Save money through Time Management. But not how you think……

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Anyone who has ever read about time management will be familiar with the Time Matrix. You know, the one which is segmented to identify Urgent v Important, and looks like this.

TM Matrix

Have you ever thought how applying this same Matrix to your financial habits might just make you more wealthy?

Think about it. You have a spending pattern. There are things you like to buy, things you have to buy, things that you want to buy but can’t – a whole range of purchasing options based on the same two criteria you use when spending ‘time’.

There are Quadrant 3 things – you ‘want’ it now and so you buy it ‘now’, even though a sober reflection may have said it wasn’t important enough to spend hard-earned cash on, but you (or someone you love/like/respect) suggested it was NOW or never.

There are Quadrant 1 things – things you genuinely have to buy now because they are vital to something in which you are presently involved. For example, I recently had to buy longer screws to fit a light switch that stuck out just too far for the provided screws to reach the fitment. (I know it’s an off example but read on.)

There are Quadrant 4 things – things that aren’t urgent or important but your heart overrules your head and you buy it because it’s pretty or funny or quirky or you’re just so fed up you need to demonstrate your personal power by possessing this bauble.

And there are Quadrant 2 things – things which aren’t necessarily urgent but which are, or may be, urgent now or in the future. Back to my screws. I needed 50mm screws, but could only get 75mm screws, which, it turned out, were far too long. I therefore had a Q1 need for a pair of pliers strong enough to cut the screws to length. Looking around, I realised that I anticipated a need to cut even bigger metal rods, so I bought bolt-cutters, instead. And that made me realise that notwithstanding the urgency of the screws, now would be a good time to make an anticipatory spend on a toolkit and, being Christmas, there were many good kits available at a discount price. The bolt-cutters were Q1, but the extra purchase was Q2.

What else can we allocate to these Quadrants?

Q1 – unexpected fines/bills, repairs to broken electronics, fuel for an empty tank, fast food when we’re hungry.

Q3 – tips for surly waiters, money for chuggers (charity muggers).

Q4 – extra SkyTV channels, that emergency pasty fat people buy at 9AM, our expensive Starbucks coffee to carry to work – the one that we worked 20 minutes to afford, a copy of OK magazine.

Q2 – fuel for the car before we run short, household bills, a 30th anniversary copy of The Seven Habits (I am genuinely excited), good food, investments and savings, tithing if that’s what you do, etc.

Where do you spend most of your money?

Don’t worry about it to stress-point. As with time, occasionally what looks like a Q4 spend is, in fact, a Q2 spend if we genuinely need something to de-stress ourselves, for example. A Q3 spend on a friend may hurt but may pay dividends in terms of that friend’s realisation that they are loved, making it Q2, or even Q1 spend.

Have a think – do you have foreign holidays because other people do, when you could spend the same on personal development? Do you have a plan to buy a new car on a monthly rental when buying an old one outright could leave you with money you could invest, and an asset to sell if you wanted to?

The Time Matrix – a way to save money. Who’d have thought it?

Juggling is for Jugglers.

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In 2006, I attended The Seven Habits Workshop run by FranklinCovey in the UK, at their then HQ in Banbury, Oxfordshire. It was facilitated by the skilled coach Stephen Smith who, like me, looked a lot younger in those days.

During a ‘Why are you here’ session, Stephen asked the hitherto reluctant, waiting-to-see-how-the-land-lies participants “Well, do you want to improve your work-life balance?” As one might expect, we chorused in a fashion designed to at least give the impression of enthusiasm, “YES!”

“Okay then, let’s see just how much more work we can get out of you, then.,” said a smirking, ‘I-knew-you-were-going-to-fall-for-it’ Steve.

Very few people want to skew their work-life balance in favour of the former. Which is odd, really, because so many people do unconsciously skew their lives that way.

I know people who work every hour God sends in an effort to maximise income, only to swear blind that their ‘family comes first’. Which is not to say that they’re lying, just that what they are doing (working) may not be what they think they’re doing (providing a secure lifestyle for their family).

