First Things First
“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” - Stephen Covey
Managing our time requires tough choices. That means that sometimes we may have to say NO to important activities in order to attend to even more important activities that will enable us to accomplish higher priorities.
When we embark on a journey and we aren't sure how to get there, we typically jot down travel directions. So why are we so resistant to jotting down personal or professional goals or choices that would provide a road map – or at least a compass -- for our lives?
I work with a lot of small business owners and professionals including coaches, consultants, doctors, lawyers, and CPAs. For those in the service industry, time IS money. To be profitable in their work, they must learn to limit their investment of time if there will be a limited return on that investment.
Of course, money is just one way to measure the returns. A “return on investment” of time may also yield an emotionally healthy and well-adjusted child, a deeply satisfying marriage, or a beautiful garden. The key is to get clear about what's most important to you, and then march forth!
Several years ago I was talking with someone at a business luncheon, and at the end of our conversation he wished me a happy March Forth. I considered this to be a bit odd at the time, but I didn't give it much more thought. A couple days later -- on March 4th -- I received a homemade card from him. The cover of the card contained a picture of a beautiful waterfall. The inside of the card read, "Thunderous and powerful, yet oh so beautiful! May your power within thunder out, as you march forth and realize all your dreams. Happy March Fourth ." It wasn't until I received his card that I caught the literary ploy.
Today, as I think about those words – march forth! – I also think about something my colleague, Harold Taylor, says: “Major projects will never be finished if they are never started. The key to getting things done is to get things started. Pick a date and time and stick to it.” In other words, march forth!
Author and coach, Cheryl Richardson, shares a technique that has made an enormous difference in both the success of her company and the quality of her life. Here's the technique:
In the morning when you start your workday, begin with the following question: What action do I most want to avoid doing today?
Once you have an answer to that question, do these two things:
1. Identify the cause of your resistance. For example, does the task feel too tedious or difficult to complete? Is it related to a goal that no longer serves you? Or, are you simply afraid?
2. If you are convinced that a task is, in fact, important, take this action right away.
I've always subscribed to the idea of tackling the most important tasks first. Cheryl Richardson's approach has a slight twist to it. Instead of asking what is most important, she suggests that we ask ourselves what we most want to avoid. By looking at what you most want to avoid, it will challenge you to consider whether or not the items on your "to-do" list are truly designed to move you toward an important goal. It will also keep you focused on the actions you really need to take rather than all the "busy work" you may otherwise get caught up in when trying to avoid something that feels uncomfortable or risky. If you determine that the task is indeed important, by doing it first you accelerate your progress.
I'll share a real-life example of how this works. I know the president of a major company who is looking for a consultant. I have a friend who does the kind of consulting work this company is looking for. I told the president about her, and he expressed interest in talking with her. I contacted my friend and told her that the president of the company wanted to talk with her. She had never worked with a company this size, so she was very nervous about placing the call. Each time she thought about making the call, she felt nervous and excited at the same time. She recognized that this was a task she most wanted to avoid, and she also knew it was the one task that could be most significant in terms of moving her closer to her goal. (My friend recently bought a new car and is very motivated to attract more consulting work so she can make the car payments.)
Many of us procrastinate around the things that matter most because of the anxiety they cause. Using this method requires some vulnerability on your part. There will be, on occasion, times where you are disappointed with the outcome. But would you rather waste time doing things that don't matter, or are you willing to take a risk! Cheryl Richardson reminds us of this: “Since there's a good chance that you'll live through disappointment or rejection, why not face your fears head on? You have far more to gain than you ‘think' you have to lose!”
Putting first things first, what's the next action you will take to help you march forth?
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