What Makes One Thing More Important Than Another?

How to Decide What’s Urgent, Important or Not

Since the start of the new year, I’ve been working to find clarity in my prioritizing. I wrote about the value of time and how to decide where to spend it. I wrote about the importance of putting the big rocks in first and determining what makes one rock more important than another.

This is the hard part.

Rocks are hard…get it? 😊

Steven Covey’s time management quadrant in the previous post makes the idea of sorting things into the 4 areas clear. Different things need a different level of attention given to them.

  • Quadrant 1 is fire-fighting (urgent & important). This is easily recognized and where most of us spend way too much time. This is the get down to the core action of, if the house is on fire and the phones ringing…do we answer the phone or get the kids out of the house? The problem is we should have spent more on important rather than urgent and maybe we could have prevented the fire.
  • Quadrant 2 is quality time (important & not urgent). This is the area where we should focus. It’s where we get the most return on our investment of time and energy. It’s also the hardest because there’s no immediate rush like there is when fighting fires.
  • Quadrant 3 is distractions (urgent & not important). We can fill this quadrant with an endless list of small and trivial tasks convincing ourselves that they are important, because they probably are. The things in this quadrant require less time and energy than the ‘really’ important tasks. The question is, are you doing them because they’re important…or because it feels good to check thing off the list?
  • Quadrant 4 is time-wasters (not important & not urgent). The things in this quadrant are the things of least importance. These things serve no direct purpose in accomplishing the important things in your life. You want to avoid wasting time on these things.

We have a limited amount of time…spend it wisely.

As I read through the different quadrants in this example, I was perplexed with some of the things listed.

It seemed to me that some of the things in quadrant 4 were important things and not necessarily time wasters, i.e. entertainment (TV) and stress relief. In quadrant 2 was recreational activities. For me watching TV is recreational. And isn’t “relieving of stress” pretty important? The more I studied it the clearer it became…

It’s up to us what goes in our quadrants!

It comes down to being crystal clear on who we are and what our specific purpose is. This is the problem. Most of us haven’t or don’t want to spend the time and energy to figure it out. We just float through life without a clear direction of where we’re going or how we’re going to get there.

In the Ayn Rand book Fountainhead architect Howard Roark is super clear on who he is and what he’s willing to do or not. Because of his lack of conformity to the status quo, he struggles to make a living. He is almost broke but is given an opportunity to design and build a bank building that would be very profitable for him.

As he meets with the bank board, they ask him to make a few changes that would require that he conform. He turns the job down and goes to work doing manual labor in a quarry.

I want Howard Roark’s clarity.

I do think there is a place for conformity. It’s not always wise to cut one’s nose off to spite one’s face. However if we have Mr. Roark’s clarity, we can then determine what makes things urgent, important or not in our lives.

You get to decide, but if you want clarity…you have to decide.

Deciding What Your Big Rocks Are

What Should I do First?

This past week as I was writing in my journal, I was considering what the day’s priorities were. What were the most important things to focus on today, if I’m going to achieve my goals? As I thought I wrote…

What are the big rocks that I need to put in the jar first?

I read about this time/priority analogy several years ago in Steven Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I hadn’t thought about this for some time and I don’t know why I thought of it then. I assume it’s due to the recent attention being giving to accomplishing my goals for the coming year.

Here’s how this story goes:

One day this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration I’m sure those students will never forget. After I share it with you, you’ll never forget it either.

As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”

“No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is:

If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

Dr. Steven R. Covey, First Things First

I love this big rock example of prioritizing our actions. Too often we approach time as though there’s no limit. My time management budget certainly makes it clear that this is not the case. (currently I’m over my time limit for the year, by 746 hours)

As I study this time management spreadsheet it gives me a much clearer picture of where my time is getting spent and a way to determine what rocks should be put in first and what ones should be left out. There are so many great things to choose from but if I’m going to be the most productive, I need focused intensity on the big rocks that help me to achieve my goals.  

What are the big rocks in your life?

Growing in your faith? Spending more time with your family? Serving your customers better? Paying off debt? Taking better care of yourself physically and mentally? Helping with community projects?

Here are three short video examples of how putting the big rocks in first matters. The first explains this perspective well.