And I say that because I wonder if they’ve asked their families do they want mummy/daddy working for mo’ money – or do they want mummy and daddy present.

(I suppose teenagers may provide a different answer, depending on the level of gadgets they have or want.)

I believe, as do many in the ‘family field’, that what families need more than anything else, is presence. They want Ma or Pa to ‘be there’ at school concerts, recitals, sports events – and above all to be waiting when they need picking up. Selfish, really. But that’s what kids want.

Go home, be present. At least sometimes.

On another tack, in terms of the balance between work and ‘life’, since Steve regaled us on the matter the world has changed to the degree that the lines between work and ‘life’ have blurred. We are, thanks to the smartphone, available to work when at home, and home when at work. Few think about the appropriateness of crossing the divide. Most think it’s alright to interrupt people when they want, because they can. You may notice that phenomenon when you’re chatting to A and B butts in without an ‘excuse me’, because the smartphone has legitimised interruption.

Of course, in terms of the aforementioned work-life balance ‘thing’, when either interrupts the other our eye is taken off the ball in the moment. Concentration wanders, mistakes are possible, disaster can occur.

As far as possible, and in recognition that I use the word ‘appropriateness’ in this article, try to keep communication under the right heading. Work for work time, life for life-time, at least as much as you can manage. It’s the most productive approach to ‘The Balance’. It means you can get work done without thinking about cooking dinner, and it means putting the right amount of salt and butter into the mashed potato without wondering if that report you submitted is in the right post-tray.

Damn – now I’m hungry………………

 

For more, read this book!

PTM Pic

Time Management = Emotional Control = Stress Management.

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The first paragraph of TimePower by Charles R. Hobbs (Harper and Row, 1987) reads thus:

How often do you have the kind of day when you feel like you hold the world on a string? It’s the kind of feeling you would probably like to enjoy more often. The moment when you feel this way is the moment when you are most in control of the events in your life: most in control of what you are doing, most in control of your relationships with others. As your ability to control events increases, those exalted moments become more frequent.”

The counter philosophy to that paragraph must therefore be that you are most stressed when the opposite is true – when you feel least in control or, worse, when you feel completely out of control in terms of the events in your life and your relationship with others.

Note the use of the word ‘feel’ in both of these paragraphs. I spotted it for the first time when I read the paragraph last night. Then I realised:

To be content with your control of your time and relationships, you don’t necessarily have to be in control.

You just need to feel that you’re control.

Quite profound.

I had a supervisor, once. We called him a shit magnet. (Sorry.) When he came into work, it was as if all the robbers, rapists and murderers had been waiting for him before acting. Oh, and all the wanted persons in Wales got arrested, too. All at the same time, but hundreds of miles apart.

He never skipped a beat. He would quietly look at what was happening around him, decide what needed to be done, and then quietly delegate or act with an appropriate level of urgency. For those around him, his calm was catching. And part of his process was to think with a pen and a book in his hands.

Despite the fact that there was no way he could be in complete control of what was going on, he took enough action to feel as if he had it all managed. Maybe more than enough. But he felt in control, and his calm attitude and approach manifested itself in the rest of his team feeling as though they were in control, too. We didn’t feel stressed, either.

The only truly effective way to ‘feel’ this way is to have a complete, systematic approach to ‘stuff’ that means you can prioritise what needs to be done, dump what need not be done, and fit anything else around those decisions.

What this lesson says to me is that, to a certain extent, time management as most people would understand the term is a key technique for emotional- and stress-management. One which few counsellors, coaches and managers seem to realise, promote and/or teach.

Traumatic incidents aside, stress is frequently the result of a build-up if unaddressed issues. It’s not the pile of paper that needs dealing with – it’s the way you feel about that. It’s not that appointment you won’t manage to keep, or which you aren’t prepared for – it’s the way you feel about being late or unprepared. It’s not that conversation you need to have but the way you feel about what happens if it doesn’t go well when you finally manage to have it.

