The lie we love to believe about why we fail at our goals – #FinishYear 2012

Photo courtesy of graur razvan ionut via freedigitalphotos.net

This week, you are likely reading a variety of posts about how to follow-through, commit-to, or stick-with your New Year’s Resolutions.  You will also likely read posts about the pitfalls to our plans that cause many “resolvers” (is that even a word?) to “give up” by right around Valentine’s Day (a third won’t even make it to the end of January).

We are really good about making ourselves feel better about that failure.  We tell ourselves lots of things in order to soften the sting of not being able to do what we said that we would do, especially in the presence of such an overwhelming body of knowledge and expertise in the world on goal-setting and follow-through.

There is a lie that is being overlooked, and it is a lie that we tell ourselves every day – so comfortably, so naturally, that the perceived truth of this lie permeates most ideas about time management in general.

There aren’t enough hours in the day.

This is a lie.

Let me repeat for emphasis and edit for clarification –

This is a lie from the very pits of hell which damages our ability to get the work done that is important to us and will make real a difference for the better in our lives.

I hope I wasn’t unclear.

I can already feel the words you may be telling (or shouting) at the screen right now.

Whether the fact upsets you or not is evidence of how tightly we believe this. Now, let me explain myself.

More times than not, as this time of year rolls around, we construct long, elaborate, ambitious lists that detail our faults or the areas for development.  What happens the month of January is that we attempt to fit these broad self-development plans into a life that we have already filled with “stuff”.  It is no wonder then, why by February, a huge number of resolutions are left behind … there was no room for them in the first place.

If there was, we would be already doing them.

Make no mistake, there are always enough hours in the day for what is important to you.  Always.

Yeah.  I said it.  Hate me if you will … but you know that it’s true.  You know that when you look at your day (as I do many days) you see a long list of tasks and as you take inventory of your hours, you have trouble finding where you made a meaningful dent in anything important.

The classic time managers (or at least ones that aren’t Covey trained) focus on your efficiency.  How quickly are you working on things?  Is there idle time?  Are you wasting time on inefficient ways of completing tasks?  This line of thinking is important, but it ignores the other side of the question.

Is your day even filled with the things that are truly important to you in the first place?

This changes the discussion from a “how” conversation (speed, efficiency, method) to a “why” conversation.  We can easily ignore what we choose to fill our day with because we make the false assumption that everything is important and necessary. We have more power than we give ourselves credit for. 

Photo credit to Stuart Miles via freedigitalphotos.net

You may be asking at this point: “Well …. What can I do about this?”

My answer – there are several ways, and no one correct way.  All of them, however, center around retraining yourself to recognize the conscious and unconscious choices you make every single day with your time.  To start the conversation, here are some tips:

  1. Create a Time Log – Before you can see where to change, you have to first know what your situation looks like.  Grab a cheap hour by hour scheduling book (best is one broken down by :15 intervals – you could probably get a free printable one from the web) and at the end of each 15 minutes, take 30 seconds and record what you did during that time.  Be honest.  Don’t flub.  This is to help build an understanding of where your day goes.  One day is good.  A week at least is best.
  2. Understand your personal values.  Is it family?  Educational Growth?  Faith?  Fitness?  Mental health?  The list is different for every person, but we have to discover what is closely tied to what makes us whole and happy.  Make sure your day is filled with the activities that match up with your highest values, and you want to do those tasks as often as you can.  If you did #1, take your log, and your list of values, and start adding values to the activities if they apply.  It might help you see how much time is spent on things that really aren’t associated with your strongest personal values.
  3. Create a “To-Stop-Doing List” – Lots of folks will add to things for the new year.  Instead, commit to removing things from your day that don’t add to you.  I read about this principle in Chris Guillebeau’s book: The Art of Non-Conformity.  Commit to finding 3-5 things in your day/week that would not have drastic repercussions if they weren’t done, and eliminate them.
  4. Create a “zero-balance life budget”.  This is the reverse from #1-3.  Do those things, but instead of finding ways to make things fit, build your life from the ground up.  Rank, in order from most to least important, your highest-value activities (and by the way, sleep, work, and eating all count), and then with an empty calendar, start adding them to your days.  Stop adding stuff when you run out of time.  What you should be left with are the things that maybe you didn’t need to be doing in the first place.

These are just a few suggestions, and you will be hearing from me next Monday on my progress on these items myself.  Changing perspective is the starting point to recognizing that there are always just enough hours in the day … the stress comes with how we choose to use them.

What value do you wish you spent more time on?

What are some things that you can put on your “To-Not-Do” List?

_Thomas

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