Busyness is the dangerous myth we all fall prey to. Our true problem is being overloaded and lacking margin. The solution to these challenges is the virtue of prudence, which leads us to set our priorities, goals and objectives. So let’s start taking a closer look at the solution. I am going to offer you a step-by-step procedure for starting the process of taking back your time. This procedure will begin with the goal setting exercise from the previous article and take you deeper into the virtue of prudence.
Step 1: Create a set of objectives based on your goals and priorities.
At the end of the last article, you were positioned to create your first set of objectives based on your priorities and goals. A “set” of objectives (tasks, actions) consists of 3-5 objectives. I recommend that you choose each objective in the set from a different goal. I also recommend choosing objectives from your spiritual and relationship goals first so that you don’t lose track of God and people as priorities in your life.
Right now I am working on this set of objectives
- Pray morning prayer every morning and at least one decade of the Rosary before beginning my afternoon work
- Dedicate every Sunday to being with my wife and children (second only to Mass and prayer)
- Write one article each week for this Catholic Time Management series
- Write one article each week for my parish education website’s “Learner Identity” series
- Edit one video each week for my online membership program
- Lose one pound a week until I reach my target weight
Notice that while I have five objectives in this set, the first one is not time intensive - it’s just a matter of establishing a habit of prayer - and neither is the last one - though ideally it would include an hour of exercise each day in addition to calorie counting. Only three of them really require a large amount of dedicated time. That’s ideal for one set. Notice that I also have objectives that have a definite end. When I’m done writing an article series, that objective is done. When I have met my target weight, that objective is done. The prayer objective is ongoing. At some point I won’t have to have it on my list because it will be second nature, but it will probably remain on my list for a long time, carrying over to the next “set” of objectives that I create. It is best to have a dominant number of definitive objectives so that you’ll know when to create a new set.
Step 2: Schedule the tasks into your day
OK, so now your objectives are your primary focus for your day. The next step is to actually schedule these activities into your day. This is the place where I struggle the most. My days never seem to go as I have planned them. But after a few months of habit, it is getting easier. What I have found works best is to try very hard to make use of the same hour each day for a particular task.
So, I pray morning prayer during my first cup of coffee each morning. I get up early enough to be able to write for one hour in the morning before I go to work. After work is dedicated to running the business, but I try to set aside another hour for writing or video production as well. I also assign a different writing objectives to each day.
- So Monday is dedicated to the Catholic Time Management series
- Tuesday is dedicated to the Learner Identity series
- Wednesday is the day to work on the online membership sites
- Thursday I set aside for larger writing projects - e-books, books, etc.
- Friday and Saturday extra days to close up any unmet objectives and to take care of the business.
Specifying an objective to each day keeps me from wasting time trying to figure out what to do each day. It also helps me balance out my time among my objectives.
Step 3: Get rid of what Dean Jackson calls the “reactive activators” - assign a specific time of the day or week to handle them.
OK, so you have your objectives scheduled and you’re about to sit down and work on them. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where you really have to focus on the self-discipline part of prudence.
It is so easy to get distracted from the task on hand. I have the really bad habit of opening multiple browser windows and flipping among them.
Dean Jackson warns us against “reactive activators,” those little things in our lives that draw our attention by causing us to react spontaneously. We get an email, we feel we have to respond immediately. Our cell phone rings and we must answer it. We feel we need to keep up with our social media feeds. People come to us demanding our attention - sometimes for important things, sometimes for trivial. All of these are examples of “reactive activators.” All of these are thieves that steal control over our time.
There is a time and a place for all of these things. But to tame the reactive activators, we need to be proactive toward them rather than reactive. That means scheduling them into our day. Assign one hour (or half an hour) each day for email, and another hour (or half an hour) for social media. When someone interrupts a work period, politely ask if you can get back to him or her and schedule a time.
Not that you can never be spontaneous. But if you’re going to spontaneously allow your children to interrupt your work, let it me a free choice rather than a begrudged reaction to their demands. It will be much more a fit to them.
So again, the message here is to focus on what you have scheduled.
Step 4: Work on your objectives every day until they are complete before moving on to the next set of objectives.
The other way we sometimes waste our time (and I’m guilty of this one as well) is that we get tired of working on one set of objectives and we become tempted to move on to a fresh set. So we move on before the current set is completed. Then we get sick of the new set of objectives and move on again. We therefore fritter away our time without actually accomplishing anything.
The virtue needed here is perseverance. We need to stick with a single objective until we have seen it through to completion. Finish the entire objective set before moving on to the next or making any changes to the current set (with rare exceptions that allow for flexibility).