And all of those feelings can be controlled by taking the ‘time management’ actions people like Hobbs, Covey and Smith promote. Deciding what needs to be done, making a plan that helps you act on that decision, and then executing that plan. Once you have that level of appropriate control, your feelings about those events change for the positive.

Go learn time management.

Lean towards lists – and keep your equipment safe.

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This morning, I had a plan. I had a doctor’s appointment first, followed by several numerically-ordered ‘As’, as per the advice given by so many time management writers to whom I have been loyal for some time.

Unfortunately, the doctor directed me to the local X-Ray department after his inspection, which meant that all the other things got demoted and had to wait their turn. Still in numerical order, but now subordinate to the additional task.

Some people, some intelligent people, don’t cope with such a situation as well as perhaps they could.

Some may have resolutely declined and delayed the radiologist’s company in favour of their plan, thus (arguably) risking their physical health in avoidance of a mental breakdown caused because their plan was at risk.

Other people would have gone to the local hospital’s radiology department, bitching the whole time that they ‘have better things to do’ and would have to reorganise their day to cope with this health-focused deviation from their intended schedule.

Did I go nuts? Of course not. And the reason I did not go nuts is because I had an organised list of things to do, written down and ready for review when the interruption was over.

David Allen, author of ‘Getting Things Done’, says, “You can only feel good about what you’re not doing when you know everything you’re not doing.” In other words, part of the mental challenge of personal organisation and productivity is having the capacity to know – or be able to quickly and easily find out – what is important, what is less important and what is not important, so that constant re-planning of tasks is not a routine part of life.

If you have no written list of things to do, ideally prioritised in some way, then you are relying on your memory to hold an abstract list for you. Unfortunately, the brain does not have an indexing system as reliable as a ‘list’ – it bundles every thought in one giant retrieval system, yes, but you have to think about retrieval at a time when your mind is struggling with multiple thoughts and inputs just when you need it to concentrate on just on problem. You are creating the bullet points as you remember the ‘thing’, but the bullet point disappears as soon as your brain moves on. And the bundle contains not only the things you must do, but also a bucket-load of the ‘not now’ and the irrelevant, both of which get in the way of cogent thought on the Now. (Oooh, very Mindful.)

I recall a training session where a colleague said he didn’t have a list because he liked to be spontaneous. I suggested that his supervisor (present) might like him to know what was expected of him and for him to organise his priorities accordingly, after which he could be spontaneous.

Having an organised list or plan allows you to free up your memory for thinking creatively, proactively and in a less-stressed fashion. Not having a list/plan means making it up again and again as you go along, always playing catch-up with yourself while ‘yourself’ keeps running off at tangents. Like playing tag with a chicken – as Rocky Balboa.

But above all, having a plan/list means that interruptions – an inevitable reality of working life – can be dealt with consciously, competently, effectively and without the urge to punch a fax machine. (Yes, I did. Once. A long time ago.)

Keep your technology safe -make lists.

The Wisdom That Saved Me.

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This will be an absolute, unashamed plug. But it has an X-Factor style back story about me.

In the early 1990s I read a book. I have, admittedly, read some more since then. In the mid-1990s, I threw what those in my former profession called a ‘double-six’, which is an inexplicable euphemism for losing it emotionally and doing something that exhibits the point at which a straw broke your camel’s back. In my case, and I really didn’t see it coming, I broke down in tears in front of one of the best, most understanding supervisors I ever had the honour to serve. I suspect he was as surprised as I was. Evidently, a build up of stress factors over a period of time just hit me and I suffered an emotional collapse.

Traditionally, when this happens to coppers they have 6 months off, see the doctor for some pills, and later debate with their friends who has the highest dosage of said pills. Which is not a judgment on whether or not they were suffering from stress, because they invariably were. It is just a statement based on my experience of my colleagues’ response to it. Absence, medication, discussion. Standard procedure.

In my case I left work at the start of the shift during which it happened, had the following shift off, then after a three day weekend was back for my morning shift on the Monday. Two workdays lost, a weekend off as per the rota, and back.

