Time and Life Management
yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, twenty-four golden hours,
Time management is like diets. We hope for the magic pill that will make our time management struggles magically disappear. But time management is about taking action. The perception that we don’t have enough time is one of the great stressors of life. Yet we all have exactly 60 minutes in every hour, 24 hours in every day, and 168 hours in every week. No one gets more and no one gets less. So, what time management is really about is managing our self and our life to have the things that are most important to us. In this chapter you will learn tools and techniques to reduce your stress by finally getting a grip on how you use your time. First, three time management techniques will be explained. Then, tips on how to overcome procrastination and eliminate time zappers will put you on the path for finding peace and contentment in your daily life.
What is time? Time is nothing more than the occurrence of events in sequence, one after another. Getting out of bed is an event; the phone ringing, walking to pickup the phone, getting into a car and everything else we do in a day are events. Time is the occurrence of all of the events of our lives, one after another. Albert Einstein once said that time is what keeps one thing after another from being everything happening at the same time.
Psychologists tell us that our stress levels are directly related to how much control we feel over events and situations in our life. To the extent that we feel like we have less control, we correspondingly experience more stress. Emotions associated with feeling out of control include distress and anxiety. When we feel in control of something, we commonly experience the emotions of calmness, security, harmony, and inner peace. Time is one of those areas of life where we often feel like we have lost control. Gaining some control over how we use our time is crucial to managing stress. Management is the art or manner of controlling.
A working definition of time management, therefore, is the art or manner of controlling the sequence of events in our lives. Time management is controlling the events of our life. When we are controlling the events of our life, we reduce the amount of stress we feel.
Planning for Control
The way that we gain control of our lives is by planning. Planning is the act of bringing future events into the present so appropriate control can be applied. Planning is what brings control into our lives. Once you master the skill of planning, you will find it freeing and liberating from the underlying sense that life is out of control.
But why do people tend to avoid planning? Maybe they feel planning inhibits creativity, keeps them from going with the flow, takes too much time, or doesn't allow for interruptions. Some people feel that planning is restricting. Some may simply have no idea how to plan in a way that makes any sense. Others lack the discipline to develop and follow a plan.
There are many good and useful planning and time management methods. Most of them begin by asking these four crucial questions:
1. What are my highest priorities? (What is most important to me?)
2. Of my priorities, which do I value the most?
3. What can I do about my highest priorities in the days and weeks to come?
4. When, during today or this week, will I do these things?
Time Management Methods
This chapter introduces you to these three simple and effective methods to immediately take control of the events in your life:
ABC123 Prioritized Planning
Since we are all different, no time management system works equally well for everyone. As you will observe, these three methods have similarities and differences. They have been found to have wide appeal in our society. As you read them, you may find yourself attracted to one method more than the others. You might also find ways to modify the methods according to your own circumstances and preferences. Each has been found to be effective in helping people gain control over their lives and as a result significantly reduce their stress.
ABC123 Prioritized Planning
A simple, yet powerful method of managing the events of our lives involves moving beyond the traditional to-do list. It is called the ABC123 Prioritized Planning method introduced by Alan Lakein. The focus of this method is to move from crisis management and putting out fires, toward doing, on a daily basis, those things that are most important to us.
The first part of this process is deciding to dedicate 15 minutes each day to the process of thoughtful planning. This could happen either at the beginning of the day or the evening prior to the next day. During the 15 minute daily planning, follow this procedure that has three phases:
Phase I - Make a List: First make a list of everything you want to accomplish today. Don't give any value to anything on the list at this point. Simply unload onto a piece of paper or planner the things that you want and need to do today. At this point, it looks much like a traditional to-do list. This may be a long list. That is okay.
Phase II - Give a value to each item on the list using ABC: Put an “A” next to each item on your list that must be done today. These are the vital things that have the highest amount of importance to you. Important is not the same as urgent and it is necessary to clarify the difference. The urgent item shouts for immediate action. Many times these urgent things are not necessarily important, but they have the appearance of needing to be handled right now. Answering a telephone or checking an e-mail may appear urgent, but oftentimes lacks relative importance.
We have a tendency to do the urgent things at the expense of the highly important things. For example, most people would agree that spending time developing a relationship is very important. Spending quality time with a friend or family member is critical and vital to the development of the relationship. Yet, the amount of time that parents spend talking to each other or their children is very small in relation to the time they spend doing more seemingly urgent, but far less important, items of the day such as watching television or surfing on the internet. Charles Hummel, President of Barrington University, had this to say about the difference between the urgent and the important task:
The important or vital task rarely must be done today or even this week. The urgent task calls for instant action. The momentary appeal of these tasks seems irresistible and they devour our energy. But in the light of times perspective, their deceptive prominence fades. With a sense of loss, we recall the vital task we have pushed aside; we realize we have become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent.
Examples of “A” priority items would include activities like studying for a test that will take place in 2 or 3 days; shopping for food, when there is none on the shelf or in the refrigerator; putting some gasoline in the car if your running on empty; going to the gym to workout; having lunch with your best friend; taking your daughter to a movie; spending some quiet time meditating; deciding on a topic and begin researching for a paper that is due in 3 weeks. These are all important items, though they may not be hollering at you to be done “right now.” These important, but not necessarily urgent items must get on your list as “A” items.
