This is the absolute number one complaint I hear from fellow leaders, innovators, and creatives. And people. According to a Huffington Post poll from 2017, only 13% of adults have sufficient time to accomplish what they want. (Researchers have even created a label for it: Time Famine.)
In private conversations, I guess because I was somehow able to write a book with four kids at home, people sometimes ask me, how do you do it?
The reason I call myself “storyteller” and “strategist” is that I believe creativity is part art and part science. Part song, part sweat. Part gift, part grind. It’s a creative process.
CREATIVE WITHOUT PROCESS IS LIKE ICE WITHOUT CREAM.
Separate, they’re kinda good but unfulfilling. Together, they’re amazing.
The creative process of getting things done starts with treating time as a resource. Like a grocery shopper finding a discount double or a financial planner shaving off tenths, I like to carve minutes for things that matter, even if they’re few and far between.
Here’s the hook: you can’t make time – only find it. Ken Willard writes, “Working more hours is not really the point.” In fact, there comes a time that working more is destructive. All we can do is be more efficient with what we have.
This sounds simple, and most of us agree in theory, but most of us also live like time is a flexible resource. It’s not. Here’s a truth:
IN ORDER TO CREATE SOMETHING, YOU HAVE TO MANAGE YOUR TIME.
The clock is not your friend. Of course you don’t have enough time. No one does.
But, the clock is not your enemy, either. It just isn’t going to do you any favors, so you have to conquer the clock the same way you walk your dog or make your children do their homework. If you look at the clock with the clear-eyed realism that it requires, then you can begin to get the most out of it.
I recently read Ken Willard’s excellent book on time management, which named several techniques for conquering the clock and finding those valuable minutes. He provides the statistic above, and these 5 techniques are culled from his insights:
5 STEPS TO MANAGE YOUR TIME BETTER
1. Track How You’re Spending Your Time For Three Weeks
Create a spreadsheet with columns for: start time, end time, total time (rounded to the 15-minute mark), description, and category. You’ll need to make a list to categorize your time, but here are some ideas for starters:
- Personal (eating, sleeping, grooming, relaxation)
- Household (buying groceries, paying bills)
- Administration (meetings, email, phone)
- Input (Reading, listening to podcasts)
- Other People’s Work (completing obligatory tasks)
- Creativity / Productivity (here’s the critical one.)
The critical question is, how much is going into that last category?
Define the last category as time devoted to tasks related to your life’s mission or creative dream. Your Ephesians 2:10 set of good things.
How much of your time each week is actually spent pursuing your big idea? If your target time is 8 hours a week, how can you raise it to 13 hours? This is what you want to grow.
2. Create Long-Term Goals.
I can hear your brain now: “Here we go with goals…”
Why I am talking about boring ol’ goals? Because, as Willard writes, “most people confuse activity with productivity.”
Most people confuse activity with productivity - Ken Willard
Most of us can make a task list, but we don’t do long-term goals. Long term goals are different.
Long-term goals are a very short list of the ways you hope to make your visions and dreams a reality in the coming year. These aren’t daily tasks, or even a bunch of activities, but the difference you hope to make in the world. As Willard writes,
Where do you feel God calling you to go in your life? Take these very big concepts and spend some quality time figuring out what you need to accomplish in the next long-term time frame in order to take a step or two in the direction of that vision.
Most of the time, long-term visions cannot be accomplished in a single year, but might take several years to fully realize.
For example, I decided in 2011 that books weren’t sufficient in the digital age to share my ideas, so I decided to carve a corner in the digital world through this blog and my social media networks to complement my book writing. I am still realizing that decision, but this blog is a heckuva lot more frequently visited than it was a few years ago.
3. Create Short-Term Plans.
Long-term thinking leads directly to short-term planning, typically 30-90 days out. What specifically has to happen in order to make the long-term plan a reality? Wilard says, “One of the challenges that many people run into is that they try to jump directly from long-term goals to daily plans,” which causes people to become frustrated and overwhelmed.
One way to do this is to create a short list of 3-4 items to focus on per quarter. At work, I name a few big picture projects, such as install campus signage, design new website, etc. These aren’t daily or weekly tasks, but the things that will take 1-3 months and multiple steps to realize.
4. Create A Daily Or Weekly Punch List Of Items.
Willard writes about a daily list. I make a weekly list. Willard makes two vital points:
a) some type of daily planning is absolutely necessary to achieve any dreams.
b) be intentional about connecting long term and short term plans to your daily list.
Daily tasks need to be very simple and executable. Do this first, talk to this person second, and so on. If the way to achieve short-term plans is unclear, then write down what you know and what you don’t know. Ultimately, each item on your daily list needs to be measurable and accompanied by a deadline.
To keep yourself on track, compare your lists to y our long term and short term plans. If you’ve made a list for the day and there’s nothing in there to move you toward your long-term goals, then you have a problem. The way I do it is re-evaluate my calendar and list every day and ask, what is the most important thing I can do today to achieve my goals? Sometimes that means I have to re-schedule appointments or drop tasks.
5. Give Yourself Grace For Missed Goals.
I know some people who avoid goals because they seem like just something else to remind you of personal failure. Goals aren’t for self-shaming, but a tool to use to help your dreams become a reality.
The connections between all three may not initially be clear. One technique to make these connections is to ask yourself this question: “In order to (long-term dream), I am setting a goal to (short-term plan).”
Sometimes, long-term, short-term and even daily tasks emerge slowly. It was months from the time I recognized the limitations of only publishing books to the re-launch of my blog, and months more between the blog and the time I began to leverage my social networks well.
Willard writes, “If the why and the ‘in order to’, don’t immediately pop out, usually that means there is still some level of confusion, misunderstanding, or gray area to be resolved. Go back repeatedly to your vision.” This means, wait.
Productivity isn’t working harder, but allowing what is most important to dictate how you use time.
For more great details on conquering the clock and gaining valuable time to do what you love, buy Ken Willard’s book here.