What Is Possible Is Not Always Right

How often do you decide to do something only because “you can”? When you really think about it you may realize that it is way too often. Did you just jumped in the car and drove half a mile to buy a bottle of water when you could have walked? Did you just came home and turned on the TV without really thinking about it and then not even watching it? Did you just sent an email on “hot topic” instead of picking up a phone and calling to the person in question? Did you just buy something without really needing it just because it looked nice and you had some money and free time?

Very few of us behave really responsibly and think through our actions before we go and do something. To think logically about every single thing we do all the time would be really taxing on our internal resources and we would overthink everything and not enjoy the life so much. But when it comes to business we should pay a bit more attention as the resources we are using are not just our internal (attention, willpower, etc.) ones but also external (company’s money, time of other people, priority of the stuff we work on, and others).

Time

This one resource is very easy to waste on things we don’t need or want. Did you just spent three hours sitting in front of a TV watching some movies you didn’t really enjoy only because the TV was on and it was easy not to go and do something else? You could go out with friends, spend time with family, exercise, read, work, learn to paint or take a walk and relax. And instead of these you decided to sit and mindlessly stare at something you forgotten about the next day. Why? Because you could.

Money

Just imagine a typical situation in corporate environment. Your boss came to you and told you that you have five hundred dollars to spend and celebrate some team success. What do you do? Will you think in terms of “I have 500 USD, let’s spend it,” or in terms of “I want to celebrate our success in the most meaningful way and I have 500 USD in case I need them.” The first approach is wasteful to company resources and may not even bring the effect you want to achieve. “Let’s all go to a fancy restaurant and order some expensive wine,” while most of us would prefer just to hang out in our favorite pub over couple of beers. You just spent five hundred dollars in a rather inefficient way and why? Only because you could. The responsible approach would have been to think first about what type of celebration is right for your team and then just figure out how the five hundred bucks fit in. And if you need just two hundred? So what? You had your fun and by acting like a responsible adult you even saved some money for others.

Attention

There are so many distractions in modern society. Social media, old-school media, overload of information coming from all sides. But only because the information is available it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to consume it. You should carefully pick what channels of information you want to follow and how much time you want to spend on it. Herbert Simon (winner of Nobel Prize for Economics) once said “What information consumes is rather obvious. It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” In my case I decided not to buy a TV as it would just cause too much distraction. I decided to read only a selected number of online media and I do it only at specific times. The same goes to e-mail, instant messengers, and other types of online communication. It is only up to you to decide how responsive you want to be or whether you will be online and available 24×7 only because you can.

So what should you do?

Sit down and spend couple of minutes replaying your actions last week and try to understand the decisions that let to them. Did you do the things you did because they were the right things to do or because you just could?

 

What are your examples of situations when you did something only because you could without thinking whether you should?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Lack of time is just an illusion!

Time management. One of the basic skills you are required to master when moving up the ladder to management positions and in fact in any professional role at all. There are hundreds of books written on the topic (only on Amazon when searching time management you get more than 100.000 references), and there are countless leadership programs and seminars focused on time management you can attend. And yet, you cannot manage time. Time flows and there is nothing you can do about it.

What you can manage are your priorities and your attention. Each of us gets allocated 24 hours of time a day and it is just up to you to figure out how to use it in a way that helps you achieve your goals. And by that I don’t mean just spending 20 hours a day in the office getting 100 tasks done. What I’m talking about is to spend time doing things that help you reach your life goals based on the value system you have. It might be getting the project done on time, getting a promotion, building a house, raising your children or traveling the world.

So if you are a person who is constantly overloaded and never have time to do all the things you want to, there are couple of things to consider.

Don’t manage time, manage priorities

Stop blaming lack of time for not being able to deal with everything on your plate. Learn to prioritize and learn to live with the fact that there are some things you will simply not do. There are tons of tips and tricks on how to set priorities. My favorite one is the concept of 4D as shown on the picture below. You can use this as a guideline for prioritizing your own work. The idea is to focus on things that are important to you and your goals. It may sound a bit selfish but that is the way to ensure that you are the one managing your priorities and you don’t let others to do it for you.

Concept of 4D

Concept of 4D

See the things in quadrant four? Ignore them! Learn to live with the fact that something will not be done and that it is completely fine not to do it. One trick that I used on numerous occasions with my team was to ask team members who felt overloaded to write down all the things they do ordered by priority and draw a line to indicate what they are able to manage. Everything below the line won’t be done. I would go through the list with them, agree on priorities and acknowledge that there are things that get postponed or canceled at all. That way I helped the team member to understand priorities and removed the stress that they will not manage all the things on the list.

Manage your attention

Priorities are nice, but most of us understand the priorities and still not get things done. Why? You need to learn to manage your attention. In today’s world with abundance of information, interactions, and tons of distractions it is increasingly difficult to stay focused. Find a system that will help you focus on what is important. Each of us is different so there is no such thing as best practice, but consider these questions

  • Do you really need to be on email/skype/phone 24 hours a day? What is the worst thing that would happen if you switched it off for a while?
  • Do you really need to know about every single thing that is happening in the world? What would happen if you switched of the internet for couple of hours and didn’t constantly look for news or tweets?
  • Do you really need to say “yes” to any request you get? What is the worst thing that could happen if you said “no”?
  • Do you really need to multitask and do ten things at the same time? What would happen if you started doing them in series rather than in parallel?

My favorite question to ask myself, and often get depressed by the answer is: “What did I achieve today / this week / this month?” Not what did I do, but what did I achieve. If you find yourself being constantly busy but not achieving anything that matters you need to stop right now and reevaluate your tasks, priorities and indeed your life.

Lack of time is just a mindset

Edward T. Hall came up with concept of monochronic versus polychronic societies. The monochronic time concept is derived from “one thing at a time” paradigm and the polychronic from idea of “multiple tasks at the same time”. The implications he raises lead to different views of time. In the polychronic culture interpersonal relationships are much more important than time. Things will still get done, but in their own time. In the Western world time is a rare commodity that is continuously running out. “Time is money” and “Time is wasted.” However, there are cultures where time is abundant and people don’t concern themselves with “not having the time” to do stuff.

Think about it! There are people and in fact whole cultures who live similar lives to your, do similar work, still have just 24 hours a day available and yet, they feel like having plenty of time. The implication is that in a culture where time is limited being late for a meeting is a big no-no. In other cultures it is a way of life, people are fine waiting or coming another day. There is nothing right or wrong with each of the ways, they are just different. Though I had to admit for someone who grew up in central Europe where time is limited it drives me sometimes crazy to adapt to living in the Philippines where apparently time is abundant.

What does it all mean? It is only up to you if you want to create a mindset that will allow you to have all the time in the world, spend your attention on things that have priority for you, and feel good about not doing bunch of stuff that doesn’t need to be done anyway.

Twitter type summary: “It is your choice to get a mindset that allows you to have all the time in the world and spend your attention on things important to you.”

What about you? Do you manage time or time manages you? How do you ensure you focus your attention on the right things?