The Startup
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It’s Not Lack of Time, It’s Lack of Priorities

Many times, I reach out to potential clients to see if they’d like to have an exploratory conversation and they tell me that they’re too busy. We act like being busy is a badge of honor that makes us look and feel important. From my point of view, it just means that we’re poor at prioritizing our lives.

I’ve been there. Back in my twenties, I would cram as much as I could in a day, sometimes working 14–16 hours a day, sleeping only 4–5 hours a night, because I was ‘important’. I was Vice President at a technology firm, and they needed me (or so I deluded myself into believing). I wanted others to see how valuable I was to the firm.

It wasn’t until I nearly died in a motorcycle accident when I was thirty three years old that I stepped back to really evaluate my life. I realized that I had it all wrong.

We All Have The Same 24 Hours a Day

Everybody has the same amount of time. Do you have less time than Elon Musk? Mark Zuckerberg? Richard Branson? Look at what they are accomplishing with the exact amount of time that you and I have.

According to Jim Kwik, most CEOs and executives read about a book a week. These are some of the busiest people I know, yet they choose to prioritize investing in their learning by consuming a book a week. How many books have you read in the past year?

Time and energy are our true resources. We exchange them for money, relationships, and experiences. We are exchanging a slice of our life for anything we get. How valuable is each slice to you?

What is important to you?

Prioritizing your life means becoming unbusy. In his book, “Good to Great”, Jim Collins says that if you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any. As we learn to unclutter our lives by eliminating non-priorities, we free up our time to focus on what matters to us.

Clarity is power. Are you clear on the priorities in your life? Do you allocate the right amount of time to accomplish what you need to with your priorities?

Looking at it another way, I’ve heard it said that what we spend our time on is what our priorities are. If you were to keep track of your time, would it be in alignment with your priorities?

Learning To Say No

In his book on essentialism, Greg McKeown states that when you say yes to something, you say no to something else, and vice versa. By having few and clear priorities, you are able to say no more easily. If it’s not an absolute yes that can help you achieve your priorities, it’s a no.

Many times, we overburden ourselves with tasks instead of focusing on outcomes. The danger with doing this is that when we complete a task (essential or not), our brain gives us a shot of dopamine and it makes us feel good. When we learn to prioritize outcomes, then we can spend our time on those things that provide the results that are in alignment with our priorities.

If something is not a clear yes that will bring you closer to your goals, then it is a no. The clearer we get on our priorities, the clearer we get on our yeses.

Investing in Ourselves

Prioritizing ourselves first allows everything else in our lives to become better. In his book “15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management”, author Kevin Kruse shares that one secret is that successful people wake up early and give themselves an hour for mental, physical and spiritual health. My morning ritual includes meditation, prayer, exercise, journaling, gratitude list, reading at least 10 pages in a book, an act of service, and planning my most important daily tasks.

Creating a mental, physical and spiritual balance is important. While they are separate aspects of who we are, they are interdependent.

Maximizing Our Time and Energy

Not all time is created equal. Sometimes, our energy levels are higher than others. For me, my mornings are my high energy times. I do my daily ritual and plan my most important tasks when my energy is highest. I do more menial tasks or have meetings in the afternoons, when my energy is not as high and the task doesn’t require it.

Another thing that has proven to be beneficial for me is batching, or consolidating similar tasks. I like to also batch by days. For me, Monday and Wednesday are primarily my coaching days. I use Tuesday and Thursday to focus on big projects. Friday is my writing and strategy day.

Focus creates efficiency as well. There is no such thing as multitasking when it comes to focus. When we can focus on one thing at a time, without distraction, we become more productive. One tool that I use is the Pomodoro technique. I have a timer on my computer that I use. I name a task, click start, and it gives me 25 minutes to focus. Then I get a 5 minute break.

Our environment plays another role in maximizing our time and energy. A clean, clutter free environment helps create a clean, clutter free mind.

Focus on Outcomes, Not Tasks

An outcome is a specific goal or direction. A task is an action. An outcome is made up of a bunch of tasks, but a task may not provide the outcome we are looking for. As we focus on outcomes, we can become more efficient in the types of tasks that we choose to do.

When we complete a task, our body gives a shot of dopamine, which makes us feel good. Even if the task provides no value in getting closer to our goal, our brain rewards us. That’s part of the danger in being task-oriented. When we are outcome-focused, we complete tasks and get our dopamine, but we also have a higher-level emotional drive on why we are completing our tasks.

When I was in sales, my goal was to hit my yearly sales number by October. My reward for doing that is that I could either spend the last two months of the year in vacation mode, or I could continue to sell and hit the higher bonus numbers for more money. The outcome I wanted was clear, so the tasks I chose to do were those that helped me reach my goal.

If there are any tasks that you are doing on a daily basis that aren’t driving you closer to your priorities, are you willing to let them go?

Planning Free Time

Recovery and growth happen during rest. If you go to they gym and work out, your muscles grow after the workout, during recovery. The same thing happens with our minds. We can stay busy all day doing tasks, but our real growth occurs when we step back and look at the big picture to connect the dots. After reading a book or an article, do you step back and think about how to apply it into your life? Do you daydream about new ways to achieve your goals?

Free time for me includes play time. It includes time in serving others, enjoying a hobby, or getting in nature. This time is a valuable investment in ourselves.

Bringing It Together

Have you ever noticed how some people seem to get a lot done and it seems effortless, while others slave away and barely achieve anything? Those who understand the secrets of time and energy leverage them to their advantage. These include:

  • Prioritizing their life
  • Learning to say no
  • Maximizing their time and their personal flow of energy
  • Focusing on outcomes and not tasks
  • Planning free time for recovery and growth

I would much rather have somebody tell me that them investing in themselves with a coach like me is a lower priority in their life right now than to tell me that they’re too busy. But then again, they may be too ‘busy’ because they haven’t chosen to invest in themselves and have decided to let life live them instead of them living their own lives.

As we choose to take control of our lives, we get to evaluate what is important to us and what actions will provide the greatest results. This activity alone may be the best investment of time you could make today.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 318,120+ people.

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