Put the Big Rocks in First

Time Management & the Jar of Life

Jar of Life

How to Decide Where Your Time Is Best Spent

It Comes Down to Knowing Who You Want to Be

Last week I wrote about the importance of spending time wisely. I shared how I was working to clear the fog to determine what things I should focus on. What should I do and not do? So, like budgeting money I decided to work on a plan for budgeting my time…enter the spread sheet.

Like money, we can choose what to spend our time on.

The difference is that with money there’s the possibility to make more, not with time. This makes spending time wisely, even more critical.

So, what did I find out about budgeting time using a spreadsheet?

What I’ve found so far is that I’ve overspent my time budget by 175 hours (2%) and I still haven’t got everything entered. It is making it very clear that I can’t do everything that I want.

This spreadsheet is allowing me to look at the big picture and see where I can move things around and/or remove things completely to fit into the limited time available.

I listened to a podcast recently that pointed out how important time is due to kids doing school at home and people working remotely. This got me to thinking about how I’ve never really separated my work and personal time. My time is all just…my life.

I think this is because growing up on a farm there wasn’t a ‘clock punching’ separation of time. In addition to that, I’ve spent most of my life self-employed which is the same. I may be doing family, community or church things throughout the day or, I may be doing work things late in the evening or on weekends.

Using the spreadsheet, it is allowing me to see the amount of time being spent rather than the specific time of the day or night. It allows me to be better at living a well-balanced life.

Ultimately the spending of our time comes down to a personal choice.

It’s all about who we want to be.

We can spend our time where we want. So…to that point…today I want to spend my time with my family having a movie marathon weekend.

That’s who I want to be.

Time is the Most Valuable Commodity

Be Sure to Spend it Wisely

The topic of spending time is nothing new. It’s a topic that is written about a lot. My search online for “spending time” uncovered 289 million results. Just so you know, I didn’t read them all. 😊

As I’ve been working on setting my goals for this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what and where I should put my focused intensity. I struggle with this. What things should be in what order.

Earlier this week I heard a Business Made Simple Daily from Donald Miller entitled How to Know What is Worth Your Time. Notice it doesn’t say “what your time is worth”, but “what is worth your time”. Donald uses the example that his truck tags had been expired for several months, but he chose to spend his time on other things he determined to be a higher priority.

This conversation about time reminded me of how in his Hero on a Mission course for goal setting and life planning starts out with writing your obituary. This form of starting with the end in mind makes the point that for each and every one of us…life is over at some point. As we race through the routines of our daily lives, we just don’t think about time from a finite aspect.

We tend to approach life as if we have all the time we want. This isn’t the case!

So, if we accept that time is limited, what do we do? Determining “what is worth my time” is a good place to start.

This is the hard part for me…there are so many great things that I want to do.

One of the problems with time is that we we’ve been given it. You’ve done nothing to earn the time you have. It isn’t like money. You can’t go earn more time. You can’t put time in the bank and save it for later. Time is being spent constantly and we take it for granted!

Once time is gone you can never get it back. Don’t waste what little you have!

Each of us spend time differently. The important thing is to determine where it is that you are going to spend yours.

Back to goal setting and how time relates.

As I have been listing out all the things I want to accomplish this year, I realized many of them were on the list last year and the year before that…and the year before that. I see a pattern here.

Maybe I’m trying to do too much?

The more I worked through the list the more lost in the fog I got. How can I figure out what is worth my time?

I decided that if I was going to do this, I needed to take the limited time thing seriously. To do this I determined that a good place to start would be to figure out how much time the things on the list would take and compare that to the amount of time available to spend.

Those of you that know me, know how I’m going to this…a spreadsheet, of course.

I’m now going to go get to work on my time budgeting spreadsheet. I’ll let you know how that goes in a future post.

How to Watch the Clock

Finding a Balance of Looking to the Future and Being in the Present

Time is the most valuable commodity we have at our discretion. You’ve heard the saying “time is money”. I would argue that time is MORE than money. Money is a form of exchange for a service or product. We have some control over how fast our money goes…not so with time.

There is no limit to money. I know this sounds a little over the top, but as long as money can be printed there’s no limit. Even if we ran out of the resources needed to make money, we could find something to trade or barter with.

There is a limited amount of time.

Time is continually moving. There is no stopping or slowing it to get more done. If we spend a dollar, we can go make two more. Once time is spent…there’s no getting any more.

I never wanted to be a clock watcher.

When I was younger and saw people looking at their watch, I felt they were being selfish. They appeared more concerned about their time than the person(s) they were engaging with. This bothered me.

