Making time or finding time?


A collection of stop watches
Image by Gerd Altman on Pixabay

Focus & Priorities

A large part of being successful is quite simply putting our time & energy in the right place. And it holds true whether we’re running our own business, or part of a team contributing to someone else’s. Knowing what to do & where to put our focus is key.

As Bruce Lee said,

“The successful warrior is the average [person], with laser-like focus”

If we’re not careful we can waste so much time, energy and often cash on the wrong thing — the things that don’t get us anywhere other than exhausted and frustrated.

Been there, done that!

And I speak from bitter experience. I’ve done this myself.

At work, until I learned better, I was always the first one in & the last one out of the office. I worked all the hours and rarely said No to a new assignment. How productive I was is another question altogether.

I hate to say it, but soon after starting out on my own I fell into the same trap again — doing lots of ‘busy’ work and getting distracted from the things that would move my business forward.

A large part of that was because it felt more comfortable — I was doing the things I could control & that felt familiar rather than taking the harder path, confronting all the new areas I needed to cover and exposing myself to the risk of failure.

Fear of failure (along with a drive for perfection & a craving for orderly, tidy answers) is one of the characteristics that doesn’t sit well with entrepreneurship — but that’s a whole different article…

Finding Our Focus

So back to finding focus — once I’d kicked myself, I realized it was a great opportunity for me to follow my own advice and put into practice what I work with clients on!

My prescription?

(a) Know where you want to be — remind yourself what it is that you’re really trying to achieve, and assess your activities against that goal/vision. Are they moving you towards it? Or are they a distraction? Work out what needs to happen to achieve your goal, and do those things.

Break it all down into manageable chunks & set yourself milestones along the way. Sometimes we get distracted because the task seems too big and/or we don’t know where to start. Publishing a website can seem both daunting & never-ending, writing one section feels more achievable and easier to track.

(b) Focus on the most important things — this seems like an obvious statement but it can be incredibly hard to put into practice sometimes. What does ‘most important’ really mean? Is it the deadline that’s looming tomorrow, the client request that we don’t want to forget, the business plan we keep meaning to update or the coffee date we booked a couple of weeks back when our schedule was less packed?

Two things I find helpful are

· knowing the difference between Urgent & Important, and

· working out what’s the most profitable use of my time.

Urgent v Important

Diagram explaining the Eisenhower Urgent, Important Matrix

Most of us are familiar with the Eisenhower Matrix (even if we don’t realize that’s what its called!) & with some effort, we can usually work out which box to put a task in, but knowing how to use the matrix is another matter altogether.

In other words, once we’ve put tasks in the right box, what do we do next?

Quite simply, we just allocate them the appropriate amount of time. Some of it is obvious — we should spend least time doing things that are neither urgent nor important, and we should focus more time on the important stuff.

And in terms of prioritization, urgent should come before not urgent. Yes?

Well, sort of but not quite…

The real trick is in knowing that the single most important box is actually Important but not Urgent. This is the one that’s really easy to miss, and the one we should make sure to schedule good time for (both in terms of quantity & quality — ie a good chunk of our best thinking time).

And some of that Important but not Urgent time should be spent working out how to a) minimize the number of things that end up in the Urgent & Important box (sometimes by scheduling time for them earlier!), and b) delegate or automate the Urgent but not Important tasks.

You can read more about Eisenhower matrix tactics & strategies here.

Important v Unimportant

Adopting the Eisenhower Matrix is all very well, but the real benefit comes when we’re easily able to identify what’s important v what’s peripheral.

Some of the questions I use to help myself with this are:

· does this task move me closer to my goals and targets?

· how does this activity link to generating revenue for the business?

· if I don’t do this, what will happen?

When I do it then comes back to the urgency assessment — is it a today task or can it wait?

On that last ‘what happens if’ question, we’re often really good at looking at the consequences of doing something. We tend to be less good at the impact if we don’t do something.

Getting into the habit of checking out what risks we’re leaving ourselves open to or what opportunities we may miss by not doing that thing, making that call or attending that event is a great practice that can really help.

Rationing our Time

Our own personal time really is our scarcest resource — any other shortage can generally be cured with an injection of cash, but our own personal time is absolutely finite.

A recent discussion with a client going through some health issues gave me the final question I now routinely use when assessing where to put my focus.

If I only have 90 minutes of energy today, where am I going to spend that energy for the biggest return — personal, professional, whatever.

It’s a great way of working out what’s really truly personally important — and on my best days, I’m getting pretty good at sticking to it.

At the end of the day, it’s about making time for the important things — or as Stephen Covey says, scheduling our priorities not prioritizing our schedules.



Rebecca Maxwell, Perception Insights

Leader, Coach, Trainer, Consultant. Supporting leaders, entrepreneurs & business owners grow their potential & their success.