate seems achievable, manageable, and much more appealing.
Once our cucumbers are chopped and added, it’s time to include some delicious cherry tomatoes. For all of us who enjoy this type of tomato, it’s unlikely that we would eat just one when a bowl of them is placed in front of us.
Getting back to our priority management salad, the cherry tomatoes are the responsibilities we have that shouldn’t take much time. But these are the tasks that if we do one of them and then move on to a very different task, they take up much more time than they should. Why? Because it means we’re interrupting the slicing of those cucumbers to eat another cherry tomato.
The key to efficiency with cherry tomatoes is to set aside a specified period of time—say 30 minutes—and do as many cherry-tomato-tasks as possible in that
one time slot. Emails are a good example here. It’s much more efficient to set aside 10:00 to 10:30 to read and respond to many emails than it is to check email at 9:30, reply to one you’ve received, check again at 9:55, reply to another one you’ve received, etc.
Challenge yourself to handle X number of emails, voicemails, snail mail items—whatever your cherry tomatoes are—in a certain period of time. It seems silly, but the competition of beating what you accomplished doing in the same time yesterday is invigorating!
Finally, it’s time to add the onions. You know, the vegetable we like that also makes us lose friends quickly if the ones we eat are too strong.
Priority management onions are those things we know we must do, but we find every excuse under the sun to push off doing. Those stinky—albeit delicious—onions are cause for concern because when procrastination sets in, we miss deadlines, lose credibility, and beat ourselves up for not doing what we know we should.
Last month we discussed finding the best way to keep track of you. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a paper to-do list or an electronic calendar to keep you on track as long as you set an appointment with yourself that you’re not allowed to break. Appointment for what, you ask? To complete those onions! Don’t push them off. Don’t talk yourself out of it. Don’t tell yourself you have other, more important things to do. Set the appointment. Show up for the appointment. And get those onions done!
Now your priority salad is complete. Grab your fork, dig in, and manage those priorities to make the best use of the time we’ve been given!