I then took this perspective too far. I often ran behind because I didn’t want to cut off a person that I was visiting with. (It didn’t help that by nature I’m a talker.) I wanted my customers to feel that they were more than just time blocked out on the calendar or a dollar in the bank.

Watching the clock made me feel selfish.

It made me feel that my schedule was more important than finding out what the customer hoped to accomplish with their project. It put my needs above theirs.

High quality, attention to detail and not being satisfied with mediocrity all take time. By nature, these are a part of who I am. Watching the clock is counter to that. My best work is never accomplished when I cut corners.

The flip side of this is…when I’m late to my next appointment or don’t get that thing done that I promised it is no different. I’m saying to someone else, you’re not as important as what I was doing.

There is a balance to be achieved.

How do we accomplish the things we need/want to? Too often we let others make these decisions for us. It starts with a clear understanding of what our priorities are. What is our purpose? What has God put us here to accomplish? From this we can align our actions with these priorities.

Next comes figuring out how to get control of these actions. This is where action lists, scheduling and calendaring come in. It’s up to you to be intentional with how you spend that limited amount of time that you have. (For more information and tools for scheduling and planning see the list at the end of this post)

As this year comes to an end I’m beginning to think about planning for the new year. What should I do? Where should I spend my time?

It has been said, “You can do anything you want; you just can’t do everything you want.” This perspective is critical to our spending of time. What are we going to spend our time doing? Plan wisely and don’t be afraid to watch the clock.

Align your desires with God’s and be your most productive self.

How To Get Control Of Your Life

Budget Your Time…You Have a Limited Amount

For years I have heard people express frustration with organizing and managing their schedules and “to do” lists. For years I was one of those people. These issues are multiplied when running a business.

Not that I have it all figured out but, I’m closer than I’ve ever been.

The question of what the best tool to use to manage scheduling and “to do” lists, has come up a lot lately. Most people are looking for a simple app or tool that will magically do it all.

There is nothing that will miraculously do this for you.

I’ve been refining my scheduling system for decades. Trying different things, starting with paper calendars, notebooks and notes on scrap paper. Now it’s all on my computer. I like my system way better now than before (I still use some paper for quick notes). However, it doesn’t do the work without my involvement.

Here’s the thing, most of us have way more things on our lists than there is time to get them done. Or we forget to do something because it wasn’t written down. Or the paper it was written on got lost in a stack of papers. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and forget or misplace reminders.

Keeping track of things is the most important part of being organized.

We naturally want order in our lives. We want to be in control. The problem is we live in a world of chaos. Organization is a weapon to fight against the chaos. The more organized we are the less chaos there is.

What does organization look like? According to Webster, organization is, “the act or process of organizing or being organized.” Organize is, “to form into a coherent unity or functioning whole, to arrange by systematic planning and united effort.” This sounds good to me.

Having OCD, Organizational Compulsive Disorder, I organize at a level more intense and detailed than most.

My system works for me. This doesn’t mean that everyone’s has to be at this level. Some people feel restricted by a schedule. Just like some people feel that a budget restricts them financially.

I find both to be freeing.

My detailed system allows me to know what to expect. Not to mention it keeps me motivated to get more done. I used to struggle to determine what thing should be done next.

It is a combination of lists and calendars. My “to do” lists are a place to write things down so that they aren’t forgotten. I then prioritize the things that need to be done to reach goals. Each task gets an amount of time and then put on the calendar. The calendar allows me to see the tasks as a block of time and not just an item on a list.

A calendar works like a “budget” for time.

It is easy to let things slide if you aren’t intentional about planning. The most important thing is to know yourself and figure out what works for you.

Next week I will open up my toolbox and show you the tools I use to keep control of my life and minimize the chaos.

Why Do We Put Things Off Until the Last Minute?

This Seems to Be Especially Prevalent in The Construction Industry

I was visiting with some people recently about the disappointing number of companies signing up for the upcoming Blueprint for Building a Better Proposal workshop. I’ve seen the results of poor communication between contractor and customer. This workshop would help with this problem.

Every one of the people I was talking with said the same thing. “They’re contractors, they’re not going to sign up until the last minute. I wouldn’t be surprised if they just show up.”

Later I visited with a few different construction company owners and asked if they were coming to the workshop. Their answers were eerily similar…I’m not sure if I have time. I’ve got a lot of work scheduled. I’m not sure that I can afford to take a day off work. I’ll have to wait and see how things are going.”

