One of my favorite quotes this year is from Dr. Howard Hendricks, an author, speaker and highly influential professor at Dallas Theological Seminary:
“If anything has kept me on track all these years, it is being skewed to this principle of center focus. There are many things that I can do, but I have to narrow it down to the one thing I must do. The secret of concentration is elimination.”
Nearly every day provides opportunities for our time. Go to this meeting. Take on this action item. Stop for a “5 minute conversation” (that can turn into an hour or more).
The time management principle is this: if you don’t take responsibility for your time, other people are glad to do it for you!
This isn’t just an issue at work. Think of the commitments we easily take on at home. As our kids have gotten older we’ve been bombarded with endless opportunities to invest their time: sports teams, music classes, theater, volunteer opportunities, and more.
Have you had to forgo a family vacation because of one of these commitments? It’s easy to rationalize the importance of all we do, only to find that the most important things we need to be doing are left undone.
Certainly the principle applies to projects! How often do we get talked into taking on additional scope, only to increase the risk of missing the date or impacting quality? How often can we get sucked into additional meetings or take on action items that would be more appropriately handled by others?
What is your center focus? What are the things you must do today, not the nice-to-have’s. When someone comes up to you shortly after reading this post and asks for you to commit your time, how will you evaluate if this aligns with your center focus or something to eliminate?
Here are some practical ideas to put this learning into action:
- Check out my recent project management podcast episode about Suzy Welch’s book 10-10-10: A Fast and Powerful Way to Get Unstuck in Love, at Work, and with Your Family. The book title sounds more like a topic for Oprah than for leaders but it has some very helpful content to help you evaluate decisions.
- Take some time to think through your commitments. What do you need to eliminate? Elimination can mean cancelling or backing away, but it can also mean delegating. (see Harvard Business Review’s classic article, “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?“).
- Check out our time management e-learning offering entitled, “5 Keys to Getting More Done with Less Stress.”
I had to tell a friend this morning that I couldn’t help him with a very good initiative that he is working on. I could do it but my time is limited and I don’t share the same level of passion for the topic that he does. I know that I wouldn’t be able to give him what he needs. In short, it wasn’t aligned with my center focus, and I eliminated it.
One of the top ways to improve your focus is elimination: get rid of the good things to focus on the best.
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