Having worked in various positions as Senior Manager and Team Leader for the best part of the last 15 years, I too regularly succumbed to the classic manager’s delusion: that being a good manager is all about keeping constantly busy.
Nothing screams ‘manager’ like working against a tight deadline, dealing with a sudden crisis, attending back-to-back meetings and multitasking between projects. At the end of a hard day having been immersed in a combination of most of the above, you go home with a beautiful glowing feeling in your stomach, feeling that you have once again successfully steered the ship and kept things on track.
Generally, we see most of the above as the ‘good stuff’, the stuff we are being paid for. Whether you are a solopreneur or a manager, keeping busy doing ‘urgent’ stuff and jumping from one task to the other, is seen as an essential, and perhaps even desirable part of the job. I know many small business owners who would probably be alienated and completely out of their comfort zone if they were to be forced to spend half a day a week or longer working on their business, rather than in their business.
But the really important stuff, those whose outcomes and results seem invisible here and now, are the things that can propel your business or make the difference between an ok manager and an exceptional manager. Goal setting, preparation, values clarification and planning may seem fruitless endeavours in the present, where fires need to be extinguished, suppliers need to be chased up and client appointments need to be rescheduled.
However, in the long run, how you do things matters much more than what you do right now. Time pressure is likely to be your biggest source of stress and overwhelm. As a solopreneur, your time is your most valuable asset. You should use it wisely and focus on the things that make the difference to your business.
Former US President Eisenhower used the so-called “Eisenhower Principle” to organize his tasks. He is quoted as saying, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” Stephen Covey brought these concepts to the mainstream, calling it “The Urgent/Important Matrix” in his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
The Urgent/Important Matrix consists of four quadrants. The first quadrant exists of tasks that are urgent and important; the second of important, but non-urgent tasks; quadrant 3 is about urgent, but not important tasks such as dealing with unimportant emails, attending meetings that have no direct impact to your business or objectives and needless interruptions. Quadrant 4 finds you in full procrastination mode, such as ‘escape’ activities which include aimlessly browsing the internet, purposelessly chatting to work colleagues but also being consumed in needlessly self-critical thoughts, or spending your energy worrying and getting angry about things and events you have no control about. Those activities are both non-urgent and non-important.
While most of us would consider this last category as the least desirable one, I would argue that the real danger to the success of our business (or effective management) comes from dwelling too long in quadrant 1. Sure, we all know that browsing the internet and chatting about the weather are non-productive activities. Even while we are engaged with them, we feel guilty about them and realize that what we are doing is not helpful.
However, being preoccupied with quadrant 1 activities is, as described above, often seen as a noble and even desirable thing to do. The problem with this is that without proper planning, alignment to our values or monitoring of the progress towards our objectives, these tend to be lower impact activities for the future of our business. Just like in Groundhog Day, if we end up spending all our time and energy being preoccupied with them, we will never achieve anything different or better than what we are achieving right now. It’s a recipe for stagnation and ultimately, mediocrity.
Take some time this week to reflect on where you are in the Urgent/Important Matrix. How much time do you currently spend in each quadrant? What’s getting in the way of you managing your time better? How do you self-sabotage?
Q1 – Crises – If you’re spending most of your time here, how are you dealing with stress?
Q2 – Goals & Planning – If you are spending a sufficient amount of time here in order to continuously learn and grow, congratulations! How could you make sure you stay in this quadrant?
Q3 – Interruptions – If you’re spending most of your time here, you may need to find ways to say “No” to others.
Q4 – Distractions – If you’re spending most of your time here, you may need to find ways to say “No” to yourself.
Increasing the time you spend in quadrant 2 at the expense of time spent in other quadrants, is a sure way to maximize your freedom and clarity of purpose and ultimately, it is your most reliable path to abundance and work satisfaction.