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“A Procrastinator’s work is never done”

-Anonymous[1]

If you are like most people, you feel like you have more to do than you can actually accomplish. Small business people wear multiple hats, playing the roles of chief cook, and bottle-washer. They are busy, and if they do not manage their time well, they may be exhausted without being productive. When this happens, it is often because they derive a sense of self-worth from being busy, but being busy is not the same as being productive.
According to David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, we are interested in time management when things are out of control or when we are not appropriately focused on that which needs to be done.[2] If the subject of time-management has caught your attention, you may be experiencing one or both of these issues.
You may have tried many things to manage your time: doing more, staying up later, caffeine, cleaning our desks, to-do lists, etc. All of these things have some effect, but ultimately, they are like trying to lose weight by not eating. They provide only short-term solutions. These efforts fail to work in the long-term either because you are robbing Peter to pay Paul (as when you do not sleep in exchange for a few extra hours) or because you cannot maintain the gains you have realized.
In this lesson, we will review the mindset necessary for effective time-management. In the next lesson, we will discuss a number of practical steps you can take to customize a system that works for you.
How to Think About Time
Sometimes we waste time because we fail to plan. When we do not take the time to plan,  “we tend to do the things that come naturally to us—but unfortunately those things are not always the most valuable.”[3] This is why we must plan. In The Personal Efficiency Program, Kerry Gleason explained,

Some mistakenly consider the mental activities they engage in when they’re driving to work or when they’re taking a shower to be ‘planning’ for work. Although you may be thinking about work, I would hardly call it planning. Instead, it’s an inefficient form of thinking that provides little or no real clarity.

Some people feel that any and all planning is a waste of time. They say the time spent in planning doesn’t produce that many benefits. If you plan inefficiently, that can be true. If what you plan is not what you do, it is wasteful.[4]
Effective planning is connected to action. It focuses you. It helps you distinguish that which is important from that which is not. In a live TEDx talk, David Allen explained,

The problem is that when you are not in crisis, there is a more subliminal crisis that happens. Why? The whole world now is allowed into your psyche. You now get to experience all the stuff you would, could, should, need to, might ought to, all the stuff piling up in your in-baskets while I am speaking right now—all of that floods into your psyche and that could easily create a sense of overwhelm, a sense of confusion, a sense of conflict. Every single thing seems to demand equal kind of attention for you. And then you usually respond to that by either numbing out or getting into crazy busy. And then you blame that stress on the lack of time. . . . Time is not the issue for those things. There is something required for those things. What’s that? Psychic bandwidth. You need space to think.[5]

This makes sense. “Time management is a myth.”[6] Time management is not really time management. It is task management. It is space-to-think management. It is priority management.
William Peña, author of The 3 Day Entrepreneur, suggested that we should think of time management as task management. The purpose of task management is  “doing more high value and impactful tasks.”[7]
Likewise, Rory Vaden suggested that those who effectively manage their time ask different questions. It is about significance, not efficiency. He wrote, “You MULTIPLY your time by giving yourself the EMOTIONAL PERMISSION to spend time on things TODAY that will give you more time TOMORROW.”[8] All of the experts agree time spent on low-value activities is time wasted.
Covey on Time Management
The late Steven Covey was one of the foremost authorities on time management. His 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was a run-away best seller. In it, he provided advice that has now become the conventional wisdom on time management.
The first habit, “Be Proactive,” was the cornerstone of effectiveness. There is a substantial difference between reacting to things happening to us and proactively addressing what needs to happen before it happens. In the former, you are battered by circumstances. In the latter, you take control of the situation. All other things being equal, it is better to take the initiative.
His second habit was to “Begin With The End in Mind.” Covey focused his readers on the finish line rather than the starting line. He suggested that his readers visualize their own funerals and consider what they would want others to say about them. This is a sobering exercise that provides a view of what is important and how far we are from attaining it. He recommended writing a personal mission statement that would help the individual focus on achieving those ends. He wrote,

To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.”[9]

