I’m writing this from the kitchen table in by brother in law’s mountain lodge home on the snow-covered golf course of Huntsman’s Springs in Driggs, Idaho, on New Years Day. My family just left to go into town. John Huntsman, the billionaire, built this entire development. I’m told Steve Young and Glen Beck have both stayed here. It’s a great place and time to reflect. The sun is just setting on the first day of the new year. It’s time to get back to basics- Ken
Every year I stand up in front of my company, InsideSales.com, and talk about time management right before the new year. I usually do it in that slow time between Christmas and New Year’s when everyone is trying to finish out the year strong.
I just did it Friday again for the ninth time.
Time management is one skill that is universal to all disciplines of business, and life. The skills tend to decay without constant refreshers and over-compensation with process and systems. We all have huge goals to get organized, but it is much like our New Year’s resolution of going to Gold’s Gym; the parking lot is full in January, but by May it is mostly empty again.
Until you learn Level 5 Time Management… building habits of execution through recurring tasks.
I ran the inside sales department for Franklin Quest for four years during the time they were the biggest training company in the world. My job, and that of my team was to fill up 200-300 seminars each month in hotels around the United States with 30-40 people who wanted the peace of mind of being in control of the events of their lives.
Time Quest was our best seminar back then.
Those were glory days.
We rubbed shoulders with Hyrum Smith, Stephen R. Covey, Denis Waitley, Ken Blanchard, and the trainer of trainers, Joel Weldon.
This was before Franklin Quest merged with Stephen Covey’s company and became Franklin Covey. I hear they are doing very well under the leadership of Robert Whitman; he runs a tight ship. Today their seminar is the 4 Disciplines of Execution.
They live it.
My hobby has been watching over the shoulders of the greats, noticing the patterns, putting the patterns together, and trying to apply them in my life.
I have noticed that there are many levels of time management:
Level 1 Time Management is Capture: Make a list.
Capture your random thoughts in one place so you don’t forget. A dull pencil is sharper than two bright minds. And Evernote that syncs on my iPad, iPhone, and Macbook Pro is better than any dull pencil. My father is great at this. He learned it in the military.
Level 1 is where you manage your minutes.
Level 2 Time Management is Prioritize: Rank your list.
Once you have made a list of tasks, put them in order in which you want to get things done. Then get to work on your list by priority. The prioritization step takes time.
While at Franklin Quest we often surveyed people to find why they didn’t prioritize: their answer was funny… it takes too much time.
Level 2 is where you manage your hours.
Level 3 Time Management is the Prioritized Daily Task List: Control the events of your life.
An event is the basic building block of time.
An event is a task with a date and time, a deadline, attached.
Franklin Quest taught us that controlling the events of our lives brought us peace of mind. Their Productivity Pyramid built Long-Range Goals, Intermediate Goals, and Daily Tasks on a foundation of Governing Values.
What are Governing Values? They are what matters most in your life.
Anything you care about is a governing value. Good or bad.
Both Ghandi and Hitler had governing values.
I guess this level of time management would have helped them both be more productive. Society has judged their outcomes.
I remember we taught the story of how Ben Franklin outlined twelve values he deeply believed in. A Quaker friend of his looked them over and commented he really should add humility, so he did. He worked on one per week for thirteen weeks, then started over, four times a year.
At the end of his life he said he believed he actually achieved each of those values, except humility, but that one wasn’t his anyway.
Here they are:
He wrote a defining statement after each one. Click here to see what he wrote. It’s a good exercise right about now.
So how does the Productivity Pyramid work? You set long-range goals, break them down into intermediate goals, and then break them down into bite-sized daily tasks which you write in your Day Planner.
Then you prioritize them A (must do), B (should do), and C (could do.) Then if you have time you put a rank order on your A’s, B’s, and C’s with a 1, 2, 3, etc. This is highly efficient, and largely effective.
A Franklin Day Planner is one of the best time management tools ever invented. Many people are going back and using inserts to fit their iPhone, Android, or iPad into their trusty planner. The planner is still very good for managing tasks and taking handwritten notes. Electronic devices are great for scheduling and managing contacts but still struggle in tasks and notes.
My favorite app, Evernote, hasn’t addressed tasks yet.
Level 3 is where you manage your day.
