Saturday, November 21, 2015

First Things First

 My daughter, Maria, recently had a new baby. A few days after she delivered, I visited with her, expecting to find her happy. Instead, I found her frustrated. She told me, "I have so many other projects and interests that are important to me. But right now, I have to put everything on hold. I'm spending all my time just meeting the physical needs of this new baby. I can't even find time to be with my other two children and my husband."

Seeking to understand, I replied, "So, this new baby is consuming you?" She continued, "I have other work to do. I have some writing projects that need my attention. I have other people in my life." I asked her, "What does your conscience tell you to do? Maybe right now there is only one thing that matters your baby." She said, "But I have so many other projects and plans." She showed me her organizer. "I schedule time to do these other things, but then I'm constantly interrupted by my baby." I talked to her about the concept of a compass, not a clock. "You're being governed by your internal compass, your conscience, and you're doing something of enormous good. Now is not the time to be controlled by the clock. Throw away your planner for a few weeks. Only one thing is needful. So, relax and enjoy the very nature of this interruption to your life."

"But what about life balance and sharpening the saw?" she asked, knowing I teach these principles. "Your life is going to be imbalanced for a time, and it should be. The long run is where you go for balance. For now, don't even try to keep a schedule. Forget your calendar; take care of yourself; don't worry. Just enjoy the baby, and let that infant feel your joy." I reminded her: "The good is often the enemy of the best. You won't get much satisfaction from fulfilling scheduled comitments if you have to sacrifice first things and best things. Your satisfactions are tied to your role expectations. Maybe the only role that matters this entire day will be mothering your new baby. And if you fulfill that role well, you will feel satisfied. But if you schedule other commitments when you have no control of the demands your baby is going to make, you'll only be frustrated." Maria has since learned to relax and enjoy her baby more. She has also involved her husband and other children more in caring for the new baby, sharing with them all that can be shared.

Identify Your First Things

What are the first things in your life? One good way to answer that question is by asking other questions: "What is unique about me? What are my unique gifts? What is it that I can do that no one else can do? For instance, who else can be a father to your child? A grandparent to your grandchildren? Who else can teach your students? Who else can lead your company? Who else can be a mother to your baby? In a sense, we all have our "babies," meaning some demanding new project or product.

Subordinate Clock to Compass

For many executives, the dominant metaphor of life is still the clock. We value the clock for its speed and efficiency. The clock has its place, efficiency has its place - after effectiveness. The symbol of effectiveness is the compass a sense of direction, purpose, vision, perspective, and balance. A well-educated conscience serves as an internal monitoring and guidance system. To move from a clock to a compass mind-set, you focus on moving the fulcrum over by empowering other people. But the empowerment process itself is not efficient. You can't think control; you think of releasing feelings seldom expressed and interacting with others until you create something better and you don't know what it is at the beginning. It takes a lot of internal security, a lot of self-mastery, before you can even assume that risk. And the people who like to control their time, money, and things, tend to try to control people, taking the efficiency approach, which in the long run is very ineffective. Effectiveness applies to self as much as to other people. You should never be efficient with yourself either.

From Urgency to Importance

When we are guided by an internal compass, a highly educated conscience, we may decide to dedicate an entire morning to one person or to focus on one project and subordinate an earlier schedule we'd set up, unless we have strong commitments to meet with certain individuals, then we work around those. Or we may decide to set aside an afternoon to keep an appointment only with ourselves. During that time, we might sharpen the saw by exercising one or more of the four dimensions of our personality: physical, mental, social, and spiritual. We use self-awareness to know what to do and when. I recommend a time management credo that says: "I will not be governed by the efficiency of the clock; I will be governed by my conscience. Because my conscience deals with the totality of my life. And since it is well educated from study and from experience, it will help me make wise decisions." Under the influence of a well-developed conscience, you make decisions on a daily, hourly, and moment-to-moment basis to be governed by principles. If you are immersed in an extremely productive or creative work, don't let anything interrupt. Can you imagine a surgeon taking a telephone call in the middle of surgery? Most people are buried in urgency. Most production and management jobs call for quick reactions to what is urgent and important. The net effect of a reactionary, urgent lifestyle is stress, burnout, crisis management, and always putting out fires. If you're into daily planning and prioritizing, then by definition you live with urgencies and crises. Important but not urgent activities are easily pushed out by daily planning. When you are guided by an internal compass or set of principles, you begin to see that the idea that I am in control is an arrogant concept. You have to humbly submit yourself to natural laws that ultimately govern anyway. If you internalize those laws and principles, you create a highly educated conscience. And if you are open to it, you will keep first things first.