Why would this be a problem in construction more than other industries?

I don’t know if it is more of an issue in construction than anywhere else or if it just seems that way because that’s where my focus is. There are a few things that I think contribute to this situation, construction or not.

Why are there so many that aren’t signing up for the workshop?

We’re too busy – We’ve said yes to too many things. We feel pulled in so many different directions. It’s common to hear people say, “I don’t have enough time.” Most of us overbook and then spend most of our time fighting the hottest fire. My argument is –

God has given us enough time…it’s up to us to invest it wisely.

We struggle with prioritizing – I’ve got this important project that I’m working on. It’s more important than learning something new. Every day we are learning in a variety of ways. The question is, which is the better investment, learning from “on the job mistakes” or from someone else’s. On the job mistakes can be very costly.

Learning from what someone else has learned is a good investment.

Not sure if that training is for me – How will you ever know if you don’t check it out? Most of the time our uncertainty is fear. We’re afraid to learn new things. “I’ve managed to get along just fine so far”. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a predesigned system that would improve your communication and increase your accuracy? The question is…

How long can “getting along just fine” be sustained?

I can’t afford it – Things are tight right now. Profits are down. Maybe I can do it next time. What if your out of business before the next time. There is a cost to any kind of schooling formal or otherwise. How long can you afford to not invest in yourself?

Investing in this workshop now, improves your odds for a brighter future.

I don’t know if the construction industry procrastinates more than any other. What I do know is, if you’re in the construction industry, time is running out to invest in yourself and your business. Don’t put it off any longer. Stop procrastinating and get signed up for the Blueprint for Building a Better Proposal workshop.

If you or someone you know would benefit from learning how to do better proposals, sign up here.

How I Use My Calendar to be More Productive

Investing Your Time Intentionally Is the Key to Unlocking Productivity

There are as many different ways to use calendars as there are people. Not only that, but if you’re like me, the way we use them continues to change. Not to mention, that calendars themselves keep changing. They have gone from tracking days by scratching a mark in the wall of a cave to now being computerized.

Purpose driven people are constantly looking for ways to be more productive.

I don’t know if I’m going through a phase or if getting older is making me more aware of the limited time I have to spend. Either way my desire to be more productive is at an all-time high.

When scheduling things, it is important to be flexibly rigid. This is balancing the importance of planning with intentionality and the realization that life happens. Finding that balance is hard.

One of the benefits to a computer calendar is the ease with which things can be added, shared, moved or deleted…this is also a detriment. Over the past few years I realized that I was moving things on the calendar that I had scheduled with myself. I would schedule tasks for myself on the calendar and they would get pushed back and back and back again. Then I realized I wasn’t giving meetings with myself as much importance as those with others.

Then I realized the calendar is like any other tool. It doesn’t serve its purpose if it isn’t used properly.

The first thing with any tool is to determine what its purpose(s) is and use it accordingly.

  • Scheduling meetings – The most basic purpose of a calendar is for scheduling meetings. These may be recurring meeting or one-time meetings. Scheduling our tasks as meetings with ourselves and giving them equal importance is critical to productivity.

  • Reminder of things ahead – This could be meetings, events, actions, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

  • Budgeting time – Similar to money a calendar can work like a budget for time. When you start filling out the calendar there is a limit to how much space there is. When it gets filled up, you’re going to need to stop trying to spend more.

  • Prioritizing what you spend time on – Once the calendar is full and there are still things to put on it, you must decide what goes on and what comes off. This calls for a time triage

Determine what works best for you and use your calendar accordingly.

Some days I would accomplish almost everything on my list and then there were days where it felt like I hadn’t achieved hardly anything. As I began to study why that was, it became apparent that the most productive days were the ones that I had packed the calendar full, from beginning to end, even little things. The days that were less productive had more unscheduled and open time. I realized that when my day was scheduled so full that I didn’t think I could get it all done, I was focused and did much better at staying on task.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been scheduling my calendar full, to the point of some days being scheduled tight without any open space. In doing this I have noticed that I have been consistently more productive. This doesn’t mean that everything gets done, just that I’ve been more productive.

There’s still a lot of room for improvement, but this seems to be working.

I still need to work on being wiser about what I spend my time on. There’s limited time so we all need to be good stewards of the time we’ve been given. Being productive requires intentional action. Productivity seems like a big monster, but we can take him out if we’ll just start implementing small steps in the right direction.