He connected his second habit to his third habit—“Put First Things First.” Putting first things first means that your important priorities get done before the whirlwind takes over.[10] Without this focus, we tend to accomplish only that which is urgent. This leads to stress and burnout. When we are focused on the urgent, we are continually in crisis management and we spend our days putting out fires.[11]
While we all have to deal with a certain number of tasks that are urgent, we need to spend as much time as possible on that which is important. As we focus on the important, we regain our balance. We take control of our schedules, accomplish our goals—short term and long-term—and we experience fewer crises because we have contained most before they could become full-blown crises.[12]
Covey has an entire system to address the process of time management. The concepts were mapped out in The 7 Habits, and made concrete in the Franklin Day Planner. According to the company website, the Franklin Day Planer was first produced in 1984, and it is currently used by 15 million people around the world. The Day Planner was not originally Covey’s, but it was acquired when the Covey Leadership Center merged with Franklin Quest, to create FranklinCovey in 1997. FranklinCovey clients have “included 90 percent of the Fortune 100, more than 75 percent of the Fortune 500, thousands of small and mid-sized businesses, as well as numerous government entities and educational institutions.”[13]
The system begins with a personal mission statement and a review of your personal values. Covey argued that these values must be grounded in timeless principles if they are to be effective. This is the first step toward personal and professional success.[14]
From those values, you plan your long-range goals and a master task-list. You then break down the large goals into sub-goals, achievable monthly or quarterly. Smaller tasks are completed weekly. In this way, you create alignment between what you want to do and what you actually do. Without such focus, you tend to drift.
Each week, you identify your most important roles. For example, you are a husband, father, manager, etc. Next, you would set a limited number of weekly activities for each role. For instance, as an individual, you know that you need to exercise. As a husband, you know you need to spend time connecting with your wife. As a father, you know that you need to get to your child’s soccer game, and as a manager, you have multiple high value projects at work that demand your attention.
In Covey’s model, you not only note what needs to be done to achieve your long-term goals, but you schedule these events into your calendar before you do anything else. You keep these commitments as you would any other high-value appointments. Let other activities work around your priorities. If you do not schedule these activities first, you wind up short-changing yourself, your family, and your future.[15]
Instead, what we often do is the reverse. We may have a sense of what we want to accomplish in the long-term, but these goals are usually not written down. Even when we write them down, we fail to follow up. We operate in a state of overwhelm. Perhaps we have a to-do list, but the to-do list is not prioritized. We focus on getting through the day. Each day we create a list of urgent tasks that demand our attention. We do the easy things first, if only to check them off our lists. Then we are surprised when, a year later, we are no closer to our dreams.
Covey demonstrated the wisdom of putting first things first in a live demonstration. He called up a volunteer from the audience to come up on the stage. He had two clear buckets, a bag of pebbles, and a dozen big rocks that were labeled with the important things in life:

  • Planning, preparation, prevention and empowerment
  • Spouse
  • Relationships and family
  • Young children
  • Employment
  • Major projects
  • Service, community, church
  • Sharpen the saw (physical and mental health)
  • Big opportunity
  • Urgent and important
  • Vacation
  • Block of time

In contrast to the rocks, the pebbles represented all of the little, urgent things that demand our attention and take our time. He filled two-thirds of the clear bucket with pebbles. Then he instructed his volunteer to fit all of the large rocks into the bucket with the warning that the contents could not go past the top of the bucket.
She worked diligently to bury the big rocks in the pebbles, but ultimately she could not fit more than a few into the bucket once the pebbles were poured in. As she struggled to make it all work, Covey playfully suggested that she would not be able to fit in a vacation or a big opportunity. Of course, this was the point of the exercise.
Ultimately she decided to use the other bucket. She started by placing the big rocks into the bucket. Then, when she poured the pebbles into the bucket, it all fit. The pebbles filled in the empty spaces around the big, important tasks.
This illustration might lead you to believe that you can have it all. In fact, Covey has received some criticism for this.[16] Yet that was not Covey’s point. In First Things First, Covey and his coauthors explained, “the objective is not to fill the container to the brim, but to make sure that the big rocks are there and the container is not so full it can’t accommodate conscience-directed change.”[17]
For years, I had missed the purpose of time management. I used to think that time management was about completing more activities in the same amount of time, but that was a wrong-headed approach. Getting the big pieces in bucket helps you to accomplish short-term and long-term goals, but it also provides space so that you are not continually overwhelmed. In another passage, Covey and his coauthors wrote:

The objective, however, is not to cram as many activities as possible into our schedule or to try to do everything at once. We’re not trying to be Superman or Superwoman. The objective is to use our creative imagination to come up with synergistic, principle-based ways to accomplish goals that create even greater results than would be achieved if the goals were accomplished separately.[18]

