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Author's profile photo Debora de Souza

Coach’s Corner – Time Can’t be Managed, So Learn to Invest It!

Arrive at work…Get coffee…Reply to emails…Go to meetings…Be productive.

That’s generally the plan, right? Although, in reality, our days many times look more like this: arrive late to work (forgot to stop at the gas station yesterday!), on the way to the coffee machine a colleague wants to start a conversation (no time, late for a meeting!), finally get to the meeting (late!) coffee cup in hand (cold!), multitask reading emails and listening to the meeting (need to catch up on work!), back at our desk to start working on a presentation, phone rings (customer, need to answer!), ok, back to presentation, Skype pop up – the Boss – where’s the quarterly report? Stop everything, start quarterly report, phone rings – boss’ assistant – “Hey, is the presentation done? …”

Many things make demands on our time. Our mistake is believing we can manage time. Time can’t be managed. Time goes on continuously and relentlessly… the only thing we can manage is how we invest our time! My relationship with TIME and my TO DO LIST changed dramatically after I read the book “The Five Choices to Extraordinary Productivity”, printed by Franklin Covey Co. The authors’ main message in this book is to stop firefighting our life and make purposeful decisions, by making five choices and acting on them:

  1. Act on the Important; Don’t React to the Urgent
  2. Go for the Extraordinary; Don’t Settle for Ordinary
  3. Schedule the Big Rocks, Don’t Sort Gravel
  4. Rule Your Technology; Don’t Let It Rule You
  5. Fuel Your Fire, Don’t Burn Out

All five choices are very useful, but I want to focus on the two that helped me most: numbers 1 and 3. As a Support Team Manager at SAP I have many responsibilities and many people come to me for help and guidance. I would always put other people first. I never wanted to be the cause of someone else’s task being delayed. I only realized that this policy wasn’t really helping other people when I took on the task of creating a training for my team. I’ve probably confused you now, right? How can helping others not be helping?

Putting others’ requests first meant that I was constantly being interrupted in my daily work, which would then accumulate on my TO DO list to be continued the next day. But, the next day there would be more requests. Sure, there were various hours each week in between requests where I could get some of my own work done, but the interruptions took my attention away from the task at hand. On coming back, many times, I didn’t remember where I was and had to start over or review the whole thing to remember what the next step was supposed to be, which meant it took more time to complete everything.

Many of my deliverables were needed by other people, so my behavior was impacting my team and colleagues. On one hand I was helping, but on the other, I was also causing delays. The book helped me realize that I was frequently reacting to what came at me, instead of acting on what was really important – for me, my team, and my organization.

At least two months had gone by since we decided to create the training, but I hadn’t gotten anything done yet! In my head it was one of the most important things I had to do, but my actions weren’t showing it. In reality, my actions kept kicking it down the list, to that place where all the important yet non-urgent tasks sit gathering dust while we firefight all the urgent things that jump up and surprise us every day.

It was at this point that I started to “schedule the big rocks”. You might be familiar with that experiment filling a jar with rocks, pebbles and sand. In summary, if you fill the jar with sand first, the rocks won’t fit, and the rocks are the important things in our lives. That’s what choice #3 is about: consciously make time for the important things! It may sound like a joke, but in our over-connected, over-committed, smartphone addicted world, this is revolutionary!

Once I realized this, I took immediate action! And it only took 3 simple steps!

  1. Schedule the big rock: I separated two mornings in my calendar for that same week and reserved a small room in our office where I could work without interruption.
  2. Choose to prioritize the big rock: On the appointed days, as soon as I gathered my things at my desk, I went directly to the reserved room.
  3. Focus on the big rock: While in the room I did not check my emails or messages.

And for the whole time that I was in that room, that I was supposed to be working on the training material – guess what? – I actually did! ? I had to keep at it for a few more weeks, but it paid off as I was finally able to complete the first draft of the training material. Fast forward a few months: we successfully delivered the training in our team! Fast forward a couple of years to today: we’ve opened the training to our whole location and delivered over 15 sessions! Imagine if I had never gotten around to scheduling that rock…

This is why choice number 1 (Act on the Important; Don’t React to the Urgent) and choice number 3 (Schedule the Big Rocks, Don’t Sort Gravel) are so important to me. To keep the big rocks from rolling by while we’re just reacting to things that happen around us, we need conscious and purposeful actions. It can be hard to see through the rubble to be able to make these choices, but the feeling of accomplishment at the end is definitely worth making INVESTING the time.

I hope you feel inspired to start purposefully scheduling the big rocks in your life, too.

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Check out more blog posts in this series: Coach’s Corner.

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      Author's profile photo Jason Cao
      Jason Cao

      What a timely post! (pun intended 🙂 ) Thank you Debora de Souza!

      The training curriculum you mentioned is a great example of an “Important” task that even if not urgent, is worth investing your time in. Your dedication to block-off time to work on it, and not allow other things to distract you shows a lot of commitment. I’m guessing that a large part of your success also involves setting the expectation for your team and others, that you will not be available at those times. Therefore, they will either have to wait until you are available or resolve it on their own. This could be a nice way as a coaching-manager to help team members achieve greater independence and self-confidence!