Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Life-changing discovery : many executives miss out on important things


Tess is my admin officer who is actually a creative person at heart. I encouraged her to develop her writing skills during the weekend. But she admitted that she devotes the free days to household chores.

So, I invited her to imagine a day five years from now. I envisioned she wouldn’t congratulate herself for having washed 5,000 clothes or having mowed the lawn 300 times. I suggested that there might be some work she can delegate to someone she can pay so that she can invest her time in her hidden passion. The money you spend you can recover, but time that has passed is gone forever.

I have nothing against showing love by doing chores and errands. But we also don’t want to grow old regretting all the missed opportunities.

My favorite exercise from leadership guru Stephen Covey is the one about time management. The seat work asks us to divide the things that we do into four quadrants : Q1 :urgent and important, Q2: important but not urgent, Q3. urgent but not important, Q4: not urgent and not important.*

Many people spend most of their time in Q1, urgent and important ,and in Q4, not urgent and not important. Examples of things both urgent and important are paying the bills, meeting clients' deadlines, doing what the boss asked us to do and doing household chores.

Watching tv, recreation and keeping social connections are important. But too much media and internet, excessive video gaming and too many nights going out will fall in Q4, not urgent and not important.

I tried this exercise among peers last week. My friends discovered they miss out a lot on things that are not urgent but are very important. What are these ?

Examples are quality time with the children, date with the spouse or partner, visiting or calling their parents, routine medical check-ups, re-connecting with relatives or special friends, cultivating other talents and skills, organizing family photos, reading a book, travelling, exercising, meditative prayer, serving the community or the church, among others. We also realized many of us don’t even find time to rest because we have been programmed to think that rest is unproductive.

We fail to give time to these things because they don’t have a deadline. We always tell ourselves “ I will do it one day soon” but we can all agree that they always get pushed back by things that have a deadline. One day we will realize that 20 years have passed and there are many things we can no longer bring back!

One person in our group work recognized the fact that some important things we neglect may suddenly become urgent, costly and life-threatening. For example, missed medical check-ups may make us develop a serious illness. Overlooking house maintenance may cause a fire.

In a Covey seminar, the instructor advised us to “protect our time like we protect our money.” This means putting important things first on the planner and asking people to respect our calendar. Our secretary should be our fiercest partner in defending the logbook !

Daniel Gilbert is a psychology professor at Harvard. In the book Stumbling on Happiness, he noted that people’s regrets are always of things we didn’t  have the time, the chance or the courage to do. Yet many of us spend a lot of our time on things we only need to do but don’t really want to.We commonly think that failures have been a waste of time. But in Gilbert’s research, people are less sorry for actions that turned out to be "mistakes" but  taught them some lesson.

In the book The Happiness Equation, bestselling author Neil Pasricha wrote that one of the secrets of happiness is doing things because we love them, not because of external rewards or what other people think. He proposed the Saturday morning test. He said that what we really love are those that we wish to be doing in the weekend. Think of things that you give you joy and a sense of purpose, so you don’t think he suggests spending the whole day in bed.

Pasricha observed that people normally procrastinate. If we are given two weeks to accomplish a task, we wait for two weeks before completing the work. So, he recommends setting shorter, self-imposed timelines on the urgent things. For example, if we were given two weeks, let’s target to finish in 1 week. That’s how we can create free space for our own interests.

David Allen is a professional consultant on time management. In the book Making it All Work, he advises that the first thing in time management is having a clear picture of our desired future.  With this, we can tell what things will get us there and which ones will bring us too far away.He also counsels us to stand firm on our personal values. It’s really our values that make us feel good about ourselves. There is no point in achieving our goals if we lose our values in the process.

This Holy Week break may be a good time to catch up on our bucket list. Then again, the important things need not wait for those once-a-year opportunities!


(*The website MindTools calls this the Eisenhower Principle based on how the former president used to organize his workload. 

 Read Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and First Things First by Stephen Covey and A. Roger Merrill. )

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