The first is understanding and differentiating between urgency and importance. Urgent things demands our attention now, they call for an immediate response. Important refers to something that has significant value and is likely to have a profound effect on success, survival or well being. These two criteria may overlap or they may be worlds apart, and a key to effective time management is attention to how these categories interface. Too often we have conditioned ourselves to respond to urgency whether or not it is important. A ringing telephone is a perfect example. It calls for our attention right now, and it may portend an important job offer or a recorded sales pitch. These days with the advent of caller ID, text messaging, and voice mail, it is easier to manage our phone time.... or is it? Stopping to each check messages or screening every call can still interrupt our focus and fragment our attention.
Many people will say that the most valuable components of life are the relationships with the people they love. And far too often we hear regrets of not having given more time to nourishing and enjoying those relationships, of having gotten caught up in what seemed more urgent business at the time. Taking a "bigger picture" perspective and allocating time and energy to important pursuits (such as making the time to talk with an open heart to those you love) can prevent situations from escalating into crisis or regret. Attending to exercise and emotional well being activities on a regular basis can prevent a health crisis down the road, the same way that beginning to organize tax papers in the early months of the year can avert a stressful time crunch in mid April. This focus invites you to schedule daily or weekly time commitments to what is truly important in your life.
The second focal point is to continually ask yourself whether what you are doing is bringing you closer to your goal or taking you away from accomplishing your intention. Be willing to be curious about this question without judging yourself. It means paying attention to both the long term and short term impact of our actions, and making conscious decisions in the moment rather than reacting on impulse and habit. For example, if your goal is to have a better relationship with someone, this focus invites you to ask whether your responses to this person serve you, and if not, to replace them with better choices. It might be helpful to target some of your reactive habits that you can identify as moving you away from your goal (such as blaming, criticizing, cold shouldering, etc.) and make a list of possible alternative behaviors with which to replace them (taking a time out to get perspective, sharing an honest feeling, taking a deep centering breath before you speak). By paying attention to your direction, you can begin to recognize and inhibit patterns that sabotage your intended goal and redirect yourself to more productive actions that will eventually become new habits and make your goal a reality.
Let's put both techniques together and use the example of the common goal of having a clean and better organized living space. If you dedicate 10 minutes every day to doing something to improve your home environment, you will progress towards that goal. If you notice yourself leaving clutter on the counter and inhibit that action and redirect to putting those things away, you take another step closer to your goal. On the other hand, if you allow the clutter to accumulate, you take a step away your goal. If you ignore the mess until you can no longer function in the environment, it becomes urgent and may generate feelings of overwhelm or self depreciation. Our lives are the composite of a multitude of moments, a cascade of small steps, and it is within your power to choose your directions. If you have trouble with this, ask for help. It can make a huge difference to have someone to be accountable to, someone to assist your focus in remaining on, or returning to, the task.