Last year, I put myself at a crossroad. I’m sure you’ve been at the same crossroads before. It is where things to do, the things I want to do, and things I had to do intersected with this little nuance we all agreed to call time (or lack thereof).
Like many, I would find ways to be more efficient and find ways to get better at time management. But this strategy was not working out. I was still overworked and felt unproductive as if I was in a hamster wheel. I felt the need to approach my crossroads differently.
I decided to approach my dilemma by exploring and thinking about how successful people, whether they were business leaders, athletes or artist, dealt with time management.
I discovered that people that are experts at a craft, writing, a sport, or an instrument, for example, all had enough time to do what they do. If it weren’t true, they would have not reached their level of mastery.
I realized that my problem wasn’t a time management problem or using my time more efficiently, but rather my problem was a task management prioritization issue.
The people that have time to do the things they need or want to do was not as a result of applying Steven Covey’s time management methods better than me, but rather because they are jealous of their time and only what is really important to them gets the time. Everything else, has to wait.
Which led me to conclude that:
The thing that distinguishes me from them is not better time management skills, but rather they are better determining the order of dealing with task according to their relative importance.
What did I do with this insight? How did I apply this to be a better practice manager of a small business? Glad you asked.
I sat down and I wrote all the things I did. This included everything from projects I was working inside and outside the practice, like speaking engagements, consulting and the blog. I then added all the things I wanted to do, but couldn’t find the time to do them. This included things like working out to finding time to meet with people that are smarter than me.
Once I looked at the list, it was apparent why I wasn’t being effective. It was too long. Nobody, no matter how good or disciplined they are, could manage a list that long and still be effective.
What did I do next? I prioritized all the things on the list. But before doing that, I took time to determine what was important (not urgent) to me/us ( us = partner ). In order to determine the important over the urgent, you need to have clarity with what it is you are trying to accomplish, exactly. Like, you know… have goals.
Once that was figured out, I drew a line after number three on my list. Top three were now my only areas of focus.
I make it sound easy of course. But cutting down the list to three main areas of focus wasn’t easy. There were a bunch of things I really wanted to do that fell below the line I drew.
Moreover, the focus on the three couldn’t happen over night. I was already committed to several projects that weren’t on the list, but I still had to deliver on.
But with a clear focus on what I needed to do, I began to get a better handle on how to protect my time and put more effort into carving out time for those things that only enhanced, improved or were in pursuit of the three main things.
What does have to do with practice management?
Simply put, nobody drifts into productivity. Nobody “happens” to find time to exercise, garden or write a book. Nobody just happens to get better at something. In order to be better, you have to be intentional. And being intentional with our time, instead of letting all of our “things” dictate our time, is not a scalable solution. At best you’ll crank the hamster wheel a little faster.
If you want to make progress at something, you have to direct your focus at that something. Thus, in order for me to become the best practice manager I could be and lead my team well (in addition to being a better husband and father), I needed to stop doing more – which was hindering my progress altogether – and start saying no.
Perhaps some of you are thinking this is absolutely unreasonable and if I knew everything that is going on in your life, I would agree with you that you couldn’t keep a list of only three things to focus on.
I’m going to disagree. I too have a super hectic life. But it can be done.
Read the biography of any great leader in history, whether a politician, CEO, or successful entrepreneur, and you’ll begin to see that despite their crazy busy schedule and work demands, they were laser focused with a few priorities.
Keep this in mind… the top three things are areas of focus… not necessarily specific task. What I mean is that one will still have a lot to do. But the difference for me is that each task, job, interview, meeting, outreach is done with a purpose.
And remember, we make time for our priorities. But if we don’t have priorities, areas of improvement or specific goals of what to do with our finite time, well, then, it is no wonder we don’t have time.
So my challenge for you today is this; start looking at your time management issue as a task management issue and shift your mind to think in terms of areas of focus and let that determine how you should spend your time. And I bet that once you do that, you’ll have a bunch of time on your hands to do the things that are important.
Until next time.