One might suggest I wasn’t really stressed. Well, I don’t cry easily. I am/was a macho, rooftop-chasin’, car-chasin’, door-kickin’ kind of guy. So tears at lunchtime suggest a breakdown.

What ‘sorted’ my depression for me was not drugs. It was application of what I’d learned in the aforementioned book. It espoused taking control of events by using the gap between stimulus and response to decide, consciously, deliberately, in a considered way what, exactly, to do about the event. I took my family to dinner, decided what changes I felt I needed the job to make in my regard and, with that clarity, sought and got it.

Never lost it again. I’ve suffered some severe cr4p since then but it’s never brought me to tears or caused a lay-off.

On the 9th of March 2020, the 30th Anniversary Edition of that book will be released. It’s been updated, and if the font size remains the same there’ll be an extra 120 pages of ‘stuff’ in it. I’m already pumped and waiting to buy it.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (1932-2012), amended by his son Sean.

If you want an intelligent, profound and systematic take on effective living that doesn’t dictate what you should do but focuses on how it is you who decides what and how you need to do things, this is it.

I’ve read tons of stuff. Anthony Robbins, Ziglar, Tracy, Sinek, and others. They all provide great advice on how to get what you want.

But every time I think about ‘life’ and consider ‘doing’ what these writers promote, I find that I always come back to the wisdom – and the book – that Stephen Covey gave me. And if the book blurb is true, 50,000,000 suspect the same.

Go on. Treat yourself. Buy a book that I can assure you from experience, really is life-changing.

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Yep. Shook his hand……

Do you treat yourself like you do your car?

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Does anyone else think their car feels cleaner, faster and snappier as you drive away from a passed MOT inspection? Or is it just me?

By the same token, how do you feel when you leave the dentist after a clean and polish? Or when you’ve filed all your paperwork?

The reason for all this contentment is because your essential maintenance is finally complete and you feel that you have a fresh start available to you. Despite the fact that most of us consider ‘maintenance’ to be in the pile of ‘things I HAVE to do but which don’t achieve anything meaningful’, our brains recognise that completion of those things is an enabler to carrying out of more important things. Our brains are cleverer than we are.

Think about it. How well could we do what is important if we didn’t, at some point, carry out the foundational ‘unimportant’ admin and saw-sharpening that supports us? How well could we write and research if we didn’t maintain our computers? How could we get around if we didn’t maintain our transportation? How could we charge clients if our billing records weren’t up to snuff?

How embarrassing is it when your pen runs out of ink just at the signature stage of a contractual negotiation?

Maintenance is a way of ensuring effectiveness at the front end, folks.

That goes as much for ‘you’ as it does your ‘stuff’. It’s all very well you accepting this advice and setting about checking your pens for ink, your pencils for lead and your car’s service schedule for late oil changes, but what about you?

Your body needs to be properly maintained constantly if it is to enable success and effectiveness in all of your roles. Eat too much and you slow down while your body digests it. Poison it with alcohol or excessive caffeine and you make it jump before it plummets again. Fail to exercise and the lubricants clog and congeal and eventually need changing. If they CAN be changed.

Your brain needs to be fed and nurtured, too. That doesn’t solely mean intellectual data input, it also means that stuff which calms the neurons, like music and (paradoxically) silence in nature. Although from a work perspective, keeping up to speed with practice and protocol changes is a necessary activity if we aren’t to become redundant in an intangible way – or worse, a tangible, ‘go-work-somewhere-else’ kind of way.

Take a few minutes today to find out if there is anything you need to know or do to improve your relevancy at work, and to ensure that the only tool through which you do everything – your body – will remain capable of serving you for longer. Like until you are 101, not up to ‘65 and knackered’ There are plenty of apps, books and facilities providing advice and equipment for these purposes.

You can also ignore all three of those and just take the odd moment to sit quietly and enjoy the silence.

Keep your saw sharp. It’s a cutting edge philosophy.

20th Century Thinking. It’s BRILLIANT!

