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Sunday, October 25, 2015

It All Takes Time

      “I didn’t have time.”
     Not true. I did have time. I just spent it on something else.
     During every 24-hour cycle, I have 1,440 minutes at my disposal. That is 86,400 seconds, and I am doing something during every second of every minute of every hour. There’s plenty of time. What am I doing with it?
     Each action I take during the 24 hours has a relationship to what I would like in my life. That suggests a scale of importance for my activities.
     When I spend some thought on understanding and specifying those activities, I can establish priorities for them – high priorities for the important ones, lower priorities down the scale for the others.
     The secret to personal productivity is in how I establish and manage the priorities. When I do it right, I plan my days to give the high priorities more time and attention; lower priorities should take a back seat. And then, ideally, I stick to the plan.
    To be honest, I would guess that perhaps a third of my time actually goes to such low priorities that we would class it as pretty much wasted. Some days it’s more than a third.

     This priority business can be tricky. Some very important things don’t directly produce anything. Sleep, for example. A lot of people cut ‘way back sleep so they have more waking hours to do stuff. Well, the experts tell us you need a full night’s sleep or much of your awake time will be significantly less productive.
     Sleep deprivation also reduces your enjoyment of life, a very high value because you only have one of those (a life), as far as we know.
     Same goes for working long hours and skimping on recreation/vacation/time off. You don’t gain a thing, they tell us, and you can lose a lot. Such as quantity and quality of output. A net loss.
     Many very-high-value activities deserve significant investment of time, but are easy to blow off – so that’s what we do, too often.
     Planning and preparing important events is among them. We really should be looking ahead to upcoming weeks in both personal and professional activities. Meetings, trips, presentations, family outings. We don't want them to be disappointments and we don't want them to damage each other.
     Early attention to those priorities can pay off enormously, but we often get to them unprepared because our time drizzled away into less-important demands and distractions.

      Learning new skills offers important value, but it takes “too much” time. So, instead, we stumble along inefficiently as a regular behavior, losing a lot more time than we would have spent getting good at the process.
     Among the highest values of all is building productive relationships, and maintaining and improving them. That vital work requires spending time with people, getting to know their strengths and interests, helping them and working with them.
     In general, exercising greater focus and awareness on our work, our surroundings and our workplace relationships both requires and produces a calmer and more effective workstyle on our part.   
     I have this vision of the perfect workmate, the one who always does what he/she promised to do, or makes sure there is adequate forewarning and/or mitigation when the result won’t be forthcoming.
     This person never makes a promise without intending to keep it, and actually plans how to keep it. The person is 100 percent trustworthy. The person does not exist, but I have dreamed of being like that.
     The challenge is exemplified in a famous comment by Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician-philosopher: “I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter.”

     Good writing takes time. Even for people who have been doing it for a long time, successive re-readings reward the writer if they are disciplined to reduce wording, detect errors and improve clarity. The writing process, if its result is to be professional, includes thoughtful review as well as proper preparation.
     The person who intends to benefit from the rewards of excellent writing will devote time to learning and tuning the process, as well as applying it to each opportunity.
     Memos don’t take much time to prepare, organize, write and edit, but they can trip you up if you are careless with any part of that procedure. Longer assignments – reports, analyses, instructions, etc. – demand significantly greater concentration . . . and time.
     Developing high-level writing skills is an important requirement for success in many occupations. That competency does importantly include use of minimal time to produce maximum value – but perfecting the skills in itself takes a substantial amount of time. 

     Take relationships, for another example.
     Think of the people you like to work with, the ones who provide you with the most worthwhile partnerships and the most satisfactory outcomes. How does such a beneficial outcome occur?
     It comes through paying attention, getting to know each other, sharing thoughts and ideas, learning each other’s strengths and needs. That all takes time. You can’t speed-date  bonding.
     The more constructively the parties invest in their joint activities, the sooner they achieve that high level of collaboration. If one or both are too choked with must-do tasks, they don’t have time to build the relationship, so it remains much more limited.
     In a busy workplace, how can you manage this challenge?
     By “managing your time.” A high-priority challenge gets its proper attention in the right amount of time at the right place in your day/week/career.
     Actually, “time management” is a misnomer, since time just keeps ticking along without regard to anything we do. Your time goes by in its regular progression. It is what you do during any particular time period that matters. Calling it “priority management” might be a better practice.

     Whatever the label, it’s all up to us. And it all takes time.
     First, we must overcome our addiction to tasks. Our default attitude, all day long, is to do stuff the way we always have done. Something comes up – we react. Much of the time, our automated behavior is not going to be effective, but it’s our habit and that’s what we do.
     The first dose of the antidote is to be applied in advance. Think/plan/prepare. That includes anticipating what your week might bring, what any day might include. Have a specified set of expectations, with priority and risk among the considerations.
     You now have a template for your day, and you can match new incoming demands against it. What is this, and what your options? How important is it compared to what you were going to do instead? Should you act? Delegate? Negotiate?
     With practice and a little discipline, the decision can be made quickly.
     From the beginning and throughout, the process squeezes out indecision, delay, rework and misdirection.
     You invested a little time and saved a lot of time.

Interruptions & Disruptions



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