Next, place a “B” by each item that should be done today. These are items with some importance to you. An example of a “B” item might be deciding on a topic for a paper that is due in 6 weeks; filling your car with gas when it still has a quarter of a tank left; changing the dirty water in the fish tank.
The items on your list that will get a “C” are those tasks that have very little importance to you. These items could be done, but won't suffer at all if they are not. Examples of “C” items might be washing your car; going to a store to buy a shirt; cleaning the garage.
The value you give items will change as the events in your life change. What was once a “C” item, such as cleaning the garage, might soon become a “B” item if you can no longer get your car into the garage and you have nowhere else to park your car. The level of importance of working on a research paper changes as the due date for the paper approaches. The key point is that you are the one who is evaluating the relative importance of each of the items on your list based on how you currently perceive them.
Phase III - Prioritize again using 123: In this phase of the planning process, give a numerical value to each item on the list based on its relative importance to you. First, move through the “A” items and compare each one. Ask yourself which of these very important items is the most important of all. That item gets a “1” next to the “A” so it becomes “A1” on your list. Proceed through each of the A's until you have given a ranking to each. Then proceed to the B's and then the C's. (See the example of a prioritized daily planning list below.)
Example of Prioritized Daily Planning
What you have just done is determine the order you will do the things you want to do based on their relative value to you. You are determining the sequence of the events of your day. You have begun to gain control of your day.
A word of warning must be included here if you want to make this work effectively. There is a very real human tendency to skip the most valuable and important things (the “A” items on the list) and move to those items that are easier, more fun, or less demanding (the “B” and “C” items on the list). There are a couple natural consequences for doing this. First, and most notably, many of your important items will turn into very urgent items. If you put off working on the research paper until a couple days before it is due, then you are in the panic mode and the quality of your paper will probably go down dramatically. You will probably not enjoy working on it, as well. This is called “putting out the fires.” It is the urgency mode. Stress levels definitely increase when we operate in this mode.
The other consequence of doing the “B” and “C” items first and putting off the “A” items is inner chaos. As we discussed in the chapter on values, when we do the things that are most important to us, we experience inner peace because what we do and what we value are aligned. When we don't do those things that are aligned with what we value, we lose our inner peace. It is a natural consequence.
On most days, you won't finish everything that you put on your list. In fact, you rarely do. You may have classes, meetings, work obligations, and interruptions that may drastically reduce the amount of free time that you can work on the things on your list. The real value of this system happens when we do have periods of free time where we can choose between several activities. It is in those parts of the day that we ought to go to the top of our list, our A1 item, and work from there.
This method of planning can be a very effective way to get some control over the events of your life, especially if you aren't currently doing anything to plan your days and feel quite overwhelmed. Wave after wave keeps hitting you and throwing you to the floor - not a good feeling. By using the ABC123 method, you can gain some of that control back and ride the waves instead of constantly feeling like you are being pummeled by them.
A simple adaptation of the ABC123 method is to start each day by making a list of the six most important things you want to accomplish that day. With careful thought, this one simple action can help relieve your stress and free your mind to focus on what is most important to you.
Method two, Quadrant Planning, is one of the most popular time management systems today. This method was developed by Stephen Covey and explained in his bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Quadrant Planning relates to Covey’s third habit of highly successful people called First Things First.
Covey begins this habit by asking the all-important questions, “What are the things that matter most to you?” Are these things receiving the time and emphasis you should be giving them? Covey feels that traditional time management methods don't bring peace and fulfillment because we don't put the most important things (first things) first. He compels us to assess what our first things are with some thoughtful questions:
Are the things that are less important in your life receiving the most attention?
Are too many good things getting in the way of your best?
Are you making the tough decision to choose the best over the good?
What activities, if you know you did superbly and consistently, would have a significant positive impact on your life?
“How many people, on their deathbed, wish they would have spent more time at the office?”
Covey uses the metaphor of the clock and the compass to compare how we manage our life. The clock is a focus on how we spend our time - what we do. This refers to such things as commitments, appointments, schedules - this is management. The compass involves a focus on how we lead our lives. This includes our values, principles, mission, goals, vision, conscience, and direction - this is leadership. The struggle comes when what we do (the clock stuff) doesn't contribute to what's most important (the compass). As you learned in the last chapter, psychologists tell us that the degree that our daily activities are out of alignment with what matters most to us is directly related to the amount of stress that we feel. We see people recklessly climbing the ladder of success only to realize it is leaning against the wrong wall. We give our attention to the unimportant things.
Covey feels that we should be putting leadership before management. We should first ask ourselves, “Am I doing the right things?” After we have answered this question, we can next ask ourselves, “Am I doing things right?” When we do this, we begin to put our lives in a direction that is much more fulfilling and effective.
Urgency vs. Importance
Covey also focuses on the ability to distinguish between the urgent and the important. We may be busy working as hard as we can only to find that at the end of the day we feel unfulfilled. This is because we put the urgent, those things demanding our attention in the moment, before the important — the things that would make a difference long-term. Urgency seems to control our lives. The only way to truly master our time is to organize our schedule each day to spend the majority of our time doing things that are important rather than urgent. This is the key to doing first things first. If urgency is what is driving you, you are not paying attention to the important things. Quadrant 2 activities in the Activity Matrix are the important activities. These should be our first things.