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Are your practices outdated?

I don’t mean the skills you possess and perform. Most professions require, expect and train you for competencies specifically relating to your role. It’d be a poor employer who didn’t, surely?

In this context, I am asking whether the ‘soft skills’ surrounding your professional productivity are up to scratch, and whether or not you’re still utilising pre-digitalisation thinking in your processes and procedures.

I’ve just left the police service, and that has been wholly digitalised. You’d think, as you watch NCIS press the “evidence button” that identifies, in one click, which suspect car has a specific tyre tread bought in that shop with that credit card by a person with that driving licence (doesn’t and a can’t happen, btw), that police forces would be completely at ease with IT.

Nope. And I wonder if this is reflected in other organisations, too.

First of all, and I admit I can only speak for the organisations I worked for, people are trained in THAT programme but never in ‘how computers work’. For proof, next time you’re arrested, watch the custody sergeant hunt and peck with the mouse instead of tabbing from field to field. No-one has told her how to use ‘computers’, just how to use ‘the custody programme’.

Next, the counter to IT training is the associated inability to think for themselves once digi-trained. If it isn’t ‘in the system’, no one knows that you can knock a neighbour’s door to see if someone still lives at 123, Acacia Avenue. No-body seems to be willing or able (or allowed) to leave ‘their’ patch to make eye-to-eye enquiries, relying on the uninformed to do it for them.

Finally, and this just blows my mind, they’ve stopped working for each other. In 1986, if I wanted a statement done in Essex (200 miles away) I would telex (look it up) that force and they’d do it for me. Now, we send someone that 200 miles because Essex is busy. A working day and a half to take a one or two page statement, instead of (for us) little time at all and (for them) an hour.

Personally, my preferred option for ‘outside force enquiries’ was to conduct a telephone interview with the witness and then arrange an exchange of documents via email, which was never challenged in all the crown court trials where I used that method (which also crossed international boundaries but don’t tell anyone). Occasionally a visit was necessary, but not every time.

My point is that people get so bogged down in ‘doing it like this’ that we stop thinking ‘is there a better, more efficient AND effective way to get X done?’ Or, as suggested above, ‘How did we do this before IT got in the way?’

Look at how you do stuff – do you send people places to get things that could be electronically got? Do you send emails or texts and then wait to get urgent information, instead of making a telephone call and getting the answer right away? Do you email people in the next room instead of getting up off your ‘arris and talking to them. Yes, I had a boss who did that.

In other words, has IT stopped you using your head and your imagination?

If so – Houston, you have a problem.

I just had a funny thought about millennial combat pilots using texts in a dogfight…………………….

“As Emerson said about Trump…….”

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Time management. It’s a term that seems niche, but the more I read and write about it, the broader the definition becomes. To get the subject of this post, I will restrict the definition to one of ‘maximising the use of time on the things that matter.’

And go straight into the weekend’s events in Iraq. I am not talking about the assassination of the Iranian general, though. I am talking about the social media storm which followed.

As soon as possible after the incident was reported, social media posts began ringing around saying ‘Trump did this’ and ‘Trump did that’. Emotions ran high, depending on which side of the political divide you sat. The Left said the man was a war-mongering despot committing us to World War 3, a helpful conclusion designed to keep us all calm, I am sure. The Right commended Trump for taking positive action – an unusual term for killing someone.

But here’s the thing. Most posts I read, read like the posters assumed that Trump woke up one day and decided to top this fella. Never mind that the Left forgot that their narrative (an oft-used media term) was that Trump is an idiot, so couldn’t even spell or pronounce the general’s name. And would probably have put the H in the wrong place in Baghdad. Like I just did.

I try not to waste time espousing opinions on things I know next to nothing about. It wastes time engaging in arguments which I can’t win because I am unarmed. Yet there is a whole world out there of people who engage in this regularly, thus wasting time which could be better spent in the Circle of Influence.