For example, the authors suggest that knowing that you need to exercise, and that you want to spend time with your son, you might come up with the creative solution of going swimming together.[19] Or, if you are trying to complete a large project at work, and you are trying to develop your people, you might selectively bring in those who you are grooming to work with you on larger opportunities. Such an approach creates even more space, and allows you the freedom to seize greater opportunities when they arise.
Why Time-Management Matters
In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discussed a Princeton university study that clearly illustrated this point about freeing up time. The researchers, John Darley, and Daniel Batson, assigned seminarians to give a short sermon. Before the sermon, they subjected the students to a battery of questions and then sent them on their way with either “Oh, you’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago. We’d better get moving,” or “It will be a few minutes before they’re ready for you, but you might as well head over now.”
The researchers planted a confederate in the path of each student. He was slumped over in an alley, coughing and groaning.  Some of these students had been primed by reading the parable of the Good Samaritan before going over, and others were giving their sermon on the Good Samaritan, but these factors had little impact on the seminarians’ behavior. Gladwell reported that of those who had time to spare, 63 percent stopped to help the man. Of those who were running late, only 10 percent stopped.  He concluded that, “the convictions of your heart and the actual contents of your thoughts are actually less important, in the end, in guiding your actions than the immediate context of your behavior.”[20]
This is why time-management matters. Your bucket should, in Covey’s parlance, not be so full that “it can’t accommodate conscience-directed change.”[21]
Priorities
It might take some effort to prioritize, but unless you prioritize, you cannot be sure that you are making progress toward the life that you want to live.
The good news is that much of what you want to get done does not need to be done. In fact, very few things have to get done. You should ask yourself what you need to stop doing. According to Darren Hardy, time management is not about doing more but doing less.[22]
This rings true in light of what we have learned about goal setting and productivity. The goal-setting research taught us to narrow our focus.  Jim Collins said, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.”[23] Warren Buffett would agree. His method is as follows.

  1. Write out all of your priorities.
  2. Narrow it down to the top 3.
  3. Throw away the rest of the list.[24]

The root of the word priority is prior, which means “existing or coming before in time, order, or importance.” Logically, not everything can be first. Brian Tracy discussed priorities in his books and time-management seminars. He reasoned that if you have priorities (things that come first), by necessity, you must have posteriorities (things that come last).[25]
Others confirmed this approach. William Peña argued that you should create a “stop doing” list.[26] Darren Hardy, Leo Babauta, and Brian Tracy agreed. As Warren Buffet suggested, “throw away the rest of the list.”
In November of 2007, Randy Pausch, a computer science professor from Carnegie-Mellon University, gave a time-management lecture to students at the University of Virginia after he was told that he had less than six months to live. Pausch had pancreatic cancer and he would die on July 25, 2008. As you would imagine, he had the audience’s attention. Death has a way of focusing us on what is important.
He addressed the standard questions in relation to goals, priorities, and planning such as “Why am I doing this,” and “What is the goal?” Yet he told the audience that his favorite question was, “What will happen if I don’t do it?”[27]
That is a good question. What would happen if you don’t do it? As it stands, you probably do not accomplish most of the things you want to get done anyway. One key to time management is to procrastinate selectively. Procrastinating on the things that do not need to be done allows you to spend more time on the things that matter.[28]
The economist Thomas Sowell provided an extreme example of consciously choosing not to complete your tasks. He tells a story about his experience in the Marine Corps. Like all Marines, he was subject to periodic rifle inspections. As a Marine Corps photographer, the weekly rifle inspection was “conducted by having us leave our rifles on our bunks when we headed off to work, so that the Officer of the Day could inspect them while we were away.”[29] He calculated:

It usually took me about two hours to clean a rifle to Marine Corps standards. The rifle had to be disassembled and all the parts cleaned with the right chemicals, which then had to be removed and the barrel polished by drawing special patches of cloth through them. It was a real pain.
One day I estimated what the probabilities were that a given rifle would be looked at during a given inspection, since the Officer of the day did not have time to inspect every rifle in the barracks. Then there was the probability that an inspected rifle would be found unacceptable, even if it had been cleaned conscientiously. Finally, one had to weigh the punishment—an hour of mowing the lawn around the barracks. Putting it all together, my conclusion was that it did not make any sense to try to clean the rifle at all. Moreover, I announced this conclusion to my colleagues in the barracks.
Most of the guys were appalled at this reasoning, either for its attitude or its impracticality. However, I insisted that it was practical, and that I would demonstrate it by practicing it. From then on, when the other Marines were busy working on their rifles the night before inspection, I would be reading quietly on my bunk or else would go out to take in a movie. The next morning, I would leave my rifle on the bunk, without even a pretense of having cleaned it.
Week after week went by without any official comment on my rifle, which obviously had not been among those inspected. The guys who had been reprimanded or punished because their rifles were not clean enough were especially resentful.
“Oh, you’re really going to get it one of these days, Sowell,” They kept saying.
But that had a more and more hollow ring as the weeks turned into months. After a really long run of luck, however, I found a note on my bunk from the Officer of the Day. I read it to the guys in the barracks:
Your rifle failed inspection, but I noticed that it still had grease from the rifle range on it, so obviously you must have gotten back here just before inspection. You’ll get a warning this time.[30]