In our planning time, rather than first listing all of the “things to do,” Covey suggests that we should first ask ourselves the more important questions. As we do this, we find ourselves doing more things that are in quadrant two and as a result, we live according to those most important things.
When you plan your days and weeks, you can ask yourself some additional questions:
What do I want to be and do and contribute in my life?
What 3 or 4 things are most important to me?
What are my long range goals?
Who are my relationships that are most important?
What are my main responsibilities?
What contributions would I like to make?
What are the principles that I value?
What feelings do I want to experience in life? (Peace, confidence, happiness, meaning.)
How would I spend the coming week if I only had 6 months to live?
The answers to these questions determine the more appropriate activities on which to spend our time during the day. These are Quadrant 2 questions.
Another way to increase our feeling of order and balance involves focusing on our roles in life. Much pain comes from the realization that we are succeeding in one role at the expense of another. Too often we hear of people who are very successful in their business life but they encounter problems with their family life or their spiritual life. A holistic view of life involves a balance between the various dimensions of life including the physical, the social, the mental/emotional, and the spiritual. Our roles tend to help us fulfill the needs of these dimensions. Our roles give us a sense of wholeness of a quality of life. These roles may include family, personal, business, relationships, and community. When we determine our roles, we can ask ourselves the quadrant 2 questions for each of our roles.
Sharpening the Saw
Covey recommends that we include in our planning, an important area on which we must focus which he calls “sharpening the saw.” A story exemplifies what it means to “sharpen the saw.” A man is feverishly sawing away at a tree with his hand saw. A friend walks by and asks the man working so hard on the tree why he doesn't stop for a little while and sharpen his saw so that he can cut the tree more easily. The man cutting the tree replies that he can't stop to sharpen the saw, he is too busy sawing. Have you ever felt like you are continually busy, yet you are not accomplishing anything important? Taking time to sharpen your saw can dramatically affect the level of accomplishment you feel in your life. Instead of just being busy sawing with a dull saw, you are cutting down the trees.
There are things in life that we can do that, if we did them on a regular basis, would help us to sharpen our saw and in so doing, allow us to do all the other things that we do with greater ease and effectiveness. As we plan, consider some of those saw sharpening activities for each of our dimensions. For example, for the physical dimension, we might focus on such activities as getting regular aerobic and anaerobic exercise. We might focus on eating more healthy food. We might also work to get more sleep at night, go to bed at an earlier time in the evening, and awaken earlier to get off to a good start. In the mental/emotional dimension, we might do such things as practice regular meditation, spend quality time with family and friends, or exercise our minds by doing puzzles. In the spiritual dimension, we might read more inspiring literature, participate in service oriented projects, attend religious services, or pray more frequently. These examples have value of themselves, but they also help us to do all the other things that we want or need to do more easily and effectively.
In our planning time, select Quadrant 2 Goals for each role. Do this by asking the question: What is the most important thing I can do in this role today or this week to have the greatest positive impact in my life? For example, a mom might decide the most important thing she can do in her relationship with one of her kids is to spend 30 minutes each night reading to him before he goes to bed. As we answer this question, it is important to keep a few things in mind to help us make the best decisions about what we should do.
Use our conscience. Our conscience is our connection to the more intuitive part of our being. Some say it is our connection to the divine that is in all of us.
Focus on importance rather than urgency.
Perhaps only 1 goal per week is all that is necessary. Your conscience decides.
Focus on the wholeness of a quality life. Keep the bigger picture in mind.
Creating a Decision Making Framework for the Week
Metaphor of the Rocks
Imagine a big jar sitting on a table and to the side of this table is a pile of rocks of varying sizes, including a few cups of sand signifying very small rocks. We want to put the rocks in the jar. If we put the sand in first and then proceed to try to put the bigger rocks in after the sand has filled the jar, we will not have any room for the big rocks. But if we put the big rocks into the jar first, we can then add the smaller rocks and even the sand. Quadrant 2 activities are the big rocks. If we don't plan those first (putting first things first) they will not make it into our daily activities because we get so busy doing the less important, but oftentimes urgent things. When we plan the quadrant 2 activities into our weeks and days, we then find ourselves doing the most important things first. As a result, we enjoy inner peace, our self-esteem goes up and we find ourselves being more productive.
Exercise Integrity in the Moment of Choice
Integrity is the ability to carry out a worthy decision after the moment of making the decision has passed. It is very easy, when we are in the silence of our planning sessions to design our days and weeks according to our conscience and according to the things that we feel are most important. The real challenge happens when we get to a moment of real decision, a choice point. As we are proceeding through our day according to our plan, someone comes up to us and encourages us to do something that is of far less importance, though it may seem very enticing. The challenge is to keep the first things first in this moment of choice. Are we going to sacrifice the best for the good in that moment? Or will we remain true to our plan and continue focusing on the best. Goethe said, “Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.”