One thing I do know, based on watching The West Wing (and the documentaries which I then had to watch because they were so informative), is that decisions like this involve a whole bunch of experts. And time. Yes, the President makes the final decision, but not until he has been briefed by the military, intelligence experts and various diplomats. Such advice includes the why to do it and the how to do it. The Why, in this case, appears to be based on the General’s involvement in a lot of outside-the-combat-zone terrorist activity. The How, we know.

But there would have been a whole lot of ‘What If’s’ considered about the aftermath. And considering that the US has apparently been surveilling this man for some years, we can reasonably assume that there would have been a lot of information available that led to the decision.

All of which means that while the ‘proper’ media seems to be trying to address it sensibly (partisanship aside), the time spent by all too many of us on Social Media debating the issue based on a belief that he just had an idea one morning and made a phone call, has been ill-informed, un-authoritative and emotional. Which does not reflect the best use of anyone’s time.

Social Media has its uses. It has its limitations. But above all, it has an all-encompassing ability to divert us from what is truly important.

I use it to entertain and, occasionally, brag. I do not use it to display pictures of undrunk pints and uneaten dinners. (I lie – I did, once, show a picture of a partially incomplete meal from a San Francisco fish restaurant because it was the first meal that had ever beaten me.)

It is a great place to start a debate, but if you are going to do that, at least make sure that your opening comments are based on a reasonable level of understanding. Consider your post and ask, “Is this all as it seems?” If you can’t answer that, do the research. You’ll be better informed, which is a great use of time.

And you may save the time you would have spent sending a post that would have made you appear stupid.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once opined, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” Which may be more about character but the message remains clear.

Be in no doubt. Posting ill-informed opinion says a lot about you.

Put your focus on focusing.

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Last October I wrote about the Circle of Influence, and in doing so I made a fleeting mention of the briefly identified but ne’er seen again ‘Circle of Focus’.

Just to recap, Covey had detailed the Circles of Concern (everything affecting our lives) and Influence (things upon which we can have an effect) in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In his later First Things First he and his co-authors went further and defined a further, inner Circle of Focus.

They defined it as ‘things we are concerned about, that are within our ability to influence, that are aligned with our mission and are timely.’

He went on: ‘When we operate within our Circle of Influence we do some good, but what we do may be at the expense of something better. When we set and achieve goals that are in our Centre of Focus, we maximise the use of our time and effort.’

The question arises, therefore – how much time do we spend administering, pandering, diverting, interrupting (and being interrupted) and time-wasting at the expense of the time we should spend within that focused centre?

Life gets in the way. Professionals who once had staff to assist with all those things now find they have to do their admin (etc.) themselves and so their focus has become blurred as a result. But that doesn’t mean we can abandon the Focus at the expense of the mundane. It just means we have to manage our selves better.

Now, what tends to happen is that we do whatever arises as it arises – an e-mail pings, someone pops by, the phone rings – and we redirect our (very important) focus away in their direction.

Stop it. Stop it now – or at least as much as the Gods of customer service allow.

A thing that pings or rings or is passing(s) should be given only appropriate attention, not undivided, immediate attention if you are to maximise your productivity and effectiveness.

I suggest that you do a couple of things which might help you do that.

  1. Ignore emails, and plan to deal with them at a time which suits your responsibilities – maybe at the start of the day, immediately after lunch or last thins as part of tomorrow’s planning.
  2. Shut your office door if you can. People won’t interrupt if they can’t see you. Honest.
  3. Turn your smartphone off if you want uninterrupted time.
  4. Block time out for uninterrupted, focused thinking/doing time in your planning system Or, put another way, make an appointment with yourself and keep it inviolable.

While Covey and his associated training company never again seemed to refer to the Circle of Focus after the 1994 publication of First Things First’ I find that the concept of the Circle of Focus (like the short chapter on The Three Resolutions in ‘Principle Centred Leadership’) is one of the most profound time management concepts I’ve ever known.

Try it at work, if possible.

Set time aside for the most important stuff, the stuff which, if focused upon 100%, will provide the maximum bang for buck you can achieve.

Then try this at home……………………