This is the first in a two-part series of guest articles by Dana Brownlee.
As I was going to bed one evening last year, I yanked at my nightstand drawer and was completely frustrated that I could no longer open it because of all the unread magazines that I had stuffed in there to read … one day. I had subscriptions to three great magazines—one for entrepreneurs, one for parents and O, The Oprah Magazine (everyone needs Oprah, right?). They represented the type of reading that I envisioned myself doing as a professional married woman with two small children, who has been running my own training business for nearly a decade.
In that moment of frustration, I also had a moment of clarity—I will never have time to read those magazines. In the past I’d rationalized to myself that when I’m waiting at the hair salon or the baby is finally sleeping through the night or we take our next vacation, I will take a stack of magazines and catch up (as if it was some homework assignment that I was turning in late). When I did have a rare moment to read one, I found myself feeling guilty because I’d skim over many articles and in the back of my mind think “I paid for this magazine, so I better read all of it!” But my thinking had started to dramatically change.
I now had a new clarity, and I was going to take action! I gathered all the unread magazines, marched myself down the stairs (walking ever so carefully to avoid waking my newborn or my 2.5-year-old), and threw all the magazines in the trash. It felt so good!
This was now something that I could check off my “things to do” list in an instant—without really doing anything! In that moment, I realized that reading those magazines just wasn’t important enough in the grand scheme of my life and should have never made it onto my “things to do” list in the first place.
Within a few months, I also resigned from two boards, got an assistant, and began jogging and doing Pilates regularly again for the first time in a very long time. Yes, my paradigm had completely shifted, and I would not look at “time management” the same ever again.
When I had my epiphany with the magazines, the big shift for me was in how I thought about managing my time. Previously, I focused on how I could get more things done on my to-do list during the day. I now realized that the key was shortening the to-do list to begin with! Many of the tasks on there didn’t deserve to make the cut, and that’s where I needed to focus if I ever really wanted to get a true handle on my time.
As a corporate trainer and leadership coach, I often provide time management training, and once I shifted my paradigm, I wanted to share it with my clients as well. Indeed, I felt I’d discovered my own small “chupacabra,” and I couldn’t wait to tell the world! I’m not sure if it’s the engineer or the MBA student in me, but I love models. They help provide structure to a concept and make it more easily digestible—at least they do for me. As I pondered my own personal experience and productivity best practices, I developed what I call “The NEW Time Management Model” that doesn’t focus primarily on how to get more done in a day. Instead, it focuses on how to get more accomplished that really matters—two really different approaches.
Instead of blindly adding items to your to-do list, ask yourself these four key questions and you’ll spend your time more wisely:
- Should I do this?
- How should I do it?
- What’s the right level of effort?
- How can I increase my efficiency?
Read the second article in this series to learn more about those questions.
Dana Brownlee is president of Professionalism Matters Inc. a boutique professional development corporate training firm. Her firm operates www.professionalismmatters.com and www.meetinggenie.com, an online resource for meeting facilitation tips, training and instructional DVDs. Her latest publications are “Are You Running a Meeting or Drowning in Chaos?” and “5 Secrets to Virtually Cut Your Meeting Time in Half!”