About my writing: My passion is to develop leaders who have eternity in mind with Jesus as their guide. To that end, I write about two topics. The first is leadership and character development. The second is Biblical principles through the lens of a leader.
The insightful time management thought leader Peter Drucker says, “Nothing else distinguishes effective executives as much as their tender loving care of time.” We must remember this powerful principle and make it our life-long goal to grow in managing time effectively.
In this article, I want to share one powerful principle with you regarding time management—namely, what to do if you have limited time to accomplish many items on your to-do or to-think list.
Here is a common scenario leaders often face: Hypothetically, let’s say you have 10 tasks to complete which require a total of three hours, but you only have one hour available. Which of the 10 items do you choose to do?
The wrong answers to this question include:
- Remove items from your list. While sometimes an option exists to delete what is unnecessary, this example assumes all 10 items are necessary and cannot be removed, which is often the situation we find ourselves in as leaders.
- Delegate. We need to delegate, build leaders, and learn to trust them. However, for the sake of this exercise, let’s say all 10 items must be done by you, because again as leaders, we often find ourselves in such situations.
- Do the tasks more efficiently. We may be tempted to solve this problem by saying, I can do all 10 things more efficiently and finish them in one hour instead of three. I propose that while being efficient is key, and we can always improve our skills in that area, let’s agree that realistically, reducing the time for completion is not possible here.
The answer is: We must leave a few items undone. But which ones? To determine which items to leave for another time, implement the following guidelines:
- It’s okay for something to suffer. For the longest time, I refused to surrender to this idea. Ultimately though, I have learned that at a certain rate of growth, we will not have time to do all we need to do. You may ask, can I reach a point at which nothing suffers? If you develop systems and people around you, and if you stop growing and challenging yourself, you may possibly reach a point at which you can catch up with all you wish to do. I have never, and doubt that any of us have ever, completely finished all that we wanted to accomplish. It’s just not a reality for engaged, active leaders. Many times we attach our success to finishing our task list. We make it the goal of our life. Finishing tasks helps us achieve our goals, but completing our task list should not be our end goal. Rather, our goal in life is to effectively live out God’s purpose for us.
- Follow this list in order, or by priority, when choosing what to do with your time. It is impossible to have a formula that works in every situation. This is the formula I try to follow as best as I can. Adopt mine, or make up your own, but I urge you to employ a method of selecting what to do with your time when you don’t have time to finish everything.
- Physical, spiritual, and emotional health.
If my body, spirit, and mind are not in a good place, I will not be at my best to lead. On an ideal day, what would be your routine to care for your physical, spiritual, and emotional health? For me currently, it is going to the gym, then spending time studying the Bible and in prayer, then reviewing my growth notes and reading. When I do these things first, I set up my day for success. I think better. I work better.
- Life moments that should not be missed.
I am Dad to Luke and Emmy, one-year-old twins, and Danny, our four-year-old. There are precious moments in their lives that I should not miss. I am not saying I will be at every game, every event, and every important occasion. That is impossible for a leader. However, I endeavor to key in to special milestones that will bond me and endear me to the people I love. And while I am on this topic, remember the best gift you can give your kids is the gift of your time—particularly when you are healthy, emotionally available, and focused on them. What are the important moments you want to be present for in your life?
- Items that if remain undone will result in irreparable legal, financial, or relational impacts.
Be careful to keep this list small. It must be kept to maybe two or three items per day that if not done will cause big damage.
- Items that will unlock long-term potential.
This is the secret sauce to real forward progress. Dedicate time to think or do the projects that Stephen Covey calls “important and non-urgent” (Quadrant II), or Gary Kelly refers to as “the one thing.” What are one or two things, that if you do them, will make everything better? These are not urgent tasks, but extremely important ones. Do you keep a list of such problems to unlock? For me, these find their place on my to-think list.
- Tasks that if not done will annoy people and worry me.
This is our normal to-do list. I recommend breaking down this list into layers of urgency. This level of importance and urgency is a bit higher than the following level. Make it a habit to reread and reprioritize your to-do list daily. It is extremely important and worth the 10-20 minutes it requires each day. Allow me to interject something here that may seem controversial. My goal in life as a leader is not to please those around me. My goal is not to make people around me say, “Oh wow, he answered my message right way,” or, “He answers his emails right away.” My goal in life is to accomplish the things that lead me to my purpose. Now, I give priority to the people who report to me, to the people I report to, and I give priority to my wife. As for everyone else? I do what I can with the time that I have. So, I may not be the most responsive to texts and emails, but so be it. This is the price of being effective. I dictate my time and how I spend it, not others around me who demand things of me. I am not implying that we burn bridges, rather that we intentionally prioritize the messages we receive and the tasks before us.
- Things that I need or would love to get done.
These are the lesser priority tasks, but still ones that need to be completed.
When I am not intentional, I start executing randomly without a plan. I jump into whatever feels most urgent in the moment. Without a plan and careful forethought, I start with #5—Tasks that if not done will annoy people and worry me. I skip the first four guidelines, the more important guidelines.
Bottom line: If we are not intentional about how we spend our time, we will not be intentional how about how we spend our life. Meaning, if we are not planning our time carefully, our life as a whole will not be one that achieved our purpose.