Time, Attention and Direction: 3 Books to Help Manage Your Time

Aug 21, 2018

As a Business Coach, here are some questions I get all the time from my clients and prospective clients:

  • How can I better manage my time?
  • What is my purpose in life?
  • How do I set realistic goals?

As you can imagine, most human beings ask these questions and feel reluctant to answer them to their own satisfaction. 

I have read three books on this subject recently. Each book had a different approach to creating your life's priorities and managing your time to achieve what is important to you.

I want to introduce these books in the context of this blog for anyone who would like to better manage their time.

Personal Productivity Secrets - by Maura Nevel Thomas

The author has developed a system called the Empowered Productivity System. This system is quite elaborate and I don't intend to repeat all of the details in this blog post. If you'd like to know all of the elements to the author's system, I recommend you purchase her book

There are two core thoughts to this book that I believe everyone ought to pay attention to when it comes to time management:

  1. Get everything out of your brain and onto your time management system in an organized fashion; and
  2. Time management is dead, attention management is what matters.

Get Everything Out of Your Brain

Many people who are disorganized have a constant sense they are missing something; or are stressed out, but they can't place a finger on it. These people will typically rationalize their disorganization and how their system somehow suits their busy lifestyle. 

While these folks feel busy; they rarely accomplish what they want because their brain is subconsciously or consciously thinking about all they have to do.

Think about it. 

As you're reading this blog post, what other items are popping up in your mind that you are worried about forgetting? 

When you get these thoughts, no matter how random, write them down on paper or in your electronic organization system so that you will be reminded when it is appropriate, and your mind will be freed up to focus on the present.

That focus will allow you to be 100% engaged in whatever task you are working on NOW.

Attention Management is What Matters

As technology has advanced, and I had a little bit of free time, I noticed that I am constantly checking email, Facebook and LinkedIn for any new updates.

I get a little dopamine surge every time I see that I have text messages, Facebook likes or email responses. I react every time that my phone rings or I hear a beep or feel a buzz. In fact, it has gotten so bad, that I feel buzzes when my phone is no where near me. 

This actually has a name... it's called Phantom Vibration. So what? 

What this means is that I am programmed to react as opposed to act. 

In her book, the author has some awesome recommendations to put you on offense as opposed to defense with all of the email checks, buzzing and beeping. 

There were two key take-aways for me:

  1. Check Facebook and emails only twice a day; and
  2. Never check either prior to starting your day.

Otherwise, you will spend the day in reaction mode. 

Within a week, my productivity has skyrocketed by paying heed to these two simple suggestions.

The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management by Hyrum W. Smith

This is a classic time management book that has time-tested principles that will never be out of style. 

Many times people get caught up in the busyness of their lives only to get tired and feel like they have accomplished nothing meaningful to themselves. 

Hyrum W. Smith was the founder of Franklin Quest, which was responsible for the creation of the very popular Franklin Planners that everyone had in the 1990's to schedule appointments and manage time before time management was that popular. 

Franklin Quest eventually merged their time management with Stephen Covey's time management philosophy to create FranklinCovey, which is now the largest leadership and time management training company in the world. 

The nuggets I found in this book create the foundation for how I recommend my clients identify their life purpose and prioritize their time management and goals:

  1. Start with a list of your core values;
  2. Genuine achievement of your life's mission is often in direct opposition to being comfortable; and
  3. Incorrect believes lead to negative behavior.

Start with Your Core Values

It is so counter-intuitive that most of us get this one wrong. 

It doesn't matter who you are; or what your spiritual belief may be, you have some sense of what you want your life to be about. The author lists out his own core values and encourages the reader to create their own list of core values. 

As I read this part of the book, I thought that the author's values seemed idealistic and not really achievable in a real world where demands are placed on our time. 

Then, as I created my own list, I found that ideals are really what your values are all about.

You're not trying to set some bar that you can't achieve. You are simply stating, in writing, your core values. 

In this exercise, you will have a chance to genuinely uncover what matters to you. 

The reason that core values are so important to managing time is to give you peace of mind. 

If you are not acting in accordance with your values with your time, you will experience cognitive dissonance, which happens is when you are acting in a way that contradicts your true beliefs. 

When you do this, you will experience stress and depression about the fact that your life is not your own.

Achievement Is NOT Comfort

It is quite normal for us humans to seek comfort and avoid pain. The irony is that such by being comfortable, we often will feel unfulfilled. 

I experienced this myself when I sold my company. I sold my company in 2013 and then felt like I was burned out for a variety of reasons. Since I had sufficient cash to take it easy, I decided to resign from the company that acquired my company; and take it easy. Within a few months, I understand what a mistake this was and was feeling much less fulfilled and was one of the great motivators that drove me to becoming a Business Coach. 

For anyone who thought that retirement is some panacea of relaxation and enjoyment; I hate to burst your bubble, but it's not. Us humans want to feel like our life matters.

While it's great to take vacations and relax every once in a while to recharge; doing nothing is not how we are wired. If you want to achieve anything meaningful in life, you need to work for it and you need to stretch yourself.

Incorrect Beliefs Lead to Negative Behavior

When I first read this, I thought, "How dare you judge someone's beliefs!

As life coaches, we are trained constantly, not to judge. However, the more I read, the more I understood that there truly are false and incorrect beliefs. This is not referring specifically to your world view or your religious or spiritual beliefs; but rather your understanding of the TRUTH. 

No, truth is not relative. 

It may be acceptable in our modern time to think that everyone has a different truth; but that is simply not a reasonable statement.

If a man decides to beat his wife because he thinks that she was asking for it; his truth may be that it is his job to balance the scales through physical violence. This is what Hyrum would call an incorrect belief.