What Priorities Come First?
A number of time-management experts recommend that you, “do the ugliest thing first”[31] For example, in Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy wrote, “Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that this is probably the worst thing that is going to happen all day long.” Using this metaphor, he explains that your frog is your worst task—the one that causes you to procrastinate.[32] It makes sense, and years ago I adopted that strategy. It helped me become more efficient in my day to day, but my long-term goals languished.
My thinking has shifted over time. Now I focus on the most important thing, rather than the worst thing. Let me explain why.
In Good to Great, Jim Collins made the case that organizations should put their best people on their greatest opportunities rather than on their greatest problems.[33]  I use the same reasoning when it comes to completing my long-term goals. Instead of spending my best time eating the ugliest frog, I focus that time on the greatest opportunities. The frog can come later.
A number of time management experts have suggested this course of action. For example, William Peña tells his audience to focus on high value tasks. Get these done first during your most productive time.[34] He explains that if you can only complete 5 things, be sure that three of those are in the most productive category and you will ensure that you are moving toward your goals.[35] In sum, your first priority should be your greatest opportunity. Pay yourself first.[36]
What Comes Later?
Everything else must be secondary. A genuine emergency may break you from your focus on your important goals, and job requirements may consume more time than you like, but you must eliminate optional activities that bring no return. Such activities are to time what high-calorie junk food is to diet or high interest rates are to your finances. Eliminate all that you can.
Organizational cultures often enflame our time-management problems. We prize those who are continually accessible, those who show up early and leave late, and those who place the organization over self. But, to operate efficiently, you need to protect your time.
In Manage your Time to Reduce Your Stress, Rita Emmett used the metaphor of the airplane oxygen mask. She reminded her readers that the flight attendants instruct you to put your mask on first so that you do not pass out while trying to help others. She continued, “The same is true with self-care. Take care of you first, otherwise you might burn out and not be any good to those you care for.”[37]
I once worked with a colleague that had this problem. I do not know if it was the siren call of the iPhone alert or if, because he held an administrative role, he just sought to be accessible, but he was continually connected to his iPhone. I truly can’t say enough good things about this guy—he was loyal, trustworthy, and hard-working—but this was a problem. I have been in many meetings with him where his phone would ring and he focus on the sender and forget about the person who was speaking. On a few occasions, I was tempted to send an email that read, “I am sitting in front of you right now,” but that would have been bad form, and as I already said, he was such a great guy in all other regards, I decided against it. But I have often wondered what this approach has done to his efficiency.
Being at the beck and call of others will keep you from focusing on the important tasks. If you can avoid this trap, by all means, avoid it. As you learned in your last lesson, you need focused time to concentrate and interruptions can be costly. Sometimes, the boss’s demands for accessibility can be extreme. Randy Pausch experienced this when his dean required him to be accessible on his honeymoon, just in case anyone needed to get in touch with him. He found a creative way to be accessible without actually being accessible. He explained:

I said, “I am not going to be reachable,” and Jim Morris [my dean] said that’s unacceptable.
I said, “What do you mean, “that’s not acceptable?”
He said, “Well, I pay you, so that’s the unacceptable part.”
I said, “Ok, so there has to be a way to reach me.”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “OK.”
So if you called my office, there would be a phone answering message that said, ‘Hi, this is Randy. I’m on vacation. I waited until 39 to get married, and so we are going for a month and I hope you don’t have a problem with that, but apparently my boss does, so he says that I have to be reachable, so here’s how you can reach me. My wife’s parents live in bla bla bla town. Here’s their names. If you call directory assistance, you can get their number and then if you can convince my new in-laws that your emergency merits interrupting their only daughter’s honeymoon, they have our number.’[38]

In this lesson we learned that time management is important. We learned that it is about focusing on the important and, as in Pausch’s example, blunting the tyranny of the urgent. It sounds almost selfish to say that you should prioritize yourself before others, but the only way that you will have time to take care of others (e.g., the Good Samaritan moments in life) is if you have taken the steps to free yourself first.
Actionable items:
What are your important goals? List them and provide a short-term sub-goal that you will work on this week.
 
