Are you budgeting your time? What are you doing right now? No, I don’t mean reading this. I mean, what were you doing just before reading this? Was it something urgent and demanding your attention? Were you absently going through your email for the fiftieth time today? Or, was it something important? I’m reading the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World now and it started me thinking about a book I read years ago: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (both affiliate links) multiple times. How am I spending my time? Is it on important things or just urgent ones?Urgent isn't always Important

Urgent Things

When I don’t think, I mean actively think, “urgent” and “important” seem like the same thing. My problem lies, pun intended, in the lie that because something is “urgent” it is therefore “important” also. It simply isn’t true. Let me think of some urgent things:

  1. The phone ringing.
  2. A thump near the stairs followed by my 1 year old screaming.
  3. A beep from my computer indicating an incoming email.
  4. A red traffic control light.
  5. The doorbell ringing.

Being urgent, these all quickly grab my attention. When they happen and because of their nature, all somewhat interrupting, they place themselves at the forefront of my mind. An untrained mind allows them to also become important. Are they all important? Really? OK, are they more important that what I’m doing right now? Which of those items are really important as I sit here in my office writing to you? Hint, there is only one. Yes, you got it, it is #2. Number 2 is the only one that is important now in they hypothetical case that it happened right now. And, as a side note, the chances of me seeing a red traffic control light while I’m writing this are near zero. On the other hand, driving down the road that might be quite an important thing to recognize and respond to.

Design a Response

Since all of these will get into our mind we need to do two things with the information we gathered from them: 1) recognize the information 2) respond appropriately to the information. I guess there is a third step in between of utmost importance: DESIGN A RESPONSE. The crucial difference between a response and a reaction is that moment in between. The moment of DESIGN A RESPONSE turns a reaction into a response and it only takes a fraction of a second longer. It’s worth the investment.

The first step in response design is choosing not to react. Once you’ve decided not to react, you’ve put yourself in a position to turn on that noodle upstairs, your brain. We can take the information we recognized, lets call it the stimulus, and evaluate it. Many of the stimuli we experience every day are quite common and we give them a conditioned response. For the most part, this can be very good. Habits at their root are conditioned (or learned or trained) responses to a certain stimuli. If it is a bad habit, it might not be very good. We’ve discussed this before: Habit Modification.

Now that we’re thinking about the stimuli because we chose not to react to it, we need to determine if it is more important than what we’re doing right now, to decide if it is even important at all. None of the things on the list are more important than writing to you right now. Just kidding, checking if you’re listening, if Spencer started screaming right now, I would determine that it was way more important than writing to you. The rest, well, they’re not. I don’t need to answer the phone nor the door. I don’t need to look at my email and I can’t imagine a red traffic control light showing up. Those things aren’t important.

Response Design Results

I used to answer the phone and door. There was a time not too long ago that I incessantly looked at my email inbox. No More! Those days are gone. I used to multitask nearly all the time–I’m still working on this one. All of those stimuli tempt me to multitask but I have created a new conditioned response: continue doing what’s more important. Do I answer the phone or the door? Yes, when I’m not doing something more important. Who’s at the door anyway? UPS, FedEx, USPS, roofing companies (the roofers hit us up at least once a week), security companies. More than half the time the UPS guy just rings and walks away. That makes it even less important.

Here’s an interesting story:

I got married a few years back and along with the most awesome wife in the world I became the father of three young blessings. We put a real land line phone in the house just so they can call us when we’re both out and about. We don’t give the number to anyone and we don’t even use it. (Please explain to me why it rings all the time?) For a while, when it rang the kids or Leah would answer it.

One night at dinner, (by the way, eating dinner every day as a family has amazing positive affects on one’s entire life) the phone rang and a child politely chimed out, “I’ll get it.” I grabbed her arm as she dashed from the table and simply said “don’t”. She looked at me confused and sat back down to dinner. As I looked up from my peas, I saw four confused, shocked, dumbfounded expressions staring back at me.

“Dad, the phone rang. We’re supposed to answer it.” introduced the dialog summing up all I’ve said above. Three years later, there is another conditioned response to the phone ringing. In fact, if I call the house it takes 2-3 calls to get an answer and I’m OK with that because I have a family that does important things.

That’s not really what I’m here to tell you about but if you take a few days or a week and review your conditioned responses you’ll find a bunch of areas where you can save and increase your productivity.

Budgeting Time

I’ve explained in Budgeting 101 how to give every dollar a job to do, tell it where to go. One thing more valuable than money is your time. Shouldn’t we therefore give every day, hour, minute at job or an assignment as well? OH YES! What do we budget first? Yes, our tithing and F.R.U.I.T.S. (check out the F.R.U.I.T. about half-way down Baby Steps to Debt Freedom in step 3) the important stuff. When I don’t fill out my calendar with my plan or don’t follow the plan I spend time on urgent stuff that isn’t important or just plain unimportant stuff. That sucks!

As I plan my 12 Week Year (affiliate link) I put actions and tasks on it that are important. As I plan each week, budget each week, I use my 12 week year outline to determine the important tasks to include in the week. As I start each day, I look at my buget/plan which is my calendar and I take action. When I use this strategy, I spend more and more time on important stuff that isn’t urgent. WOW, isn’t that novel. Spending time on important stuff without urgency. Think about a task that you’ve done many multiples of times. Umm, taking out the garbage. Compare your work between the times you do it the afternoon or evening before with urgently getting it out the door in the morning. I don’t need to say more. Working on important stuff with out urgency provides better important stuff.

Merrill Covey MatrixThere’s a matrix out there called the Eisenhower Method. Basically a grid of four squares with “Urgent” and “Not Urgent” labeling the columns and “Important” and “Not Important” labeling the rows. Stephen Covey first introduced this to me in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Everything I choose to do falls into one of the four boxes or quadrants of the matrix:

  1. Urgent & Important
  2. Not Urgent & Important
  3. Urgent & Not Important
  4. Not Urgent & Not Important

Without a budget and without a plan my time gets spent in quadrants 1, 3, and 4. When taking stock I find that I only recognize value in the time I spent in quadrants 1 and 2. But in the situation of no budget and no plan there isn’t much 2 – Not Urgent & Important going on so I can only measure and value 1 – Urgent & Important. Working from that quadrant as we’ve discussed often results in degraded quality.

By budgeting time and targeting Not Urgent and Important tasks I increase the quality of my work, my life, my family and my relationships. I pray that you can do the same.

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