Level 4 Time Management is Week-at-a-Glance: Mission, Vision, Roles and Principles
I just listened again to 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, probably one of the most copied titles or headlines, and one of the most impactful books ever written. I love the Audible.com version so I can listen to his voice again. My Forbes tribute to Dr. Covey on the day he passed away is still one of my most commented articles… he changed people’s lives all over the world in a way few have.
He promoted time management to a whole new level. He often spoke of Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals. But in fairness to Franklin, they had values and goals clear back in Level 3.
He added the fourth level or four quadrants to be exact:
The Quadrant Four Model is very powerful.
I won’t spoil the read of either of these two landmark books, but the key is focusing proactively on Quadrant Two, important but not urgent, lessening Quadrant Three, not important but urgent, and killing Quadrant Four, not important and not urgent, by saying that all important word, “No.”
Dr. Covey was a proponent of inside-out, or the ‘character ethic’ ahead of outside-in, the ‘personality ethic.’
Both are important, but first things first.
He believed in universal truths, he called them ‘Principles.’ They were a necessary addition to the agnostic and relativistic ‘Values,’ by definition, of the Level Three disciples.
He argued we can’t really break universal laws; we can only break ourselves against them.
No amount of argument will change the law of gravity as I slip off of a roof. Perhaps anti-grav belts will one day show us a higher law.
He also inserted the critical concept of ‘Roles’ into his model of time management. Roles warrant their own priorities in our model of time management. He warned we needed to find time for the important roles in our life: Husband, Father, Son, Partner, Friend, Citizen, Author, Self.
He warned of spending lots of time building a ladder only to find it is leaning against the wrong wall.
You have probably seen the example where you have a jar full of big rocks, a jar of pebbles, a jar of sand, and a jar of water.
It is an amazing visual demonstration to watch someone put the big rocks in first, shake the pebbles, and then the sand around the rocks, and then pour the water in on top and have all four jars settle together.
Four jars… into one.
Dr. Covey recommended that we begin the week with the big rocks. The important tasks that align with our roles and principles; we put them into our schedule first. Then we add the pebbles and the sand, then pour the water around to fit it all in, or not.
Remember, it’s ok to say “No.”
His New York Times Bestselling book ‘First Things First,’ along with A. Roger Merrill and Rebecca R. Merrill is a must read for anybody who is serious about time management.
Dr. Covey espoused effectiveness more than efficiency; getting the right things done at the expense of getting lots of things done.
Level 4 is where you manage your week.
Level 5 Time Management is Monthly: recurring tasks that build habits
I mentioned earlier that Franklin Quest and Covey Leadership merged into Franklin Covey. And now their flagship seminar is called The 4 Disciplines of Execution. The forward to the book is written by Clayton Christensen, one of my favorite thought leaders. It is about combining effectiveness and efficiency into execution in business.
It rocks… literally.
Execution is getting the right things done well, day in and day out.
The right things are those Quadrant Two actions, important but not urgent, that bring the most leverage, but are forever delayed by practicing procrastinators.
As an entrepreneur, these are the keys to a good business. These little daily drops into the reservoirs that sustain life when cash flow is uneven, growth unsteady, and morale suffers:
Making the calls, answering messages, balancing the books, walking the floor, testing the results, hitting your numbers, reporting back, meeting with your people, calling your customers, listening to voicemail, building relationships of trust.
I first learned this lesson of life during two years as a Mormon missionary in South Carolina. Now an important caveat here, I’m not proselyting for my church, but I am advocating the development of daily habits.
Later in life I learned from my mentor, Dr. Chauncey Riddle, that…
“Our religion is the sum total of our habits.”
It isn’t just what we think about, intend, or talk about…
It is what we actually spend our life doing that reveals who we really are.
One of my favorite quotes:
“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” –Frank Outlaw
The Mormon, Muslim, Catholic, Jew, Hindu, Protestant, Agnostic, or Atheist would all fall under this same guideline when we are all measured and weighed in the balance; whether the measure of good is God, conscience, society, or humanity.
It is only our actions that bring results.
The politics of the liberal, conservative, moderate, libertarian, or progressive are ultimately measured by whether we are full of mere political theories, or do our words turn to action for the good of mankind?
In business, as an entrepreneur, or an executive; talk is especially cheap. Key actions, leverage actions, actions that are pursued until you are finished… follow through… this is what matters. In our life habits shape our character. The character of our business is it’s culture. It is the recurring small things that shape a culture.
