Warning, this post is long! If you’re just looking for a two-sentence summary here it is:
The best book I’ve ever read on time-management and dealing with overwhelm is called The 4 Disciplines of Execution. It has helped me FOCUS, identify and prioritize the important, and use my time wisely on a daily basis.
Continue reading below for my takeaways from the book.
Chaos is costly.
I’m fairly certain that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the last year and a half. You see, our family has moved four times these past 18 months. The kids have attended three different schools, somehow Jackson finished his PhD, and I’ve scrambled to keep up with all the changes and demands of finding housing, balancing a budget, and a bazillion other things. It has been absolutely chaotic!
I’ve learned CHAOS carries a financial cost, like when you have to buy yet another pair of scissors because the ones you know you have are in some box buried somewhere without a label.
Chaos also kills your productivity and creativity…and can create some really bad attitudes!
Worst of all, chaos throttles your spiritual impact. You can’t serve someone else while constantly in survival mode. When we are overwhelmed, all our time, energy, and resources are spent taking care of OUR needs. There is no margin for others and this is the exact opposite of how we are to live as Christians.
Earlier this year, in the midst of chaos and overwhelm, I read a time-management book which turned out to be one of (if not THE) best book I’ve ever read aside from the Bible. The book opens by talking about the two main things we can influence when it comes to productivity, especially in the midst of the whirlwind of daily life:
1. Strategy (or having a plan) and
2. Execution of that strategy
The rest of the book laid out a simple 4 step plan to follow for maximizing results by focusing on what’s most important and following through. I’ve seen amazing results by implementing these 4 steps in the midst of a very crazy life.
Ultimately we must lean on and into Jesus for the stamina, strength, wisdom, and direction we need during crazy busy times. But learning from others who’ve paved the way and learned a thing or two is useful as well. Sometimes we need a few practical suggestions we can sink our teeth in to, you know?
Having a game plan to follow on a daily basis has allowed me to cut through the noise and chaos and live for what really matters. I really do believe busyness and noise are tools of the enemy to distract and derail us!
Below are my takeaways from The 4 Disciplines of Execution. The steps that follow are adapted from this book and I hope this process is useful for you as well.
6 Steps for Cutting through the Chaos and Focusing on what Matters:
Calculate your 20%
What keeps us busy (and distracted!) most is what the authors of The 4 Disciplines of Execution call the “whirlwind.” The whirlwind consists of our daily responsibilities, jobs, and to-do lists. The whirlwind is part of life and there’s no avoiding it; however, we can understand it’s proper place! An estimated 80% of our time is spent maintaining the whirlwind. That leaves 20% of our time for achieving our important goals, growing, learning, and scaling up. So the first thing I did was calculate how much time that 20% turned out to be for me personally.
To do this, you simply multiply the number of hours you are awake by 20%. Example: I wake at 5:30am and go to bed at 9:30pm, so my calculation is:
16 x .20 = 3.2 hours
Block the 20% out in your daily planner
I’ll be honest, 3.2 hours of “free” time seems ridiculous. I didn’t think I had ANY free time and maybe you are the same. But here’s the deal: first, that number you calculated above is a starting point. You may not get the full amount and that’s okay, it’s just a place to start. It’s okay if you only are able to block out 10% at the end of this exercise. We are all in different seasons!Second, when you start looking for time, chances are you’ll end up finding more than you realize.
So let’s say you watch an hour of TV every night. Boom, there’s a third of your time right there.
Or perhaps your kids nap for two hours. Bingo.
Or maybe you get up 30 minutes earlier than everyone else in your house. Or maybe you know you spend too much time on social media or the internet. The point is to identify pockets of time or what I call “time opportunities” that can be stretched and maximized.
I’m going to borrow a term I heard from Amy Porterfield and call the 20% your “Tiger Time.” The final step here is to block out time blocks in your daily schedule for your Tiger Time. Tiger Time can be divided up however you’d like and according to what works best for you and your daily whirlwind. So 2-3 daily chunks is okay as is grouping it altogether into one chunk. That doesn’t matter as much as actually blocking it out in your planner. You want to have this time actually set aside and scheduled for, just as you would for an appointment.
Clarify your ONE thing and focus all effort in that single direction
So now that you have your time blocks created, you are ready for the 4 disciplines discussed in the book, the first one being FOCUS. This means a couple of things. One, it means you direct all your energy and time into ONE thing as opposed to many different things. You do less in order to accomplish more. We must, must, must learn to narrow rather than expand our goals! A house divided will fall and energy dispersed in a hundred different directions is energy wasted. You want to put all your 20% into ONE thing, thus gaining momentum and leverage. Two, it means you have to know very clearly what your most important “thing” is. To determine this, you’ll need to ask yourself this question: what single area in my life, if changed, would have the greatest impact? Once you have the answer to that, you’ve clarified your ONE thing!
Note: your ONE thing could either be within or outside of your whirlwind.
If you find yourself stuck, needing help identifying your ONE thing, I encourage you to grab a copy of the book! The authors flesh out the process in detail and provide plenty of examples in nailing your ONE thing down.
Identify one or two LEAD measures
This part of the book was extremely insightful to me because I had never heard this term before. When it comes to any goal, there are two different ways to measure progress. One is lag measures and the other is lead measures. Lag measures tell you IF you’ve achieved a goal (ie, lose 2 pounds this week) while lead measures tell you if you’re likely to achieve a goal (ie, burn 500 extra calories a day.) This is a key distinction and very powerful when used to your advantage.While we normally tend to focus on lag measures, the real key is identifying the key lead measures. Why? Because lead measures are within your control and they can predict your success. Lead measures then translate into very specific key actions you can take that will all but guarantee improvement. (ie, exercise for one hour every day.) You can commit to one single action every day and focus on doing that ONE thing. See how this is gaining momentum already?!
Track your progress with a Scoreboard
Once you’ve identified your lead measures, the next step is to consistently track them. Having a “scoreboard” that tells you if you are winning the game and updating it regularly (weekly or daily) not only provides the motivation you need to stick with it, it also provides the raw data needed to tweak your action plan.Your scoreboard should be visible and should track both lead and lag measures to give you an overview of your progress.
If you’re a visual person, the book includes actual scoreboard examples. Seeing how it looks definitely helped me come up with a scoreboard that motivates.
Maintain a cadence of accountability
This is the hardest one for me personally! This one is where execution actually happens because accountability is the powerful element that will help you achieve your ONE thing in the midst of the raging whirlwind.
Two are better than one, especially when it comes to combat and with accountability we aren’t alone, you see? Accountability to a common goal over an extended period of time, even when there are setbacks and failures, is THE difference the authors identified between a successful and failed execution. In other words, you could get all the other things right but miss this one and FLOP. Yikes!
Walking through this 6 step process has helped me focus on what’s most important and reach more of my goals over the last several months. I hope this process helps you as well!