To drive home a point, he used an illustration they would never forget. As the man stood in front of the group, he said, "Okay, time for a quiz." Then he pulled out a one-gallon wide-mouth jar and sat it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-size 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 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 it and shook the jar, causing the pieces of gravel to work themselves down the spaces between the big rocks. Then he asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?"
By this time the class was on to him. "Probably not," one of them answered. "Good." He replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in, and it went in all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question. "Is the 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's 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 really try 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."
Which immediately made me stop and scratch my chin. What are YOUR big rocks? Some project that you want to get done? More time with loved ones? More attention to your faith? How about our education? Maybe your financial status? Some Charity you support? A chance to teach or mentor others? These ARE the big rocks and they DO go in first, or you'll never get them in at all.
So tonight when you’re home watching Hawaii Five O or in the morning over coffee, when you reflect on this short story, ask yourself this question, What are the big rocks in my life or business?
You have to put those in your jar first.
And the key to doing that is learning to manage your time. (I can literally envision staff members rolling their eyes right now….)
Well, here’s the “thing” Bubba….Time management is THE critical skill for an effective life. As Peter Drucker pointed out, time is basic. Unless you manage it, you’ll never manage anything else.
Despite all the books, CDs, and seminars that are available on the topic, the real key to making good use of your time consists of practicing just three simple steps. Yup…just 3.
I gave this a lot of thought, so… Ready?
First, decide what's most important to you.
Second, set your goals and adjust your priorities to do what's most important to you.
And third, you have to develop good habits to do what's most important, most efficiently.
It really doesn't matter if you're a student, an employee, a small-business owner or running a Fortune 500 CEO. In fact, it doesn't matter whether we’re talking about a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a year, or your whole lifetime. It has no bearing on how much you think have to do and how little time you think you have to do it. If you make it a habit to practice those three simple steps, you’re going to make great use of your time.
I’m reminded of something appropriate that journalist Sydney Harris once said, "Winners focus; losers spray."
So, look at that first step again. Learning how to set those lifetime goals. Those are the big rocks. You also need to set some sort of intermediate goal and write a plan to help you achieve one or more of your lifetime goals. That's the second step. The important part of this first step is learning the techniques and tactics for achieving goals efficiently, without being hassled, rushed, or constrained. We'll get to that shortly, so don’t rush me…
Ok, let’s take a moment and answer a very important question: Why are so many of us pressed for time? The short answer is because we try to do too much and spread ourselves too thin.
A number of major changes in society and technology have converged to create a world where we assume that time is a scarce resource.
First, there's the changing role of women in society. Looking back, men's and women's roles were pretty well defined. Dad was the wage earner, and Mom stayed home and took care of the house. But today women are oftentimes the wage earners, homemakers, soccer moms, cooks, community volunteers, and a plethora of other roles. All those roles compete for our time and energy. As a one time-starved corporate executive jokingly told her husband, "We sure could use a wife."
Another significant change has been the necessary trend of corporate restructuring, where your entire workforce probably has been downsized, but the workload has not. Those left to do the work, work longer hours to get the same work done. There’s no shame in it. It’s the way things are now, but it does place the burden of having to compensate for it on everyone in the organization.
A third major change is the blurring of the line between work and the rest of our lives. Thanks largely to this Blackberry on my hip for instance, the distinction between work time and non-work time is much less clear. More of us are working from/at home with every passing year. I have a home office. Why? Cell phones, digital assistance, voicemail, and laptops keep us continuously tapping away and on tap for those at work who need to reach us. Welcome to the workday that never ever ends.
Finally, there's the emergence of a free-agent economy. Instead of steady employment, which we all strive to have, work comes without a guaranteed future income. In my mind, this creates a make-money-while-you-can mentality. Sure you want to see your daughter in the school play or attend that baseball game your son is playing in, but you've been offered this incredible amount of money to work on some big project out of town for the next two weeks. It's just too good for you to turn down. Hey, It could lead to more work! And another opportunity this good may not come along for a long time. And blah, blah, blah, blah, yada, yada yada…
But, despite all this, one simple overwhelming truth still remains:
None of those changes and circumstances can enter your life without your permission.