As humans we tend to rationalize bad behavior all the time; and this rationalization, if allowed to stick, will derail your values and then derail your ability to properly direct your life.

The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz

These authors created most of their ideas from training professional athletes to perform at extremely high levels. 

When I first started reading this book, I almost put it down because I thought, "I'm really not interested in physical training." I'm so glad that I continued to read. 

I think it's common for brainiacs to think that physical fitness doesn't really matter for intellectual pursuits; and it is also common for athletes to discount intellectual work in the pursuit of physical prowess.

Both ideas are quite wrong.

In this book the authors talk about the importance of four quadrants:

  1. Physical;
  2. Mental;
  3. Emotional and
  4. Spiritual. 

They also stress the notion of stretching each one of these personal quadrants beyond its current limits; and then resting to allow that quadrant to heal. 

The nuggets I took from this book included:

  1. Energy, not time is our most precious resource;
  2. What you eat; and how you exercise matters; and
  3. You build strength through cycles.

Energy, Not Time

If I were to ask you, "Would you choose to live 6-hours per day at 100%; 8-hours per day at 75%; or 10-hours per day at 60%?", many may do the math and say that each one is equal and so you would accomplish the same in any case (6-hours of work). 

They'd be wrong. 

The reality is that when we live either passively or exhausted, we will accomplish little in our life that really matters. 

The strange thing is that we will feel BUSY all the while we are spinning our wheels. We may become stressed at work, and then come home and think we are vegging out by spending a lot of time on Facebook, watching TV or watching movies, have a cocktail and go to bed late only to repeat the same low-energy cycle the next day. 

And, even though we think we are making progress at work, we are grumpy, buried with nonsense and turn any conflict into a bigger deal than it needs to be. This is a quite unproductive and unsatisfying way to live life.

By focusing on increasing our energy level and focus, we can accomplish more in less time and those accomplishments will be truly meaningful for us.

Eat Right & Exercise

We've heard this so much, we have become numb to these words. 

When our energy is low, we decide we can give ourselves and artificial boost with caffeine. When we want to relax, alcohol is the drug of choice. When we need a lift during the day, we turn to sugar and carbohydrates. 

While we tend to gain a little weight and never feel like exercising, we tend to think, it's just a phase or it's age or something that we either can't or don't want to control. 

The fact is that this cycle of abusive eating and lack of exercise is draining the energy that we need to accomplish all of the tasks that we hope to accomplish in a day. It's also what we need to be the person we want to be in our life. 

Our need for immediate gratification has sabotaged our goals, and any hope of becoming efficient with our time; or purposeful with our relationships. 

We have literally become part of the walking dead who need chemicals to sustain us for our inevitably shortened lives. 

By eating at least five small, nutritious meals during the day, having even the smallest exercise routine, we can turn this cycle around and be ready and alert to achieve whatever makes its way to our "to do" list.   

In full disclosure, I had completely ignored this in my life; and am now turning around my own cycle in incremental steps that are achievable for me.

Strength Building Cycles

If you work at 110% for an indefinite amount of time, you will simply burn out. You won't notice your work output diminishing, but those around you will. 

The authors talk about how muscle is built in a physical workout. The muscle is stretched beyond its limit and is physically damaged. The athlete knows that the muscle needs to have time the relax and rebuild with the proper nutrition and it will become stronger.

This concept doesn't only apply to your muscle, it applies to every quadrant of your life (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual). What this means is that when you are engaged, be fully engaged and stretch yourself beyond what you think your limits will be. 

Afterward, take a break. 

If you are trying to build your mental muscle, you can work on an difficult problem and focus on that problem exclusively for maybe 4-hours. Then force yourself to get your mind off the problem and do an activity that requires little thought or simply rest.

The alternatives to this strength building cycle are to try to operate passively and below 100% for extended periods of time. In this mode, you will become bored, and that aspect of your life will atrophy. We've already talked about the burnout that will occur at 110% for extended periods of time.

Bringing it All Together

These three productivity and time management books were obviously written by three different sources and have three different perspectives on effective time management. 

However, there is the possibility to combine all of these into one comprehensive time and life management system that will serve you well.

Here's the system that I will use:

  1. Take a half day block and list your core values. In my case, I called my list Jeff's Manifesto.  It is broken into 4-categories: 1) Vocation; 2) Relationship; 3) Amusement; and 4) Character. In my particular case, my core values emanate from my Christian faith. You can choose your own core values.
  2. Create a list of life goals that you'd like to achieve. Then break these goals into manageable and sequential tasks.
  3. Create a list of good habits that serve "who you want to be" goals.
  4. Dump all of the rest of the stuff from your brain into a long list of tasks that need to be done; whether they fit any of your goals or simply need to be accomplished.
  5. With all of the tasks and habits you've created in Steps #2 through #4, put them into whatever task management system works best for you. I highly recommend the Empowered Productivity System described above, if you don't currently have a system.
  6. Score your tasks on how they connect to your core values. The more core values a task touches, the more it's worth.
  7. Do a planning session before your week starts every week; and review your previous week's accomplishments. Celebrate when you achieve high scores.  t means that you are in control and you are living with purpose.
  8. Live your life according to your core values and be happy.

These steps are really simple. 

I also recommend reading all of the books that I have summarized in this blog post.

You will better understand these concepts and these eight steps will be much more meaningful and effective to you in your journey on creating the life you want; instead of a life of hapless busyness.

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About Jeff Schuster

As a business coach and 30-year business veteran, I help my business owner clients change their mindset in a way that allows them the freedom and profitability they’ve always hoped for, but never thought possible. If you’d like to develop a successful business mindset, I offer online training along with individual and group coaching sessions.

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