Summary in 90 Seconds:
King Solomon suggests a disciplined, simple life with proper planning is prudent. When applied to time management, planning can simplify our efforts to only a few activities that result in meaningful progress towards a clearly defined purpose. Too often, we spin our wheels with numerous activities that do not move us closer to the goal.
Asking questions in planning can help. Step 1) What is the desired outcome, how is it measured, and what is the time to complete it? Step 2) Who is the right person or tool to complete the task and what are the tradeoffs (family, health, quality, finances, God, etc.)? Step 3) Where is my time spent, what is most productive or essential, and what are the time sinks not adding value? Continually edit the nonessential after regular evaluation and feedback. Limit distractions, set boundaries, develop routines and automate for efficiency.
Story and Step-by-step Detailed Discussion:
I was recently asked if there is a recommendation for finding more time in the day? As I pondered this question, the wisdom of King Solomon provided excellent guidance. In chapters 10, 13 and 25 (MSG) he states, “The road to life is a disciplined life … a plain and simple life is a full life … Careful planning puts you ahead in the long run; hurry and scurry puts you further behind.” Solomon often cautions of the pitfalls of pride and greed, but these truths can also be applied to our time management.
Continuously, we find that there are only a few variables (versus the trivial many) that result in the most impact for a given pursuit. We also know perfectionism and disruptive distractions are large time sinks. How can we apply the truths of a disciplined, simple life with proper planning to accomplish more? This week’s blog post tackles this challenge.
In engineering, we have found relatively few variables have the largest impact on the outcome of a specific process. When I was tasked with discovering the root cause of adhesion failure between two materials, we identified up to 20 possible variables and causes. Using scientific reasoning, we decided to test 7 / 20 variables to determine the cause of failure. Of these seven variables, temperature, pressure, and time proved important in the process, but the adhesion failure was still present.
Then in a moment of insight, we decided to test the effects of humidity in the environment on the process. To our surprise, this factor was extremely important in controlling whether good adhesion was obtained. Then by varying temperature, pressure, time, and humidity, we were able to create good or bad adhesion at will and hence identified the critical four variables required for good adhesion from the 20 possible.
Likewise, only a few activities result in meaningful progress towards a clearly defined purpose while many others cause us to spin our wheels. A disciplined approach to planning can help us focus on the right activities for maximum success. Analogous to how we use experiments in engineering to find the right variables that control a process, we can use questions in planning and feedback to decipher how to be most productive towards our goals. In essence, get more time in the day.
Here are five questions to better plan your time and obtain feedback:
- Where is my time spent?
- Spend a couple of days logging what you do in 15 min increments. The first step to improving is understanding where you stand.
- What tasks are most important to make meaningful progress towards my goals?
- Define the specifics for the desired outcome, how it will be measured, and the time required to complete it.
- Separate essential tasks from nice to haves. Complete essential tasks first and only nice to haves if time allows. Time limits are critical to develop efficiency.
- For essential tasks, what routines or automation can be developed to make these tasks more efficient?
- Track your progress using measurements defined above and experiment to find what works best.
- Who is the best person or most efficient tool to accomplish this task?
- It is impossible to be everything to every person and do every task. Some tasks are best done by you, and many can be delegated. Deciphering this is the most critical part of the planning process.
- Develop a system to delegate tasks to the best people or tools to accomplish the work. My children unload the dishwasher, clean the bathrooms, and mow the lawn at ages 8 and 11 (with some help). They requested the work in exchange for allowance and it teaches them crucial money management skills. I use contractors and interns were possible in business.
- In addition, I use software to automate repetitive tasks saving a tremendous amount of time. For example, Calendly is used to schedule coaching sessions. I also develop routines that make me highly efficient at specific activities like deploying Sensibly software. This will eventually be done with automation.
- What tasks can be eliminated that are not important?
- Hurry and scurry on the trivial many or firefighting from improper planning puts you further behind. Discipline requires focusing on priorities. In other words, keeping things simple.
- Distractions interrupt focus and increase time to complete a task. How can you minimize distractions? I limit e-mail to twice a day, social media to < 10 min, and constantly unsubscribe.
- Like how movies are edited to maximize storytelling and keep our attention, nonessential activities can be edited to keep us focused on the most important actions delivering highest impact. Evaluate effectiveness of tasks and eliminate those that do not meet the mark.
- Have you set appropriate boundaries with others who desire your time? I have found several respectful methods to politely decline when necessary for integrity and to produce quality work on time.
- What are the tradeoffs for how your time is spent?
- What is not being done because you are doing this? How will this affect other relationships that are important to you such as spouses and children? What is the financial cost of not properly executing on another responsibility? Have you over committed compromising your integrity? What is the cost to your mental and physical health?
- Is the task completed with respectable, high quality or am I wasting time on perfectionism?
If you do not plan your activities wisely, others will plan them for you. Focusing on your priorities requires saying no to others. This can be extremely difficult especially when Solomon states, “The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller. The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped.” – Proverbs 11:24-25 (MSG). For clarity on this, let us look no further than Jesus. Although it is documented that He spoke to large crowds and healed the sick, He chose to focus most of his time with twelve disciples and often spent time alone with God in renewal. Jesus in all His wisdom could not be everything to everyone. He gave freely to many but set boundaries to accomplish His purpose and maintain health of mind and body. We are wise to follow His lead.