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Time Managing Us!

by David Brock on March 31st, 2022

First, a disclaimer. This post is probably more directed to me than anyone else. I’m struggling with time.

Make no mistake, through my career, I’ve been vicious in my time management and priorities. I constantly read and learn to improve my abilities. I invest in tools to help improve my productivity. I delegate everything I can, either to my virtual assistant, someone on my team, or a subcontractor. But somehow all, somehow, seems to be insufficient. It’s helpful, but often, I find myself a little overwhelmed. I find high priority items slipping.

I’m a big believer in Covey’s principles around separating the urgent and important, prioritizing the urgent/important, viciously discarding things that are neither. But in today’s world, that seems insufficient.

As I speak with executives around the world, I see much of the same thing. They got into their roles by being very focused, prioritizing the right things, delegating things they didn’t need to do, discarding things that were distractions. Yet as I coach them, once we peel back all the normal business stuff, they just don’t have the time.

I look at their calendars, they are color coded, and leveraging every technique they can They manage priorities of who and how they spend their time. They manage their time/priorities as effectively as they can. But I notice a few things: The biggest is they are overscheduled. When something urgent and important, but unanticipated arises–and it always does, it throws everything into disarray. They don’t have enough “think/learning time,” either by themselves or to learn/reflect with peers. And too many are on the cusp of burnout.

What do we do when everything is, legitimately, urgent and important, yet it overwhelms our time?

And, I suspect the pandemic, WFH, and all the other business and societal disruptions we experience exacerbate this.

It’s hard to admit we can’t get everything done, particularly the urgent/important things done. An emerging reality is happening, we have to prioritize even within the urgent/important area. There are somethings, despite their urgency and importance that we simply have to walkaway from.

It may be a growth opportunity. It may be a problem in our organizations. It may be something with a customer or partner. It may be a personal aspiration.

But there are urgent/important things, we simply have to abandon.

I’m struggling with this idea, personally. Somehow it seems wrong, I think I must be making a mistake, I may not be as productive as possible, I’m missing something. I think I may not be working hard enough. Or worse, maybe I’m not working long enough.

But I know something’s wrong. The urgent/important things are still there, but I’m feeling more exhausted, sometimes not as sharp as I should be.

Some things I’m trying–so far they are helpful, so far they seem to be working.

I’m reassessing my prioritization against my purpose. We don’t talk about purpose enough, either our individual purpose or our organizational purpose. But it’s our purpose that creates meaning in our lives and aligns our organizations to excel. I’m starting to eliminate things that don’t directly impact my personal or our company’s purpose. In some sense, it’s forcing me to cut back. There are urgent/important things that obliquely impact our purpose. But they don’t directly impact it, either positively or adversely. I’m cutting back on those.

I challenge executives I coach with questions around purpose. It usually leads to a bit of an uncomfortable discussion. I ask them about their purpose, both their personal and organizational purposes. There’s always a bit of a pause, alternatively, “What do you mean, Dave?” Sometimes they start talking about their goals, “We need to hit these revenue/profitability goals! We need to achieve these growth goals! We are seeking to grow our market cap! We have this opportunity in the market place…..”

But that’s not a purpose. They are important goals and strategies, but they aren’t a purpose. I’m not sure I can define it well, but I’ll try. We need to look at the same concepts personally and organizationally (In fact, we are more impactful when these are aligned).

  • Our focuses on meaning, who we are, what we want to stand for.
  • It’s our “north star,” it provides us direction.
  • It helps us determine what we value, which in turn informs us how we create value.
  • Having a purpose, understanding it, enables us to be more intentional.
  • It’s a grounding point, when we struggle about what we should be doing, how we might do it, how we achieve and create meaning, our purpose grounds us.

As I reflect on great mentors I have had, all have been very purpose driven. As I look at organizations that are consistently great, they are driven not by what they make/build, or the products they sell, but their purpose. Everything they do is focused, viciously, on their purpose. (As a side note, it is interesting to look at companies that have existed for 500 years or more. Clearly, their existence really isn’t about what they make/sell, or even individuals in the organization. The unifying element to these companies is a sense of purpose.)

Reassessing all that’s urgent/important in the context of our purpose, enables us to focus, clearly, on what creates the greatest meaning–for us, for our people, for our customers, for our partners/suppliers, for our communities.

I’m early in my personal process of refocusing, re prioritizing, But it’s bringing such clarity. I still am “time-poor,” but find myself, increasingly, able to focus on where I make a difference.

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