What Will People Say About Me at My Funeral?

 

How I Spend My Time Today Will Have an Effect on That

 

It seems there isn’t enough time to get everything done. I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly looking around for more. I think to myself, “If I just had a few more minutes, I could get this one more thing done.”


The problem with time isn’t how much there is, it’s what we spend it on.


We spend time as though it will last forever. Not so. We each have a limited amount here on earth and we need to be more intentional about how we spend it. Time isn’t like money, we can make more money, but we can’t make any more time. When it’s gone, it’s gone. We can’t ever get it back.


Are we being good stewards of the time we’ve been given?

 

In Max Lucado’s book, “The Eye of the Storm” he tells a story about two paddleboats leaving Memphis headed to New Orleans. “As they traveled side by side, sailors from one vessel made a few remarks about the snail’s pace of the other.


Words were exchanged. Challenges were made. And the race began. Competition became vicious as the two boats roared through the Deep South.


One boat began falling behind. Not enough fuel. There had been plenty of coal for the trip, but not enough for a race. As the boat dropped back, an enterprising young sailor took some of the ship’s cargo and tossed it into the ovens. When the sailors saw that the supplies burned as well as the coal, they fueled their boat with the material they had been assigned to transport. They ended up winning the race but burned their cargo. Their cargo was gone, and they couldn’t get it back.


They lost sight of their purpose along the way and in the end had wasted their trip. Don’t waste your trip by getting caught up in the unintentional rat race of life and in the end, not achieve your purpose.


To live the most productive life we need to “begin with the end in mind”. We need to look at the end of our lives, our funerals, and imagine what people will say about us. In Michael Hyatt’s blog post, “What Will They Say When You Are Dead?”, he lays out a plan for this.

It is common to race through life getting caught up in the unimportant peripheral tasks that don’t contribute directly to what our purpose is. You’ve heard it said that “time is money”. What is the real value of your time? Are you spending your time wisely?


Time is a commodity that can only be spent. You can’t add to it, only subtract.


Are you spending your time wisely?

How To Stop The Time Monster From Eating Up All Your Time

 

 

 

By Being Selfish and Not Letting It Have Any

 

 

The time monster will chew up our time if we let it. He gobbles it up as soon as it’s available and doesn’t leave anything but crumbs. This is one case when it’s okay not to share.


Don’t let the time monster have any of your time.


Last week’s solution was about ways the monster eats up your time. I concluded by pointing out that it’s up to me to manage my time, just like it’s up to you to manage yours. Let’s look at how we can get control of the time monster.


The first thing is to acknowledge that there is a monster. Pretending that he’s not out there won’t work. Closing your eyes and putting your hands over your ears doesn’t make the monster any less real. He’s out there and he likes the taste of time.


Next, we have to recognize it. Time monsters come in different sizes and shapes, see last week’s post. Each of our monsters are different. If you’re going to do battle with your monster you need to know what it looks like so that you can protect your time.


Once you recognize it and see how big it is, it’s natural to want to turn around and run. Don’t be overwhelmed by the size of the monster.


When dealing with a big hairy time monster the best weapon is a snowball.

 


The intentional, continuous, focus of small actions over time will bring the monster down. The process, known as the “snowball effect”, is the accumulation of small things upon small things until they become a big thing, like a snowball rolling down a hill.


The snowball effect works the same on time as it does on anything.


Small segments of time used wisely over and over add up to big savings. Saving a minute here and a few seconds there add up over time. If we save five minutes every hour, twelve times per day, we end up with an hour that the monster didn’t get. If you add that hour to another the next day and do that five times a week for a year the time saving snowball would be 260 hours. The monster is not going to like that.


We can’t imagine our little snowball having any effect on that big hairy time monster. At first it doesn’t appear that it does, but if we keep after it, it will. Those little wins add up. Being able to see each of these little wins give us an opportunity to celebrate. The more celebrating, the more winning, the more winning, the more celebrating.


This leads to another nice thing that happens when that snowball rolls downhill, it picks up momentum. This is another benefit of good time management. The better we get at spending time wisely the more wisely we spend time.

 

There are a lot of different ways to spend time and how you spend yours is up to you. The important thing here is to realize that you control the snowball. The only way to get control of our time monsters is to just do it.

 

 


If you take care of the minutes, the hours will take care of themselves.