All my life, I’ve had lots of energy. I love to be up and about and doing. I have that in common with many entrepreneurs and high achievers. And maybe it’s just a human thing. When something happens, we feel better when we can do something. Even if it’s just make a cup of tea, at least we are doing something.
The more hectic, the more unpredictable and volatile our world becomes, the more we are drawn to doing. There’s a hack for everything and it seems we are looking for ways to be more efficient, to get more done, to accomplish more in less time than ever before.
Of course we need to do things, especially when we lead a business or a team. We have to get stuff done because often, we’re it. At times, there’s no one we can delegate to.
While that is all true, sometimes, this tendency to do more, louder, faster, isn’t effective. Sometimes, we have to go slow.
A case in point. I started writing this blog in early July.
I knew July was going to be a busy and fairly intense month. It turned out to be much busier and far more intense than I had imagined and here we are in early August.
Life happened and I had two choices. Fight it or flow with it.
In the end, I chose flow with it. It didn’t always feel good in the moment. I spent a lot of time paying close attention to my internal chatter because I was ridiculously hard on myself because I wasn’t perfect. Another thing I have in common with much of humanity.
Here’s the hard truth. I got the same result by accepting and flowing with the events and pace of my life in July as I would have if I fought it. By that I mean, I would still be writing this early August. The only real difference is that I would have been more stressed, more irritable, less effective and way less happy if I fought the pace of life instead of flowing with it. By flowing with it, I made sure I had the time, focus and energy for those critically important issues and I didn’t exhaust myself or exacerbate the situation.
We can’t control or even manage time. The only thing we have any control over at all are the choices we make. That means we can prioritise. Stephen Covey divided activities into 4 quadrants:
Quadrant 1 – Urgent and Important
Deadline driven projects, crises, pressing problems
Quadrant 2 – Not Urgent and Important
Relationship building, new opportunities, planning, wellbeing & recreation
Quadrant 3 – Urgent and Not Important
Interruptions, other people’s deadlines, some calls, emails, meeting
Quadrant 4 – Not Urgent and Not Important
Busy work, time wasters
People who spend a minimum of 20% of their time in Quadrant 2, doing those activities that are not urgent and important, are significantly more effective and most importantly, are able to sustain a high level of performance over a very long period of time.
Where do you spend your time? I’m willing to bet if you feel overwhelmed, like there is too much to do, not enough time and not enough you to go around, you are spending the majority of your time in Quadrant 3 or Quadrant 1.
Here’s my suggestion. Get a piece of paper and divide it into Covey’s 4 quadrants. Look at your typical day, typical week. Plot the major activities that consume most of your time, thoughts and energy into the appropriate quadrant. Then step back and look at it.
If you are spending at least 20% of your time in Quadrant 2, pour yourself your favourite beverage and raise a toast to yourself. You are in the minority of people who actually work effectively.
If you’re in the majority and you’re spending most of your time in Quadrants 3 and/or 1, give serious consideration to how you can shift that to spend more time in Q2, working up to that minimum 20% of the time.
Use your calendar. Block time in your calendar to get the most critical Q2 activities done and resist the urge to ditch them when something that feels more urgent but probably isn’t, comes along.
This tool, Covey’s Time Management Matrix, has been around for over 30 years now. This is not ground breaking, earth shattering or the newest latest and greatest hack. Learning to function this way is not a hack at all. It’s a habit and habits take time, patience and commitment to develop. I have been teaching clients how to function in the world like this since the late ’80’s.
Here’s why it’s worthwhile bringing forward now. We were all busy and stressed 2 years ago. We didn’t have enough time, money or people before the global pandemic. After almost 2 years of lockdowns and chaos, with a 4th wave surging, we really need, even more than we did before, to turn within, learn to listen to the wisdom of our bodies and develop habits that enable us to sustain a high level of performance, regardless of the environment outside of us. Learning to be effective and living in flow is far more important than feeling efficient in the moment.
You are important. You are a leader somewhere in your life. If you run out of energy, who is going to fill the gap left by you?
Keep shining brightly. The world needs all the light we can give right now.