It’s not unusual for people to comment on how much time off and vacation I take. Suffice it to say, it’s a lot. I also get the remarks that it must be nice to have so much time to devote to my endurance training or artistic pursuits. It is. But before you dismiss this as happenstance or luck, let me assure you that it’s a lifestyle and “workstyle” that I intentionally created. And it all starts with how I manage my time and attention. And you can do it too!
For me, freedom and flexibility are of utmost importance. That means that I’m not a slave to a 60, 50 or even 40-hour work week. Been there, done that. Despite the fact that I love my job, my personal philosophy has morphed into more of a work to live mentality than a live to work one. That doesn’t mean that I don’t do whatever I can do to excel in my work; but I don’t think that investing more time is the best answer for me. It’s a clear case of choosing quality over quantity.
Since Chris and I train people to be more productive, I certainly know how to be an exceptional time manager. With that said, I’m NOT a productivity ninja in the sense that I’m eeking out every second of efficiency in my schedule. What I do amazingly well can be boiled down to a few key concepts and approaches.
#1 Keep It Simple & Fun: I take a pretty simplified approach to my time and what gets my attention. I do a quick Return On Investment analysis on the projects I am considering. Will the payoff be worth the investment? More importantly, is it a project (or client) that I’m excited about? If the payoff isn’t there for me financially and emotionally, it doesn’t get done. Much to his chagrin at times, Chris can attest that I weight the emotional reward (my fun factor) much, much higher in the equation.
Enjoying what I’m doing is a key tenet for me. In an epic trip to New Zealand in 2009, I was counseled by a wise woman who let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I needed to find more joy and balance in my life. I’ve heeded her words and have lived daily in that pursuit for the past seven years. Prior to that, the main focus of my work life was the financial reward of a project or client. My business partner at the time was “all about the money” and I bought into it hook, line and sinker. The fascinating thing is that once you let go of the money and focus on the joy, you actually make more money. At least that’s been my experience.
#2 Be Strategic: This is related to #1, but it deserves some further description. I tend to take a long-term approach to what I work on, what’s important to me and where I invest my time. I have found that being strategic eliminates a lot of clutter and saves a ton of time. Over two decades ago, I learned from Steven Covey to separate the “important” from the “urgent.” The “important” things are rarely urgent and vice versa. By focusing on the “important” and being strategic about it, I’m able to shape my future and give my work (and life) meaning and purpose.
I’ve found that most people do the opposite. They are consumed with the “urgent” and they spend their days being very busy, but not at all strategic. They rush from putting out one fire to the next and end up exhausted and unfulfilled. And they never look up or pause long enough to figure out what they really want long-term. I recently wrote about finding your passion and I would argue that if you want to quit grinding through life and find more joy; this is imperative.
#3 Prioritize: So much of success is based on prioritizing. But it’s not enough to simply rank your “to-do list” on a daily basis. It’s choosing what goes on your “to-do list” to start with (See #1 and #2 above). I believe in the Paredo Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule. You should focus your time on the 20% of tasks and activities that gets you 80% of your results. In other words, focus on the “important” stuff. If you eliminate the urgent and the clutter, your day becomes something that you control, versus one that controls you. Trust me, it’s a much more joyful and balanced approach to living and work.
A simple trick to keep you focused on the right priorities is to ask yourself the following question:
What is the most important thing that I need to work on right now?
As you go through your day, you can constantly assess whether you are spending your time doing the right thing by answering this question. And once you’ve found the most important thing to work on, give it your full attention.