Time Management: Real Life is Never Too Busy

My mother would be surprised to hear me say so, but she’s really a very wise person. She said something to me the other day that I thought deserved an article just to expand on it.

She said, “Life is always too busy. We’ve always got too much to do. But we’ve got to do the important stuff and stop trying to do all the other stuff we don’t have time for. It’s just a distraction from real life.”

Gee, I wish I’d said that.

So many time management tips fall under the categories of “organization” or “prioritization.” Too few fall under the category of “real purpose” or “authentic living.”

Mom put her finger right on the core issue for most of us: we don’t have enough time because we’re not living our real lives.

• We’re living on artificial schedules developed by other people. Schedules that don’t fit our needs.
• We’re living by the clock rather than our natural cycles. We may need to use clocks to coordinate our activities with one another. But do we have to schedule everything right down to the absolute minute? Did you know that people who wear watches die years earlier than people who don’t? Did you know that stress is called the “hurry-up disease?”
• We’re doing what others think we ought to be doing rather than what we must be doing to live by our own standards.
• We’re acting without purpose and direction.
• We’re trying to be fulfilled by artificial means. (Like texting instead of sitting down together and having a real conversation, face to face, with someone you care for.)

All this isn’t about some existential philosophy. Or Zen outlook. Living authentically is a basic necessity of high performance and high productivity.

The antidote to our rushing around trying to do too many things in too little time is being true to ourselves and fulfilling our actual human needs. Not trying to live some fantasy lives based on impossible standards. Living authentically, in terms of busy-ness, time management, procrastination, performance and productivity means:

• Considering our highest desires and making sure we are doing what we can to meet them. And this is possible because our true desires are reasonable. Most of us want simple things like enough financial wherewithal and material things to take care of us. Good friends and loved ones. Enough time to sleep and eat and have leisure. Time to play and have fun.
• Considering times, schedules and organization that fit our natural cycles, rather than disrupt them.
• Considering our strengths and weaknesses, so we can emphasize work that we do best and get help in areas where we are weak.
• Considering our own characters, our basic natures — our essential selves. Our moral selves. What we can and will do based on our natures. (Remember the old saying about the leopard not being able to change its spots?)
• Considering the restrictions of our current conditions: physical, psychological, social, economic, environmental. How much freedom do we really have to act? For example, no matter how much multi-tasking we do, we can’t be in two places at the same time. Do we have the knowledge and/or skill to do our tasks? Are there people blocking our abilities to achieve?

These are the considerations of our real lives.

Think about a mom with a scheme for how she can get her kids from soccer practice to the movies and still have time to make deviled eggs for Aunt Matilda’s afternoon tea, while taking a business meeting on a smart phone, in between bouts of dictation into her digital recorder regarding the latest reports on a shipment from China.

That’s crazy enough to be the subject of a Stephen King story. Yet it describes fairly usual thinking about how we organize and run our lives and times.

Let’s get real. We’ll find we have enough time to do everything we need.

Using SWOT Analysis To Improve Planning, Action and Decision-Making

Image by Xhienne, courtesy of Creative Commons
Are you familiar with SWOT analysis? It’s been a while since I’ve heard someone use the term. At one time, it was quite the buzz-word in strategic planning. Of course, “strategic planning” was also a popular term for a while, but not so much right now.

It’s not that strategic planning and analyses aren’t done. It’s just that there are constantly new “meta” concepts that encompass them. Putting aside whatever the new management consultant fad terms and concepts are, SWOT is an acronym for a process of analyzing an undertaking of any sort by looking at Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

It’s a very simple and helpful tool.

When I first ran across the term, I used it for my clients in psychotherapy. It was very handy in working out what was going on in relationships. So, I’m going to give you an example of how I used it to help a young woman figure out what she wanted to do about her affair with a married man. Here’s the way she worked it out:

Strengths of the relationship: Kind, loving man. Good companionship. Many shared interests. Emotionally and financially supportive.

Weaknesses: Partner committed to another. Partner’s time, attention and affections are split. Unlikely that partner will leave current family. Unlikely that partner will want children from affair. Affairs are temporary in nature.

Opportunities: Continued affair brings emotional satisfaction. Continued affair prevents loneliness. Continued affair provides financial support beyond current earning ability.

Threats: If caught, partner can lose family. If caught, both reputations can be damaged at work. If caught, both can lose jobs. Even if not caught, there is considerable worry and strain. The temporary nature of affairs is a constant heartache. The longer the financial support, the longer the procrastination in developing better skills and employment. The longer the affair, the longer and deeper the dependency.

How hard is it to see what the decision must be, based on such an analysis. My client called a halt to the affair. She also found a better job elsewhere. Later, she found love with someone who could be committed to her.

SWOT analysis is easy to do and applies to any endeavor in any field. It was designed for business. But, you can see it would work in science, engineering, medical decisions or just about anywhere else you might want to apply it.

Let’s bring SWOT analysis back into vogue. The below image by Xhienne through Creative Commons shows the SWOT analysis in a matrix format. Many people find using that format preferable to the list style I used above:

If you want to learn some more about it, start with the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SWOT_analysis

Halloween, Adult Play, Stress Management and Higher Performance

Happy Halloween!

Last year at Halloween I wrote a fairly long blog about the positive effects that celebrating this madcap “holiday” has on productivity and performance in the workplace. You can read it here.

Since I’ve been thinking about a series of posts on “play in the workplace,” I thought today might be a good time to “recycle” the post by encouraging you to read it and introduce a couple of ideas about how adult play of various kinds can affect workplace relationships, goodwill toward the organization, customer or client interest and interactions, stress reduction, creativity, innovation, performance, productivity and a host of other workplace issues.

The Halloween article from 2010 reminded me of how important play is in creating a better social atmosphere, especially one of cooperation among teams and coworkers — it’s rather like “recess” for adults. Why do we understand that kids can only tolerate so much focus on work and the strictures of the classroom and need regular breaks to play and socialize with other kids, but don’t apply that understanding to adults? It’s not just a child’s need. It’s a human need at all ages.

Recently, I was writing an article, A High Performance and Productivity Secret: Take A Break. I also was reminded by that article of the role which play has in breaking hyperfocus, tension and creativity blocks. I said in the article that the “rule of thumb” is that you have a forty minutes maximum ability to effectively concentrate on one idea or task. After that, performance and productivity go downhill.

Considering the long periods of focus most of us apply to our work, we are in great need of play breaks. Play breaks help sweep away mental cobwebs and give us new and creative perspectives when we return to work.

Play and fun are serious tools in creating better performance and higher productivity.

While I was researching what others have been doing with the idea of play, I came across a great video on exactly that subject from TED. I’ve embedded it below. Enjoy.