Do you want to know what is most important in your life? Look at your schedule. What makes the cut? As much as anything else our calendar reflects what is most important to us. It is where we declare to the world (and to ourselves) what is worthy of our limited attention and what is not. It is the place where actual priorities shine through and less important things fade away. The calendar doesn’t lie, it always tells the truth. It doesn’t reflect intentions, hopes, desires or how we ‘wish things to be.’ It tells the real story of what wins the day and what loses.
For a long time I thought I could keep every competing priority in life in balance. I just needed to become a better time manager, as though I could ‘manage’ my way out of the mess I had found myself in. Cancer doesn’t need to be managed, it needs to be killed to be cured. My calendar wasn’t something to be managed, it was something that needed to be conquered and then ruled one careful “yes” or courageous “no” at a time. Time management needed to give way to making choices. Not obvious choices between good and bad, but tough ones between better and best. Recently Seth Godin summarized it well when he said “You don’t need more time you just need to decide.”
I don’t know anyone who is never busy, stress free and always on top of all of their commitments, but I do know people who carefully and courageously attend to what is most important. They don’t try to do everything, just the right things, one day at a time. I want to be more like that. I want to look back on each day and say what I chose to do reflected what I tell others (and myself) is most important. If the following things are priority (relationship w God, my wife, kids, friendships, rest/leisure), my calendar should reflect this. If it doesn’t then these things aren’t as important as I say that they are, something else is.
I first realized that I had calendar issues when I read Stephen Covey’s approach to task management, which he details in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He breaks up each of our tasks along two axes - importance and urgency. (A helpful summary of Covey’s approach is contained here.)
I was someone who lived quite contentedly in quadrant one, attending to what is both important *and* urgent. Isn’t that what most people do? I didn’t know there was another way. And here’s where Covey comes in. He would suggest we train ourselves to make room for items that are important, but not urgent (quadrant two). The activities, relationships, commitments that fit into this category will never beat your door down for attention, but if ignored could have an unraveling effect on our lives long-term (ie..relationship w my wife, kids, professional development, eating healthy, regular exercise).
Does this sound like you? Do you need to do a better job of carving out time for what matters most? If so here’s a 10 minute exercise that will help you do just that.
- Write down the five most important priorities in your life?
- Look over your calendar from the last week. Were these priorities appropriately reflected in your schedule? (They may not have been ‘in the calendar’ as an appointment, but did they happen?)
- Look at next week’s schedule and do two things: add one important but often neglected activity (say yes) and subtract one activity that is creating unhelpful drag (say no).