Author’s Anecdote - I once worked at a health and fitness center as a yoga instructor. I worked there for about 2 years. During that time, I noticed a very interesting occurrence that I have seen elsewhere, but in this fitness center it was glaringly obvious. During the month of January, and especially the first couple weeks in January, this fitness center was so packed with people that there was not an open machine to exercise on throughout the entire day. Every treadmill, every exercise bike, every rowing machine had people lined up waiting for their allotted time to work out. All of the aerobics classes were filled, as were the racquetball courts and the swimming pool. The place was alive with activity all day long. About one month later, I noticed that probably half of the people who were coming those first two weeks were no longer coming. By the end of February, you could usually find an empty machine or racquetball court during most parts of the day. By the end of March and for the rest of the spring and summer the place seemed like a ghost town except for a few rare times during the week.
This strange occurrence plays out commonly in our culture in the form of New Year's resolutions. A moment of planning and solitude turns to resolve that this year is the one that she will lose those extra 20 pounds, or this year is the one he will be less angry at his family. But as life seems to happen to us, and we have lost the emotion that we had when we made that initial decision, we give up the best for the good and lose the goal that we set for ourselves. Regular daily and weekly planning around those “first things” invites us to remain true to our resolve. MO
Evaluation - How did I do?
At the end of the day, part of our movement toward developing ourselves, reducing stress, and reaching our goals involves assessing what we have done to help us move toward each of these. Evaluation is the art of looking back and seeing what we did, how we did it, and did it work to produce the results that we intended. If it did, great! We can add to this pat on the back the question of how can we use that success to continue learning and growing? If we did not see the results that we had intended, what adjustments can we make so we do in the future?
Here are a few questions we can ask ourselves as we are evaluating our days and weeks:
What have I learned about myself?
What goals did I achieve and what empowered me to accomplish them?
What goals did I not achieve and what kept me from accomplishing them?
What patterns of success or failure do I see in setting and achieving goals?
Am I setting goals that are realistic but challenging?
Am I dedicating sufficient time to the 3 or 4 things that matter most in my life?
What challenges did I encounter and what was my response?
Did I take time for keeping my saw sharp in the different dimensions of my life?
In conclusion, review the five aspects of Quadrant Planning: 1.) Differentiating between what is urgent and what is important, 2.) Identifying roles in each dimension of life, 3.) Creating a decision making framework, 4.) Exercising integrity in the moment of choice, and 5.) Evaluating what is working.
Lifebalance: A more flowing approach to time and life management
The third method for time management is called Lifebalance. While this approach appears significantly different than the previous two approaches, it can be equally as effective in helping you organize your time in a manner that is stress-relieving for you.
Critics of traditional time management approaches contend that more rigid planning tends to focus too much on doing and having, and not enough on being. They do not take into consideration our natural rhythms of life. It is as if we can only stop to smell the roses as we are running quickly by them to do something apparently much more urgent. In the meantime, we miss life's important moments that are given to us and for which we could not have possibly planned. If we have planned every minute of our day and if we do not cross off every planned action from our “list” we feel like we have failed. These approaches don't appear to allow for spontaneity, for freedom, and for “going with the flow.” To some, there is emptiness to the traditional approaches.
Lifebalance is an approach to time and life management that promotes a balance of purposeful planning and a healthy mix of going with the flow. Richard & Linda Eyre write about this in their book, Lifebalance: Bringing Harmony to Your Everyday Life. The Eyre's contend that we live too much of our lives out of balance. The result of this imbalance is what Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.” The search for simpler, slower, more flexible and more meaningful lives has vanished with our culture toward the constant search for more, better, and different. Contentedness has been replaced by competition. Serenity has been replaced by speed. Balance implies a healthy combination of all that is important to us and letting our inner nature, rather than our environment and culture, dictate our speed and direction.
The Eyre's describe the current frustration and dilemma that many feel with time management planners. Here is what they found:
Ninety-five percent of what is written in planners has to do with work, career, or finance creating an imbalance between work and family and personal needs.
Planners cause us to live by lists, to act rather than respond. If we're not careful, our lists control us rather than the other way around. We begin to view things that are not on our lists as irritations or distractions rather than as opportunities, and we begin to lose the critical balance between structure and spontaneity.
Because they are accomplishment-oriented, most planners focus our attention on things, on getting, and on doing, sometimes at the expense of people and giving and thinking. Thus they can be destructive to the balance between achievements and relationships. (p. 105)
Some people are more comfortable with a lifestyle that simply takes things as they come and simply “show up” with whatever seems to unfold in their daily experience. To those who are vigorous planners, this approach seems frivolous and unproductive. How could anyone ever accomplish anything if he doesn't know where he is going? It follows the old adage, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.”
“Let's consider a typical businessman who uses a typical schedule book or time organizer. If we analyze the contents, we will find three things: First, we find that more than 95 percent of his entries (lists, plans, appointments, reminders) have to do with work. It is hard to find anything relating to his family or to his own personal growth. Second, his planning leaves no time for spontaneity or flexibility. He prides himself on using every hour of the day, and he gets his kicks from checking off everything on his list. His motto is “act, don't react,” and he likes to say that people who are good planners hate surprises and avoid them by only allowing things to happen if they are on the list. Third, just as there is no room on his schedules for spontaneity and surprises, there is precious little space for relationships. Planning and lists seem to deal much more with things than with people.”
