Striking balance in the tempest

If you ask anyone today if they spend enough time working on the things that are truly important, you will invariably get the same reply…“Of course not”.  The real question isn’t so much “why?”…as in, “Why aren’t people being more purposeful with their time?”  The real question is “how?”  How do people strike a balance between the urgent and the important when there is so much that needs to be done?

There is one camp of folks who might answer simply, “multitask”.  To keep up with all the demands on our time and attention today, people must develop the ability to stay focused on important matters all the while responding to 100+ emails per day, instant messages, text messages, voicemail, tweets, and occasionally even the good old memo.  To those people, I would suggest they stop kidding themselves.  Multitasking is a myth, and evidence suggests that we are lousy at maintaining multiple thoughts or work streams simultaneously.

Others would say, it’s all about time management.  Aligning our actions with our priorities.  Staying focused and methodical about working through our to-do’s.  That camp says “Don’t let anything take you off your path”, as though you are a robot in need of better programming, and the rest of the world can just take a number.

The fact is, a lot of demands on our time and attention are not planned, and they really are urgent.  Priority or not, they require our involvement, and we would be hard-pressed to carve out a whole day to ourselves.

The trick is simply to accept this fact.  Most of us get pulled into situations that require our attention.  We don’t control all of our time.  And if no one requires our attention, our jobs might be at risk!

So when it comes to achieving a high level of effectiveness, investing time on the things that matter most, and making progress toward meaningful goals, it helps to strike a balance between proactive and reactive time.

Proactive Time

How much time can you block out, unapologetically, each week to be proactive?  4 hours a day?  Hardly.  If that is only 3 or 4 hours a week, fine.  Imagine the impact you could make on your life and your organization if you dedicated that time every week to the biggest, wildest, absolutely most important aspects of your life or work.

And remember, for long term goals, it isn’t 3 or 4 hours per week that matters, it is the 150-200 hours per year.  Time enough to get well-read on a topic, develop exprtise, become a thought leader, and develop an opinion.  Time enough to read the Bible all the way through, learn a new language, grow a relationship, or develop a skill.

The same is true for the small stuff that doesn’t amount to much on any given day, but over time flares up if left unattended.  Carve out a little time each week for maintenance activities that would otherwise never make it on your calendar.  Fix the printer, file those papers, answer that survey, take back that ugly sweater.

Blocking a little time each week for junk prevents it from ever piling up.  It also gives your subconscious a boost when that stuff flares up, begging for your attention.  Rather than let it take you off track, automatically file it for that hour each Thursday afternoon when you do “junk stuff”.

Try these practices.  Use irunurun to hold yourself accountable for doing it consistently, and watch as the amount of purposeful time in your life begins to expand.