All the roles you feel compelled to fill are there because you chose them. I’m am just about as guilty of this as anyone I know. All the things you have to get done are there because you agreed to do them. All the high-tech gadgets that make you always available are there because you allow them. All the long hours you put in at work are put in with your cooperation. With all the economic, societal, and technological changes, it's still a free country. In the final analysis, how you choose to spend your time is up to you.
The simple truth here is that time is totally unmanageable and uncontrollable. It’s going to plod along at the same unfaltering pace of 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, regardless of whatever we do or say. So, what we call time management is really self-management, isn’t it?
The great paradox of time itself is that nobody has enough, but everybody has all there is to get!
While life may seem unfair about a great many things, there is no question it’s fair when it comes to time. We all get the exact same 24 hours in a day to play with.
And if I may, I think there's a paradox of self-management, too:
The way to get more done is to do less better. Yeah, I like that. The way to get more done is to do less….better.
The more you try to be all things to all people, the greater are the odds you'll end up being nobody to everybody. The more things you try to do, the less are the odds of your doing any one of them extremely well.
Instead of scattering your efforts like buckshot from a shotgun, concentrate with a sniper rifle. Remember the 80/20 rule, and invest the bulk of your time in the few activities with the highest payoffs.
I can readily think of two traps you should avoid to make good use of time. Let’s assume you've made a commitment to invest your time actively. You've decided what's most important and are working to achieve your lifetime goals. In the shuffle of daily activities, you need to be alert for these two significant time traps because they'll cost you dearly if you let them.
The first trap is confusing activity with productivity. There's an enormous difference between doing busy work and actually getting results. In fact, people have a tendency to be the busiest when they're the least secure about what they should be doing. An old saying from the French Foreign Legion says, "When in doubt, gallop."
It has always amazed me at how those who were seen running around like crazy and staying late at night or who busily rushed from meeting to meeting were perceived as being highly productive. I once had a rep who came in every day at 7 a.m. and rarely left the office until 9 p.m. A lot of people thought she was very dedicated because of all the face time. But In fact, he spent most of that time surfing the internet and particularly certain websites that too me months to get cleaned off of the computers. I recall an old saying that says, "An ounce of image is worth a pound of performance."
The second trap is always confusing urgency with importance. There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t have things to do and things that happen. Some of them are urgent; some are important. A few are both, and some are neither.
Here's a very important point to remember: Urgent things are seldom important, and important things are seldom urgent.
When we start to confuse the two, we end up responding to everything that's urgent as if it's important.
And what's truly important gets ignored.
Speeding to get to a luncheon appointment on time is urgent. Getting there safely is important.
Rushing to finish a job under a tight deadline is urgent. Doing a quality job is important.
Working endless hours to get your career or your business off the ground is urgent. Making time to exercise, eat properly, and get enough rest is important.
Making the sale is urgent. Building a business on great service and repeat customers is important.
Feeling compelled to own that hot new sports car or take an expensive vacation is urgent. Saving and investing to get to the winner's circle is important.
Responding to the Tyrant that is named “Urgent” is an almost always surefire recipe for less wealth and more stress. It's a key reason why so many of us are in a time/money trap.
We passively turn the other cheek and allow what's urgent to dictate how our time and money are spent, while the less urgent and more important items get neglected. Sooner or later, important items left unattended become urgent and important. They're called crisis. Health crisis, money crisis, family crisis. Most can be prevented with a little planning, forethought, and preventive action. Problems rarely rise to the crisis level without warning.
Choose to spend your time doing what's really important, and shield yourself from urgent but unimportant distractions. It was Dwight Eisenhower who made the comment about urgent things being seldom important and important things seldom being urgent.
People who reach the winner's circle don't work harder, they work smarter.
You’re just as capable of doing that as they are. You have as much right to be in the winner’s circle as they do. Believe it.
Success doesn't hinge on how much you work; it depends on how intelligently you work.
Making effective use of your time isn't running around with a stopwatch or becoming a compulsive time nut. Rather, it's a way of managing your life to achieve fulfillment and personal freedom.
Thanks for taking the time out of your race to the circle to read this…