If I asked most people what they’re priorities in life or at work are I get blank look, followed by an awkward silence. Then I get the answer they think I expect from them: “Er, my family is the most important thing in my life” or “Delivering product x by time y for cost z.” at work, or “Starting my new business.”
If I really want to know what their priorities are, I’ll look at their calendar.
When our stated goals, priorities, and values are laid down beside how we actually spend our time it can be revealing. Somebody will tell me that spending time with their family is the most important thing to them, yet they spend their weekends working. They’ll tell me starting their own business is what’s most important to them, but they’ll spend all day “doing” e-mail. I’ve come across one person whose calendar and life actually lined up, and he was one of the best bosses I’ve ever had. He was a pretty happy guy and had a beautiful wife too. Funny that.
Managing how you spend your time is a lot like managing your own budget. Financial advisors will tell you if you want to get your spending under control you have to know where you’re spending your money to begin with. They’ll tell you to keep a record of your expenses, and write down every penny spent. Having done this financial exercise for myself once, it surprised me how much I spent on lunches and dinners out. I still do, but at least now I know where my money’s going.
You can do a similar exercise for yourself to see where you really spend your time. Then you’ll know where your day goes, if you were wondering why you never get those things done.
You can do this exercise either for yourself at work, or during the entire day from waking to sleep. I’d suggest you start with just your work day or business.
You’ll need a calendar and a timer. If you don’t own or use a day-timer or calendar, just keep track on a piece of paper or note-book. Most cell phones have a timer, which you can set to vibrate if it’s important that you don’t go “Ding!” in the middle of a client meeting.
Here’s what to do:
- Write down what your priorities and deliverables are. Not just for the week this exercise is taking place, but for the year. These are the same as your job description*, which are the same as what you get evaluated against on your annual performance review**. If you’re in charge of sales for western Canada, your priority will probably be something like “Increase gross sales in by 15% over last year.” If you’re a project manager, your goal might be “Deliver project x by date y for cost z.” Here’s a link if you want to review how to set personal goals.
- Set your timer to go off at a regular interval. Use five minutes if you want to get a really good idea of what’s going on, although many find this a bit much. Ten minutes is good. Fifteen is the useful maximum.
- When the timer goes off, take note of what you’re doing. If you’re processing e-mail, write down “e-mail”. If you’re cruising the inter-tubes, write that down. Working on your monthly report, writing a proposal, meeting with your staff, working on that high-priority project, talking on the phone, whatever. Write it all down.
- At the end of the day, add up all the minutes you spent doing a certain thing. For example, if your timer is ten minutes, and you were doing e-mail six times that day, that’s ten minutes six times for a total of 60 minutes or one hour. If your interval was fifteen minutes, and you were working on your monthly report five times, thats fifteen times five for a total of 75 minutes.
- Repeat daily for an entire week.
- At the end of the week, add up all your time. Compare to your stated priorities.
Now you can tell why you’re not getting “anything” done, where “anything” is that thing that you keep meaning to do but keep putting off because you don’t have enough time and it’s causing all that stress you’re feeling in your gut. If you’re one of the lucky few who’s goals, priorities, and time are all lines up, congratulations and carry on.
*If your day-to-day work is not the same as your job description, then there’s a conversation you need to start with your boss. Either the job description or the work has to change, but that’s a different topic.
** If you’re an entrepreneur, small business man or woman, consultant, coach, or agent, you don’t get a freebie here. You might be able to become fabulously wealthy or happy by just tripping into it and following your passion. Most people are successful because the plan for it and they’re following their passion. What’s preventing you from setting your personal goals and reviewing them regularly?