Unbalance, the Eyre's contend, results from bad habits - habits that emphasize work at the expense of family and personal growth, structure at the expense of spontaneity, or accomplishments at the expense of relationships (or vice versa on any of these).
The Eyre's found, as they traveled around the country, that people list their priorities in this order:
2. Personal character, including beliefs, education, inner growth
3. Work or career
4. Other interests, including recreation, TV, etc.
Compare this with how people actually spend their time:
1. Other interests, including recreation, TV, etc.
2. Work or career
3. Personal character
A clear discrepancy exists between what is most important to people and how they spend their time.
In theory, knowing what we value most and acting on those things we value is an obvious way to live. In practice, it is something very different. We are always wishing that we had more time for the really important things in life. In this type of balancing, when we sit down to plan, rather than asking, “What do I have to do?” we ask different questions, such as, “What do I choose to do? or “What do I want to do?” Unfortunately, day-to-day concerns occupy so much of our time and tend to keep us from making time for these more important things. The essence of priority balancing is to simplify. The ability to simplify our days, and our lives, can be developed by regularly asking these four questions:
Will it matter in 10 years?
What do I need more of in my life?
What do I need less of?
How can I make this simpler?
When we begin to ask these questions, we learn to say “no” more frequently to those things that simply aren't worth doing. Continually adding more things to our life frequently complicates and speeds up the pace of our life. Removing things from our lives creates simplicity and freedom. The first step to balance our priorities is to simplify.
Author’s Anecdote - I love the story about a lone fisherman who sat on the beach. His fishing pole was planted in the sand. Along came a businessman on vacation. “Why don’t you have two poles so you can catch more fish?” the businessman asked. “Then what would I do?” asked the fisherman. “Then you could take the extra money, buy a boat, get nets and a crew, and catch even more fish.” “Then what would I do?” asked the fisherman. “Then,” said the businessman, “you could move up to a fleet of large ships, go wholesale, and become very rich.” “Then what would I do?” asked the fisherman. “Then you could do whatever you want!” shouted the businessman. And the fisherman replied, “That’s precisely what I am doing right now.”
I use this story to guide me in making decisions about what really matters in life. We work longer hours to pay for an expensive vacation so we can collapse. What if we just worked less so we didn’t so desperately need to rest? We frantically work to increase our income so we can buy that big, expensive house, only to find we have to work even harder to maintain it. We can choose to simplify.
Doing what Really Matters
The second aspect of balance, and related to simplification, is to focus our priorities on three specific areas, then work to balance these areas. The three priorities common to everyone include:
1) Family: This area includes our relationships with family and friends.
3) Self: This area includes not only development with our inner self, but the way we function serving others, activity with church and community groups.
The first step in creating more balance in our lives is to spend five minutes each day, before writing down any other plans or thinking about our schedule, deciding on the single most important thing you can do that day for your family, your professional development and yourself. Imagine how much you would accomplish that is really important in your life if you focused on those things that really mattered.
Don't just do something, Sit There!
Planning our days involves a commitment to stop everything and spend at least 5 minutes stopping and doing nothing other than thinking. Before planning your schedule, give yourself some sit-down time each day to ask yourself the key questions that were mentioned previously.
In our solitude time, rather than asking, “What do I really want?” we can ask challenging, but perhaps more useful questions like “What do I need?” “What do I need in my physical life?” What do I need in my social life, my spiritual life, my mental/emotional life?” Get in the habit of asking yourself these questions daily - then pick the thing you need to do most and do it that day.
Attitude Balance - balancing structure with spontaneity
Attitude balance involves considering both the destination and the journey. Our culture thrives on arriving, on reaching goals and enjoying the good feeling that comes with accomplishment. We tend to forget, so frequently, about the joy of the journey, about the footsteps we make on the way to the goal, which are just as important as the goal itself.
The Eyre's use the comparison of the jets and the hot air balloons. The jets are those who strive to arrive. People ride in jets to get where they are going as quickly as possible. People ride in hot air balloons for the sheer pleasure of riding in them. The hot air balloons are those who stop to smell the roses, who go with the flow of the wind wherever it might take them. People who dislike formal planning because of its inflexible structure say the jets lack spontaneity. The Eyre's contend that we can have both - the balloon and the jet - on our way to living our days in more fulfilling ways. The Yin and the Yang of the Taoist symbol implies that we are made up of both the jet and the hot air balloon. We feel drawn to both ways of being.
Freeing the Mind
When is it that our best ideas come to us? When we are running around frantically working through the daily “to do” list, there is usually no room for insights or ideas to pop through into our awareness. On the other hand, our best ideas come in those times when our thinking has slowed and we aren't focusing on anything in particular. Examples of these times are when we are in the shower, times of daydreaming, when we sleep in, when we take a leisurely stroll by ourselves, when we are jogging, while driving, or when we are sitting lazily by the pool. It is during these times that we should have a pen or a recorder handy to catch these fleeting ideas. Oftentimes, these insights can completely change an entire day or an entire lifetime toward a more fulfilling and joy-filled experience. But if we don't let the ideas through because of the busy-ness of our minds, we miss out on these best things.