 
Now schedule each of these goals on your calendar. When exactly will you complete these activities?
 
 
What posteriorities can you completely eliminate?
 
 
 

End Notes

[1] Emmett, R. (2009). Manage your time to reduce your stress: A handbook for the overworked, overscheduled, and overwhelmed. New York: Walker & Co. (p. 181).
[2] Allen, D. (2012, Oct 30). The Art of Stress-Free Productivity [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHxhjDPKfbY
[3] Peña, W. (2014). Effective time management [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.udemy.com/effective-time-management/
[4] Gleeson, K. (1997). The personal efficiency program. New York: Wiley. (p. 95)
[5] Allen, D. (2012, Oct 30). The Art of Stress-Free Productivity [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHxhjDPKfbY
[6] Peña, W. (2014). Effective time management. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.udemy.com/effective-time-management/
[7] Peña, W. (2014). Effective time management. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.udemy.com/effective-time-management/
[8] Vaden, R. (2015, Jun 1). How to multiply your time. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2X7c9TUQJ8
[9] Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change. New York: Fireside. (p. 98).
[10] McChesney, C., Covey, S., & Huling, J. (2012). The 4 disciplines of execution: Achieving your wildly important goals. New York: Free Press.
[11] Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change. New York: Fireside. (p. 152).
[12] Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change. New York: Fireside. (p. 154).
[13] Who we are (n.d.). FranklinCovey. Retrieved from http://www.franklincovey.com/about/
[14] Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change. New York: Fireside.
[15] Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change. New York: Fireside.
[16] Pinilis, L. (n.d.). Why Covey’s big rocks illustration is wrong. Life of a Steward. Retrieved from http://www.lifeofasteward.com/coveys-big-rocks-illustration-is-wrong/
[17] Covey, S. R., Merrill, A. R., & Merrill, R. R. (1994). First things first: To live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy. New York: Simon & Schuster. (p. 161).
[18] Covey, S. R., Merrill, A. R., & Merrill, R. R. (1994). First things first: To live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy. New York: Simon & Schuster. (p. 159).
[19] Covey, S. R., Merrill, A. R., & Merrill, R. R. (1994). First things first: To live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy. New York: Simon & Schuster. (pp. 159-160).
[20] Gladwell, M. (2000). The tipping point: How little things can make a big difference. Boston: Little, Brown.
[21] Covey, S. R., Merrill, A. R., & Merrill, R. R. (1994). First things first: To live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy. New York: Simon & Schuster. (p. 161).
[22] Hardy, D. (2015). Productivity Secrets of SUPER ACHIEVERS [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVnpMxkNBUw
[23] Hardy, D. (2015). Productivity Secrets of SUPER ACHIEVERS [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVnpMxkNBUw
[24] Hardy, D. (2015). Productivity Secrets of SUPER ACHIEVERS [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVnpMxkNBUw
[25] Tracy, B. (2012). Eat that frog! 21 great ways to stop procrastinating and get more done in less time. New York: McGraw Hill.
[26] Peña, W. (2014). Effective time management. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.udemy.com/effective-time-management/
[27] Pauch, R. (2008, Feb 6). Randy Pauch Lecture: Time Management [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTugjssqOT0
[28] Tracy, B. (2006). Doubling your Productivity: How to manage your time and manage your life. [Motion Picture] Waterford, MI: Seminars on DVD
[29] Sowell, T. (2000). A personal odyssey. New York: Free Press.
[30] Sowell, T. (2000). A personal odyssey. New York: Free Press. (pp. 97-98).
[31] Pauch, R. (2008, Feb 6). Randy Pauch Lecture: Time Management [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTugjssqOT0
[32] Tracy, B. (2012). Eat that frog! 21 great ways to stop procrastinating and get more done in less time. New York: McGraw Hill.
[33] Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap … and others don’t. New York, NY: HarperBusiness.
[34] Peña, W. (2014). Effective time management. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.udemy.com/effective-time-management/
[35] Peña, W. (2014). Effective time management. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.udemy.com/effective-time-management/
[36] Clason, G. S. (1955). The richest man in Babylon. New York: Hawthorn. (p. 27).
[37] Emmett, R. (2009). Manage your time to reduce your stress: A handbook for the overworked, overscheduled, and overwhelmed. New York: Walker & Co. (p. 24).
[38] Pauch, R. (2008, Feb 6). Randy Pauch Lecture: Time Management [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTugjssqOT0