Before I show you some sexy time management and productivity concepts, I first want you to do a simple exercise. It will only take you a couple minutes to do.
Grab a piece of paper and draw down a line in the middle of the paper. On the left, write down 5 things that are most important to you (order does not matter).
Now on the right side, write down 5 activities you spend most of your time doing (order does not matter).
No seriously, do this exercise before you continue reading this article. It will all make sense later what I’m about to show you.
Now look at that list you’ve just made and notice how far out of alignment they are. The things you spend most of the time doing are not the things most important to you in life, or not connected. It’s like they look like two different lists from two different people.
In other words, you are not using your time efficiently because you are doing things that are not important to you.
It’s like having your car wheels out of alignment. You want your wheels to be perpendicular to the ground and in parallel with other wheels to ensure maximum tire life, maximum gas mileage, smooth steering and to prevent other car parts from breaking down. When your wheels are a couple of degrees out of alignment and you keep on driving, over time you will put a lot of stress on car parts and tires up to the point where things start to break down. Not to mention you’re burning unnecessary fuel due to inefficiency.
This concept also applies to your life. When you are out of alignment and you keep staying that way, you are wasting valuable time, energy and resources. Plus you might put a lot of stress on yourself when you can’t see that you aren’t working on things that are important to you. If your big goal is to become a successful entrepreneur but your number one activity is watching youtube videos there might be something off….
A couple years ago I did this same exercise (I was introduced to it by Eben Pagan) and it really made me think about how I should spend my time. A person whose actions are not aligned with their goals is not being productive. By the definition of productivity, you should be working on things that bring you closer to your dreams, aspirations, vision and goals. Anything else in relative is a waste of time.
When I first did this exercise, I scratched my head multiple times because it made me realize how far out of alignment I was. Here’s my list when I did the exercise a couple years ago.
Can you see how some of my values are not aligned with my major activities at all? Here’s the same list where you can see which ones were aligned and which ones were not.
Even though I spent a lot of time with my friends, I never saw my family. Due to traveling and working many hours I never made it a priority to have more face time with people who are very important to me. I remember a quote from time management guru Brian Tracy in Eat That Frog on this matter that changed my mind:
The purpose of time management and getting more done in less time is to enable you to spend more face time with the people you care about and doing the things that give you the greatest amount of joy in life.
Another item where I was out of alignment was “living healthy”. None of my major activities even reflected that. In fact, they are more like the opposite of healthy living. I knew I had to remove worrying and watching TV out of that list and replace these with activities that would align with my values.
After doing this exercise and realizing how unaligned my actions with my values were, that’s when I changed my life around and things started to take off. This became my new list:
When you are not aligned, you are wasting your time and robbing yourself of energy that could have been channeled more useful. Whenever you catch yourself out of alignment, figure out a way to get back into it and especially pay attention to things you do repeatedly. In other words, your habits. I don’t want you beat yourself up if one of your values is “living healthy” and you one time eat a big juicy hamburger. However, if you repeatedly find yourself in the drive-thru line and ordering junk food, you might have a conflict there. So pay attention to your rituals, not your one-off events. A great and nifty trick to find your major habits is by doing the Sims 3 experiment.
Your values will also change over time depending on many factors and that is totally fine (notice my shift of “girlfriend” to “dating”). Just make sure you are staying in alignment by having your major activities reflect that. Keep the big picture in mind and make sure your actions are aligned with achieving the big picture.
While doing things smarter, faster, saving minutes here and there, using the pomodoro technique, using to do lists, etc, are all good and helpful but it is still not productive if you are using them when you are out of alignment. You are the most productive when your values and goals are aligned with your actions. So let me ask you, what can you do to get yourself in alignment?
- Do the exercise as described in the opening paragraphs.
- Identify which values are aligned with the appropriate activities.
- Identify which values are not aligned.
- Figure out which activities you should eliminate and what to replace them with.
- Review this exercise every 6 months.
(Image courtesy of D’Arcy Norman under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license.)