Inherent in the Lifebalance approach to time management is the idea of serendipity. The English writer Hugh Walpole first coined the term serendipity to describe the quality which, through good fortune and sagacity, allows a person to discover something good while seeking something else. He developed this word and definition after reading a Persian fable called the Three Princes of Serendip.
The Three Princes of Serendip
The story tells of three princes who went into the world to seek their fortune. None of them achieved what they were seeking, but they each got something else, something better. One found love, one found beauty, and the third found peace. “These three men, while traveling through the world, rarely found the treasures they were looking for, but continually ran into other treasures equally great or even greater which they were not seeking. In looking for one thing they found something else, and it dawned on them that this was one of life's sly and wonderful tricks. When they realized this, they got an entirely new slant on life, and every day resulted in a new and thrilling experience.”
The essence of this principle is that the happenings that you never expect are actually the things that are supposed to happen. Other definitions for serendipity include:
The ability to make happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.
The gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought. (Webster's dictionary)
An unexpected discovery of something worthwhile during a search of an expected something worthwhile.
Keys to Serendipity
There are several key parts to serendipity. The first is that we need to be working toward something. We need to set some goal(s) for ourselves and be moving in the direction of them. The second feature of serendipity is that we need to be aware, to be alert, to be observing things in order to realize the so-called “happy accidents” that occur as we are on the way to our original goal. If we aren't tuning in to what is happening, we will miss things like beauty, spontaneous moments, new and even better goals and directions, opportunities, and needs of others as they arise.
With serendipity, we can have both worlds - the jet and the hot air balloon. We still set goals and work toward them. But the flexibility of serendipity allows us to be open to spontaneous events as they occur. We don't treat interruptions as annoying, but instead, as opportunities to “discover something good” that might add to our joy and fulfillment.
“Too much planning can make the actual experience of living almost anti-climactic. Too much thinking about a thing removes us from it — we become observers, analysts, spectators, or critics rather than participants. If we can approach life more as an experience which contains vast variety and infinite potential for surprise — we will find ourselves dealing less with “success” and “failure” and more with progress and growth. If we have to think about every detail of our lives, we ought to think about them after they have been lived (when we can learn from experience) not before and during (when the very thought may intercept or alter the experience).
Approaching life as an experience makes us, moment-to-moment, more aware of what is happening and of what we are feeling — and less aware of what we plan to have happen or wish had happened. Thus we see opportunities we could never have planned and realize far more serendipity than we otherwise could. Goals can co-exist with experience — they can shine like beacons and allow us to see our experiences more clearly in their order and light”
Knowing about serendipity and applying the principle in daily life are two very different things. Serendipity is not a common way of being for most people in our culture. We tend not to think and act this way. We can learn to move in this more balanced direction. This activity can help get you started.
Start your planning time by drawing a line down the middle of your daily planning page. The left side of this page is our traditional scheduling of activities and planning items to do that day. The right side of the page is left blank. This side will be filled, during the day or at the end of the day, with those unanticipated needs, unforeseen opportunities, and the unexpected moments that come up during the day. These are the items that we could not have planned for, but turn out to be as valuable, or more valuable, than the things that we had planned. We have to be in pursuit of something (left side of the page) and we have to be aware, sensitive, and observant of those other/better things that we didn't plan for (right side of the page). The left side of the page contains our plans and schedule. The right side of the page reminds us to be playful, spontaneous, take risks, and be serendipitous.
With this type of flexibility automatically worked into our days, we create a new definition of a perfect day. It used to be that a perfect day was one where our high priorities, our “A” items were checked off the list. Now a perfect day will still include that, but additionally, we jump the line to do the serendipity things as well. Living in this more flowing and balanced way involves intentionally changing the way we function throughout the day. From the outside, it may not appear that we are doing anything differently, but inside, we manage things in vastly different ways.
Lifebalance and awareness of serendipity do not mean no plan and no goals. The guiding principle is this: Be strong and fixed on the destination, but be creative and flexible on the route”
Cultivating the quality of serendipity
Slow down; Hurry tramples watchfulness and thoughtfulness. Smell the flowers, feel the sun, pause to breathe. Notice the needs of others and try to feel empathy. Sometimes relaxing your pace can lengthen your stride.
Welcome Surprises and anticipate them; Look for them. Expect them, relish them. Surprises don't knock you off course. They reveal new destinations and new directions.
Enjoy the Journey — Now; look for and find joy today. Life is not a dress rehearsal.
Simplify and Set Your Own Standards; the trading of time for things is usually a bad deal. When the things are the expensive trappings of style, image, and impression, the trade-off is a disaster. Trying to impress others with the newest and costliest car, fashion, brand name, address, toy, or trend is the depth of bad-deal trade-offs and the height of self deceit.
Make goals without Plans; while goals are an indispensable part of serendipity, tight, detailed plans are not. Spend your Sunday Session and other “thought time” conceptualizing your goals, and laying out a general road map toward them, but acknowledging that your actual route will be some combination of the schedule and the surprise.
Split page Scheduling; Left side gets the lists, right side gets the day's serendipitous after it happens notes. i.e., a new acquaintance, a fresh idea, a child's question, an unexpected opportunity, a friend's need, a chance meeting, a beautiful sunset. These right side things are far more valuable than your listed items.
Add playfulness and humor to a part of each day; lighten up and allow yourself to make mistakes, to enjoy the more humorous parts of life, to laugh like a child.
Be spontaneous; balance planning with flexibility and spontaneity.
Take risks and follow your feelings; the dullness of our comfort zones lulls us into a false sense of security. Living fully involves taking risks and enjoying the surprises of what might come with the risks.
You can clearly see that the Lifebalance approach to time management is significantly different that the ABC123 and Quadrant Planning methods. Yet all 3 methods can be effective in helping individuals accomplish their goals, manage their time, and relieve their stress. Next, let’s look at a variety of tips on how to overcome procrastination and eliminate time zappers.
Overcoming Procrastination - Tips for Effective Time Management
Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task which needs to be accomplished. This can lead to feelings of guilt, inadequacy, depression and self-doubt. Procrastination has a high potential for painful consequences. It interferes with our academic, professional and personal success. The reasons for procrastination are many, with the basic ones being perfectionism, fantasizing, fear, crisis making, anger, overdoing, and pleasure seeking. The following are tips for overcoming procrastination:
Turn Elephants into Hors d’oeuvres - When you just can not seem to get started on a project, try breaking it down into smaller tasks and do just one of the smaller tasks or set a timer and work on the big task for just 15 minutes. If you know your 30 page term paper is due in one month, start today by picking your topic or writing a rough outline. By doing a little at a time, you won’t feel so overwhelmed and eventually you'll reach a point where you will want to finish.
Research Highlight – Procrastinators Finish Last
In studies with students taking a health psychology course, researchers found that although procrastinating provided short-term benefits, including periods of low stress, the tendency to dawdle had long-term costs, including poorer health and lower grades. Early in the semester, the procrastinators reported less stress and fewer health problems than students who scored low on procrastination. However, by the end of the semester, procrastinators reported more health-related symptoms, more stress, and more visits to health-care professionals than nonprocrastinators. They also received significantly lower grades on term papers and exams. (Procrastinators Always Finish Last, Even in Health. American Psychological Monitor, Vol. 20, No. 1, January, 1998 – reported in Hales, 2003)
Manage Your Time Zappers – A significant deterrent to successful time management is time zappers, those things that take time away from what is more important. According to a Nielsen Media Research survey done in 1998, televisions are on 7 hours a day in the typical home. The same study reports that the average American spends nearly 4 hours per day watching TV. By the age of 65, he or she will have spent nine years watching TV.
Television viewing is an example of a time zappers because it steals our time away from the precious time that we could be spending on more important things. Imagine what you could accomplish if you spent those four hours working on more productive things like learning a foreign language or how to play a new instrument or even doing homework. Time zappers include:
Driving from place to place
Talking on the phone
Surfing the net
You can probably think of many other things that would fall into this category of time zappers.
Author's Anecdote: We don't need to completely eliminate these time wasters, but frequently they take up so much of our time that little is left for us to do the important things that have higher priority for us. Here is an example that illustrated how unimportant things can severely dominate our time. One day while we were discussing this principle in class, a student in the back of the room raised his hand and proudly declared that he had played a video game for 24 hours straight. He only took very brief breaks as needed and then quickly got back to his video game marathon. When I asked him how he felt about that, he mentioned that the Time went quickly and it was an enjoyable experience. He did mention that it was probably not time well spent, however. The rest of us in the class agreed. MO
The best way to manage time zappers is by planning. This chapter has given you several excellent ways to do this. When you decide what the order of your activities will be through the day and follow through with discipline, while maintaining appropriate flexibility, it is easier to say “no” to those things that waste so much of your time.
Work hardest during your “best times” of the day: most of us have two or three hours during the day when we are the most productive. Are you a "morning person," a "night owl," or do you do your finest work in the late afternoon?" During these times we usually have the most energy, and are the most creative. Frequently this is in the morning. Try to schedule your time so that your most important activities can be done during these "best times" of the day.
Follow Pareto's Law: Pareto's law says that 80% of the wealth belongs to 20% of the people. Extending this law to time management we find that a mere 20% of the tasks yield 80% of the rewards and benefits. In other words, there are certain aspects of most projects that have a higher degree of leverage for completing the task. For example, you may be working on a research paper. This involves many steps from beginning to completion. You may find that the activity with the highest leverage to complete the paper is the time you spend looking up abstracts and transferring some of that information to a general outline of your paper. This task will be the one you will focus most of your energy on. As you approach any task or assignment, isolate the 20% that controls 80% of it's completion.
Keep an Activity Log - Just as a nutrition log measures everything you put in your mouth over a period of time, usually several days, an activity log allows you to see what you do with your waking moments of the day and thus, your time. Without modifying your behavior, make a note of everything that you do, as you do them, from the moment you awaken until you lie down at night to sleep. Every time that you move from one activity, like eating breakfast, to the next, like watching the morning news, to the time you spend getting dressed, make a note of the time in your time log.
After doing this for a few days carefully look at what your log tells you about how you spend your time. You will probably be surprised at how much time you spend doing things that might be considered a waste of time or have little value for you or anyone else.
