Every morning when I was growing up, I would hear my Dad getting ready for work as I got ready for school. He would have the news playing on the radio as he showered, got dressed and came down to the kitchen for breakfast. As he would wield his electric razor, he would mutter the same phrase over and over under his breath: “There aren’t enough hours in the day.” I never understood what he meant. Everyone had 24 hours. Wasn’t that enough?
Now that I’m older, and have a small business and a family, I get it. There are many days when I feel like the 16 waking hours I have aren’t nearly enough to accomplish my work goals and spend the infamous “quality time” with my husband and teenage daughters. (I’ve tried sleeping less and believe me, that isn’t the answer!)
But none of us get more than 24 hours. And unless we are protective of those precious hours, we run the risk of feeling that all parts of our lives are suffering. What are we to do? The answer is to ruthlessly prioritize. There’s no other way to get the most out of our days. Do we have to be ruthless? Absolutely. There are so many demands that come at us every day. Unless we are vigilant in aligning our time to our most important priorities, we’ll be subject to distractions, busywork and other time sucks that do not help us achieve our goals and desires. Here are my top 5 ways to make it happen.
- Remind yourself you cannot do everything. One of my favorite managers used to say: We can do anything, but we can’t do everything. He used this phrase during the budget planning cycle to remind people of resource and financial constraints. The same is true with our time. No matter how well you manage your time (see below), you will not be able to do everything. Embracing this immutable law will make it easier to top line the things you want to focus on.
- Consider the idea of “harmony” versus “balance”. I’ve been working for nearly 30 years, and I can’t point to a time—or even a day– when I experienced perfect “balance”. Sometimes work got my primary attention; other times, family came first. It’s simply not possible to give equal attention across the board. The key to ruthlessly prioritizing is knowing what’s most important to you in each of your priority areas and sticking to it. I drive my girls to school most mornings. My husband makes dinner for us at least 3 nights a week. You decide what works for you and then don’t cave!
- Become hyperaware of how you manage time. When I started using a tool that helped me record my activities over 168 hours every week, I was surprised to learn that my coffee and social media browsing on weekend mornings totaled over 3 hours each week. And that didn’t include my “checking in” on FB or LinkedIn or IG several times during each work day. On a monthly basis, that’s roughly 12-15 hours. And I wondered why I was struggling to find more time with my family or friends. BINGO! If you liken that to financial spending, you may find that you’re making some big investments that don’t deliver big returns. This reflection may also confirm that you want to spend those hours on social media or whatever activities you’re doing. But at a minimum, you’ll have a better handle of how your day goes and that makes it easier to earmark time for your most important tasks.
- Be honest with yourself. If you’ve written them down, pull out your priorities list monthly or quarterly to assess how you’re progressing. Rather than allow a big chunk of time to go by, a regular check in with your priorities will allow you to course correct. Let’s say you are doing all the steps listed above to ruthlessly prioritize, but somehow you realize that you’re not finding or making time for one of your priorities. Time to take stock and ask yourself why. Let’s say you decided to make self-care a priority: You planned to exercise more, devote more time to meditation or journaling, eat a more plant-based diet. But the time study shows you’re not doing any of these things. Step back and ask yourself why. It might be you feel guilty taking time for yourself. It might be that you need to change your habits to book the time to focus on this priority. Often, when we hit challenges, we have consciously or unconsciously put up our own barriers. If you reflect honestly, you will be able to pinpoint what’s holding you back from focusing on those priorities.
- Find a “Priorities Buddy”. Few things can match being accountable to another person you trust—especially around priorities. Think about the friends, colleagues, or family members you know and value. Find one you are willing to share your priorities with on a regular basis. Agree to encourage each other and keep you honest and focused. My best friend and I talk several times a week. Our conversations range from everyday life stuff to the important goals we have in our businesses and with our family. When one of us gets stuck, the other gently asks about priorities. Having this trusted partner helps anchor us on our priorities.
AT KDH Consulting, our priority is to help our clients find the right message and the right platform to communicate to their employees. It’s an ongoing goal to deliver communications that keep employees engaged and informed. Staying laser-focused on what we do best isn’t easy, but prioritizing our activities every hour of every day helps us to do our best work. Happy prioritizing—and don’t be afraid to be ruthless.