You see, these principles are extremely relevant…
So here is the key question:
How do you discipline yourself to do those key important things every day or week or month that you know you should do?
This was especially hard to do as a missionary. You see, it wasn’t a job. I didn’t get paid to be there, in fact, I was paying my own way just to knock doors for two years in the humid summers of the Deep South. I’m from the heart of the Rocky Mountains; I grew up at 4500 feet above sea level.
This makes it especially hard to get up early every morning.
For the first few months I was up and down, like a rollercoaster.
Has your life ever been like you were on a roller coaster? How is it right now?
It was Ronald Pierce, the guy in charge of me, who taught me one of life’s profound lessens… steadiness. He told me if I would do several things every day I would be steady through the day. I won’t give them all away, but one was to get up early. Another was to end the day by writing in my journal; a form of ‘debrief’ of my day.
“Every day?” I asked? I knew I was sunk. Steady I was not.
I wanted to do it. He did it! I knew I had to find a way to overcompensate for my times of weakness. I needed a process, a system.
Bryan Tracey said,
“Character is the ability to follow through with a resolution long after the emotion with which it was made has passed.”
I had an idea.
I went to the five and dime store and bought a large piece of poster board, a sharpie marker, and a yardstick.
I came back and marked a chart with roughly 60 columns and several rows.
I put ‘Get Up on Time,’ as the first row on my chart with 60 check boxes, enough for two months.
Then I added a couple of other items, and ended with, ‘Write in Journal.’
I called it my ‘Reservoirs’ chart. I hung it on the inside of the door that went out of my apartment so it would just sit there in my path and bother me until I did my daily recurring tasks, and marked it.
I did OK for a few days, then a few weeks, and then I never missed.
Research we accessed while at Franklin Quest showed that it takes somewhere between 21 and 28 days to build recurring tasks into a habit.
After I had built all four daily recurring actions into habits, I dramatically improved in my steadiness. I seemed strong all the time. Then I added a fifth item, a sixth, a seventh. By the end of my two years I was checking 24 things on my chart every day. Writing a letter daily. Eating right. Exercising. Memorizing a paragraph a day.
When I got home I kept my discipline up for several months. I went into sales. The one thing I had learned how to do was to knock doors. I married my dear wife Crystal during the high point of my life. Slowly the cares of life, going to school, full time work, and raising a family crept in. I fell into a five year long dark time of my life.
One day my wife said, “You aren’t the same person I married.”
Wow. Shock to the system!
What happened? My reservoirs were empty.
In fact, I had holes in my reservoir I needed to patch just to hold anything. I knew what I had to do.
I printed a new chart.
And this time I put things for me to build into habits and for my family to do together. Every night I had a checkbox for, “Read a Story to the Kids,” and “Activity” where we played a short game like hide and seek. Every Friday I put “Date night with Crystal”, and “Family Night with Kids” on Monday.
Then I printed a chart for work.
- Be 5 minutes early,
- check voice mail,
- return email,
- make 50 prospecting calls,
- manage by walking around,
- talk to 3 clients,
- daily reports, and
- weekly meeting preparation.
Things started to take off. My reservoirs started to fill. That was almost 20 years ago. I taught my teams to do the same. Daily Recurring Actions. Habits.
We became the fastest growing department at the second fastest growing company in America.
The darkness left. The roller coaster of life steadied out. We often read our favorite poem:
The Habit Poem
I am your constant companion.
I am your greatest helper or heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.
I am completely at your command.
Half of the things you do you might as well turn
over to me and I will do them – quickly and correctly.
I am easily managed – you must be firm with me.
Show me exactly how you want something done
and after a few lessons, I will do it automatically.
I am the servant of great people,
and alas, of all failures as well.
Those who are great, I have made great.
Those who are failures, I have made failures.
I am not a machine though
I work with the precision of a machine
plus the intelligence of a person.
You may run me for profit or run me for ruin –
it makes no difference to me.
Take me, train me, be firm with me, and
I will place the world at your feet.
Be easy with me and I will destroy you.
Who am I?
I am Habit.
That is Level 5 Time Management, where you manage your month… your habits.
Stay tuned for Level 6, where you manage your quarter, your change, your character, and more.
Oh, and make it a great day, a great month, and a great year.