Learn to say "NO" to the unimportant or less important things. Most of us find it difficult to say “No” to someone when they ask us to do something or to do unimportant things. One way to do this is by focusing on your goals. It is important for you to be convinced that you and your priorities are important to you. Before you agreed to undertake any additional tasks, you can ask yourself if those tasks or activities will lead you in the direction of your goals and priorities. If the answer to this question is that they won't, choose to refuse to allow these unimportant items to take up your time.
Try Delegating – It might be time to re-think the old saying, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” If some things do not require your personal attention, delegate them to someone else.
Establish levels of acceptable perfection - It is human nature to want to do our best on every task. We find it difficult sometimes to submit work that may not reflect our best performance. But frequently, there are things that we do that don't necessarily require high degrees of perfection. When this is the case, complete the task at an appropriate level depending upon the importance of the item. E-mail sent to a friend, for example, does not require perfect grammar and perfect spelling. There is no point in spending unnecessary extra time making your letter perfect. Take a realistic look at other similar tasks and determine which can be your “good” work and which should be your “best.”
Do the most difficult or most unpleasant tasks first - Once you have the tough tasks out of the way, you are freer to enjoy your other tasks that are more pleasant and fun. The most unpleasant tasks are usually the ones that rank more highly on our priorities list. When we do those first, we earn the satisfaction and inner peace that comes from doing those things.
Enjoy the Process - Ask yourself how you can do the task AND have fun in the process - Maybe you can do your homework with your best friend or go to a place with an excellent view of nature and do it there. If you know that something has to be done, but is unpleasant to even think about, ask yourself how you can add something enjoyable to the process. Maybe you can somehow make it a game or competition with someone else. Your mind will usually give you some constructive ideas.
Give yourself rewards - Even for small successes, celebrate the achievement of goals. Promise yourself a reward for completing each task, or finishing the entire task. Then keep your promise to yourself and indulge in your reward. Doing so will help you maintain the necessary balance in life between work and play. As Ann McGee-Cooper, author of Time Management for Unmanageable People says, "If we learn to balance excellence in work with excellence in play, fun, and relaxation, our lives become happier, healthier, and a great deal more creative.
Let some things go undone - Follow the advice of Lin Yu Tang who said, “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the more noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.” Let it be okay to not finish some things, and not even get to some things that are on your list. An uncompleted list only has the meaning you give to it. It doesn't mean you are not being effective and it certainly doesn't mean you are a failure. You decide what can be left undone and you can choose to be okay with that decision.
A Final perspective on time and choice
In the final analysis, we always do what we want to do. There are no exceptions to this. How you spend your time, what events you participate in every moment of each day, is your choice. You may not always enjoy the choices you made, but you always choose to do what you do, and there are consequences for everything that you do. These consequences may be favorable or unfavorable, pleasant or unpleasant. We commonly hear people say, “I have to do this,” or “I have to be at a certain place at a certain time.” The reality is that we never have to do anything. There is rarely a gun being held to anyone's head requiring them to select certain choices. We always have a choice about how we spend our time.
Author's anecdote: Early one Saturday morning my older brother called me up and asked me to come to his home to help him clean his garage later that day. He lives about 60 miles away from me. Thinking that this wouldn't be a very pleasant activity, I told him that I couldn't come over. I was too busy. I have too many other things that I must do. A couple weeks later he called again and asked me if I want to spend that afternoon riding bikes in the mountains near a local ski resort. I had no fewer things to do on that day than I did two weeks earlier, but as we talked on the phone, I told him that I would love to go … which I did. As I thought about this, while I drove to his home that Saturday, I realized that I never have to do anything. I could have just as easily gone over to his house two weeks earlier to help him out. MO
You say that you have to be in a class at a specific time, or you must be at work during a specific time period. There is no life requirement saying you have to be there. There are consequences for not showing up to work; you may not continue to work there very much longer if you choose to be late or not show up at all. Nevertheless, what we do with the 24 hours of our day or 168 hours of our week is ENTIRELY up to us. Deciding beforehand what to do and living flexibly as we do them can make those 24 hours much more pleasurable.
In this chapter you learned three time management systems. As you probably noticed, they have similarities and differences. All are designed to help you gain more control of your life and thereby, reduce your stress levels. As you experiment with these systems, determine which has the most appeal to you and your current circumstances. You have also learned tips for overcoming procrastination and eliminating time zappers. Don’t mistake activity for achievement. Reduce your stress by focusing your actions on the things that matter. In the end, time management is really more about managing yourself and your life than it is about managing time.
I am convinced that I have not done one thing that anyone else could not do if they could get deeply immerse in some mission, some purpose that transcends self. - Gandhi
Nobody, on their deathbed, ever said, “I wish I'd spent more time at the office.” – Stephen Covey
Dost thou love life, then do not squander time, for that is the stuff that life is made of. - Ben Franklin
This time like all times is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Now is the only time there is. Make your now wow, your minutes miracles, and your days pay. Your life will have been magnificently lived and invested, and when you die you will have made a difference. - Mark Victor Hansen
Time is really the only capital that any human being has, and the only thing he can't afford to lose. - Thomas Edison