By Mark McCatty, Leadership & Team Advisor

When I was a kid, my only concern was with being able to play a little bit longer. Was it the same for you? Then, as we grew older our focus was to extend our curfew a little while longer. Later, we begin thinking about our future, career, our family and life goals. Suddenly, you say to yourself, “Another year already! Where did the time go?” And you find yourself beginning to pay more attention to commercials when they talk about relieving pain and living longer.

There are many reasons why people look back over their long – or short – life and feel like they have lost time. Time is easy to waste and there are a lot of reasons why this wastefulness happens. My favorite “reason” for lost time goes back to the story of the two farmers talking together. One farmer says to the other, “Hey, can I borrow your axe? I need to chop some trees.” The second farmer responds with a no because he’s making soup. Puzzled, the first farmer wonders out loud what making soup has to do with loaning out the axe. “Nothing,” the second farmer explains, “One excuse is as good as another.” Bottom line, it doesn’t matter how time passed so quickly without positive results. Any reason [excuse] will suffice.

We all feel overwhelmed with demands on ourselves and from others, at times. And when we feel like we must perform tasks and take actions that we fiercely don’t like we feel doubly frustrated. We spend time doing for others with little time left for ourselves. We spend long hours at work, and feel guilty about what family activities we are missing out on. Later, when we are away with the family, we can’t help but think about what is going on with work, that we should be a part of. When we are with family we wonder how long it will take us to catch up on our work, or maybe get things back on track. We aren’t living in the moment. And it seems we move from one crisis driven situation to another.

Here’s an interesting fact: 


Every time we say “yes” to something we say “no” to something else. When we choose to work on the lawn, we choose not to play golf. When we choose to play golf, we choose not to spend time with the family. When we choose to be with the family and not be at work. Every choice is in the direction of something, and at the same time, away from something else. The truth is, we are not forced to do anything. We always have the opportunity to choose. Some choices have hard consequences. But we have the ability to move in the direction of the consequences we can accept.

One factor that impacts how we utilize time was made popular by Steven Covey. It is the idea that activities can be urgent/important. The concept is that activities are either important and bring value and as such, are worth doing. Or they are unimportant, not worthy of investing our time in. At the same instance these same important/unimportant activities are either urgent in that there is a rush to do them, or a call to action. Or these activities are not urgent, with no drive compelling us to complete them.  And so, consciously, or not, we go about doing important/unimportant, urgent/not urgent activities. The key to understanding this notion is to acknowledge that our greatest value comes from acting deliberately and to focus our energies on the important activities of our life. These are activities that bring the greatest return, and keep us out of the crisis/fire-fighter mode. For the leader, I believe these high-value activities include improving people and improving process.

When we feel overcome by crushing demands or hamstrung by irrefutable forces, we should bear in mind some universal truths of time investment.

·         Truth #1: We have a choice. Sometimes the choices are not easy or pleasant. But there is still a choice. We decide what we will invest the precious resource of our time on.

·         Truth #2: We cannot meet every demand that is placed upon us. It is impossible to make everybody happy. So, to please one group, is to displease another. We must decide who it is that we will choose to please. To do this, we must be very centered. We must know who we are, and what our mission and purpose is. Our important activities must support and drive our Why.

·         Truth #3: We should realistically review our boundaries. It is possible to construe a suggestion as a rule. Just because this is the way it has always been done, or the way others have done it, does not mean that it cannot be done differently. The hope for a better tomorrow can only come through growth today. Growth requires change. Don’t let unrealistic constraints restrict growth and limit the value gained from wisely used time.

Our success and our happiness can be attained through accomplishment. Our success is determined by the quality of our accomplished results. And our well-being is bolstered by a sense of worthy contribution. When we use our time wisely and create value from the important activities we participate in, we enjoy a sense of fulfillment. When we help others find their purpose, their calling, and support others to utilize their strengths wisely through focused time management, they gain that sense of accomplishment, too. That ability to lead and influence others can bring about better outcomes and greater personal fulfillment. This distinguishes beneficial coaching from goal-focused manipulation. Be a better leader, not a better manipulator.

Mark McCatty - Leadership & Team Advisor – Subscribe to get current updates

Improving Leadership ROI