Written by: John Marshall, ACC, NBC-HWC, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
From 1960 to 2008, the frequency of books mentioning time management went up by 2,700%. Our time is finite, and we can’t change that. The real impact is managing the quality of our time by managing our attention and energy. Here are the key elements for managing yours.
I blocked out 90 minutes to sit down and write this article. I cleared off my desk, ensured all screen menus were hidden, and the document was full screen. I started to think about the outline, and the fatigued head bob set in. My eyes quickly opened to 72 ‘k’s in the middle of a sentence. So, I started tactically managing my environment for focused attention, yet my energy was clearly neglected. Learn to optimize both to make the most of each moment.
Three core elements support your focused attention and energy when engaged in any worthwhile task.
Preparation: getting your mind and environment ready to do the work,
Execution: doing the work and only the work,
Adaptation: adjusting to change decisively with agility and grace.
Traditional time management stresses blocking time and prioritizing tasks at various levels of importance or urgency. What qualities make a task important or urgent, and why?
Preparation goes far deeper than prioritization and scheduling…
Self-knowledge is key to managing your attention and energy. What resistance do you typically experience, and how? What are your natural cycles of peak energy? What stories are you holding onto about the way you work? The ones that end in, “it’s always been like that,” or start with, “I’ll never be able to…” What are your values and priorities? How do they align with your vision? If you can’t answer these, start here.
Cultivate mindfulness in your everyday life. Meditative practice gives you pause to make choices aligned with the above before reacting to challenges. Developing your awareness will have the most significant impact in preparation to perform your best when it’s time to execute.
Make your environment work for you! Prepare your inner and outer worlds ritualistically and with diligence. Remove distractions and replace them with strategic positive reinforcement. Utilize organization techniques and scheduling processes that work for you. Prepare your brain and body for the task with proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise.
Utilizing “time management techniques” alone is like having a state-of-the-art kitchen with bad ingredients, a novice chef, and expecting a Michelin-star-quality product.
Now you’ve set the scene, and it’s time to Execute…
In the words of Steven Pressfield, “put your ass where your heart wants to be.” I can’t say it any better. If you want to accomplish anything worthwhile, it won’t happen from the stands or in contemplation. Get on the field or in your chair.
Understand the resistance level of the task at hand. Some work is going to require more mental or physical resources than others. Understanding the resource requirements will help you meet the task with the necessary mindset and energy.
Give yourself permission to be messy when you have an opportunity for drafts. Get it out there! Let it flow, share it with people, then refine, refine, refine. Allow yourself to spend 3x as much time getting feedback and making adjustments.
Whether we like it or not, the only true constant in life is change. You can accept reality and move forward, or fight it… and move forward.
When you’ve truly hit a roadblock, it’s time to Adapt…
What are the roadblocks, really? Am I placing this here subconsciously because I’m fearful of an outcome or choosing the easy and fun route? Whom can I ask for help to move forward? What do I need to learn to move forward? This is the moment to be brutally honest with yourself. Answer the questions, and schedule your next step. Tangential tasks are part of the project.
Emotional and mental agility will be your best friend when the unexpected inevitably arises. There are no wrong thoughts or emotions. They’re all messages that we can choose to utilize or not. There are wrong actions, like choosing to open a bottle of whiskey at the roadblock. Treat your emotions as messengers, and utilize techniques to shift your mind and nervous system, like breathwork.
Step away purposefully and with grace. Beating yourself up does nothing for you or your goals. There is only time for reflecting, learning, and making the next choice. When you step out of a task, temporarily or permanently, take the experience with you. Revisit your preparation, and make adjustments. When stepping away brings up emotions, feel them. What is the need behind them that you can satisfy in another way?
You’re not missing out on any life-changing techniques. Take a stand for your attention and energy, and upgrade the quality of your time. How do you want to engage with the time you have left?
Tim Urban’s blog post, Your Life in Weeks, helped shape my perspective on the importance of checking in with the quality of my time. The diagram from his post below gives you a visual description of how to reflect upon your time. As you read through the chart, reflect on your week. Remember, this is not a shaming mechanism; it’s data that supports your preparation for living the life you want.
Three types of actions are worthwhile. Make everything you do in the spirit of one or some combination of connection, contribution, or creation. When your weeks are filled with the essence of these actions, you will trend toward your ideal life.
It takes energy to call on the part of your brain that decides to act in alignment with these actions. When it’s not an easy and fun choice, consistently making an internally motivated and aligned choice will train this muscle. What will you choose when your mind wants to reach for something easy and fun? Your health? The life admin you’ve been putting off? The innovative project that will shake up the status quo?
Question everything someone else believes is urgent or a priority for you with compassion. Respond as if they have your best interests in mind, even if they don’t. You’re responsible for your attention and energy, not controlling or predicting others’ behaviors. Then, ask for what you need.
Techniques that help organize and prioritize your work are tools, not the rule. Take control of your attention and energy to take control of your life, then structure your work around it. What will you create next?
John Marshall, ACC, NBC-HWC, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
John Marshall is an entrepreneur, professionally certified coach, yoga & meditation teacher, speaker, and co-host of The Present Professional Podcast. He helps current, and future leaders master their minds to master their careers, relationships, and health through his coaching and people-skills-development firm, Humessence. With over five years of teaching yoga and meditation and a prior career in high-level corporate business development, John understands the stresses and demands of modern business and their impact on the mind and body. His coaching clients develop their awareness and new perspectives, have difficult and impactful conversations, and manage their emotions en route to creating the life they want. Participants at his workshops and engagements leave with new tools and perspectives that impact how they show up at the meeting and dinner tables. When it comes to people skills, John is transforming the relationship between life and work. Visit his company website to schedule a consultation and learn more about how he can help you and your organization. When he’s not working on his business or with clients, you can catch him teaching yoga at BIG Power Yoga in Houston, TX, and meditation as a teacher and publisher on the global meditation platform Insight Timer. His mission: Bring the human essence to modern business and help leaders live their fullest lives aligned with their values along the way.