The Action Management Sword (part two of five)

Part Two: The Action Management Sword

I can pick from numerous criteria to manage my actions. To name just a few:

  • context (does completing this action require my computer / being somewhere where I can make phone calls / coordinating with another person?)
  • time available (how long do I have, and how long will it take to complete this action?)
  • priority (how high on my priority list is this action?)
  • sheer whimsy (what do I feel like doing?)

I’ve found all of those criteria useful in one way or another, but none of them compare to what I call the Action Management Sword. My Action Management Sword slashes through the unnecessary and tips its point straight to the heart of the matter. It’s the line at the top of my weekly plan that reads:

Which actions are most in line with my purpose?

Zen to Done describes this as “only hav[ing] those commitments in your life that really give you joy and value”. Getting Things Done prompts the GTD user to process his/her inbox with a view to his/her purpose. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey claims that effective people spend most of their time in his Quadrant II: working on tasks that are important and non-urgent, i.e. tasks that arise from one’s purpose (I found a nice explanation of Quadrant II here).

All of these books emphasize that in order to manage my actions, I need to understand what I’m here for. Through my insatiable addiction to personal growth books and exercises and coaching, I’m clear on my purpose. At its simplest, it is:

I help people grow and change.

For an action to deserve my time and attention, it must either help people grow and change, or help me help people grow and change.

What purpose determines your choice of actions?

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I Can’t Manage Time (part one of five)

In the five days leading up to the workshop Do You Have Time or Does Time Have You?, I’ll be posting daily about the ideas that work best for me when it comes to time.

Part One: I Can’t Manage Time

Whenever I work with a coaching client who uses the words “time management”, I get curious.

What would it mean to “manage” time? Time doesn’t perform better when I give it positive feedback. I can’t give time a bad performance review and then fire it. I can’t send time to human resources training.

David Allen sums this up succinctly in Getting Things Done. You can’t manage your time, he says. You CAN manage your actions.

That’s a simple and powerful switch in perspective. As long as I am trying to manage time – an intangible phenomenon that can’t be managed – I’ll feel frustrated at my losing battle. But if I switch my focus to managing my actions, suddenly I am back in control.

Next time you hear your mental chatter telling you to “manage your time better”, stop and ask yourself: Which of my actions do I need to manage better? And what would it mean to better manage my actions?

In my post tomorrow, I’ll dip into some of the action management skills that I’ve found most helpful.