Three different people told me the same story last week:
I’m too busy keeping my head above water to make progress on my real goals.
On one hand, that’s a practical and realistic way of coping. Look, we’ve all experienced that some days we can barely tread water fast enough… and some days we sink… and on those days it’s “impossible” to put time and energy into the future. How can you invest when you can’t put bread on the table?
All three had practical, legitimate reasons for “treading water,” they were not making weak excuses. There just has not been time.
So that’s the “practical reality.” What about the “emotional reality”? What I noticed in all three conversations was a loss of energy and momentum. There’s an emotional cost to postponing your future, and when you’re calculating the choices of your day and week, this needs to be factored in. I suspect that when you factor in the emotional cost (in the extreme, dying a little more each day), the equation might change?
You’ve likely seen this framework that Stephen Covey offers in First Things First:
Covey points out that we need to avoid QIII and QIV, and shift more time to QII if we want to build the future. Good! Let’s do it!!! How? Well… that’s a problem. It’s a fabulous model, though most of us already know that we need to stop fighting unimportant fires and getting sucked into distractions… but we still do that. We’re choosing to put time in QI, QIII, and QIV, and shortchanging QII. Why?
Because we’re not driven by “what we know.” We’re driven by what we feel.
Doing What Is Most Important
There’s some set of feelings boiling around this pattern of behavior pushing and pulling us. There are feelings before the choice (to shortchange QII). Then there are feelings the come immediately when we do what we’re doing instead… then there are still more feelings when we end the day saying, “*(@_!_)# another day with no time for QII.”
If I can indulge in a bit of prognostication, I suspect that if your pattern is “do QI &III but miss QII” you’re feeling a mix of stressed, overwhelmed, impatient, excited, and focused (even driven). If you’re getting sucked into QIV then your feelings are likely to be bored, uncertain, distracted, lonely, or lost.
Then, despite the knowledge that QII is the only way out, you still go to another quadrant, and, for the moment it feels good. If you’re QI and QIII focused, you probably get great feedback, maybe overhearing, “He’s so reliable….” “You can count on her….” If you’re escaping into QIII, you get a bit of relief. In any case, there’s a feeling payoff — an emotional benefit. What is yours?
The first, and perhaps most important step, to getting out of the pattern is to recognize the emotional drivers. What’s triggering your pattern, and what payoff are you getting from it? Knowing that is not enough – you need to DO something with those feelings. That’s another article… but I’d love to hear your ideas (post a comment!)
Using Your Time On Purpose
I also noticed that in these conversations, and many others – including many in my own head, there’s a refrain about being busy: “I can’t do this unless I can devote a block of time…” Many a project have lingered on my “to do” list because I told myself I didn’t have the six hours or three days or whatever to complete it. Consider this:
If you had a month you could devote completely to your future, what would you do with that month?
How about if you had one week?
What could you do if you had one day?
How about if you had five minutes?
We all have time, but for most of us it’s fractured — five minutes here, and hour there. While it’s extremely challenging, somehow we have to reclaim those dribs and drabs of time and turn them into a worthy contribution. As usual, I would suggest the challenge lies not so much in the technical achievement of this end, but in the emotional transition we must undertake in order to bring the A game to these momentary matches.
Survive or Thrive
To conclude, here is powerful reminder from Karen McCown, Six Seconds’ Founder:
If you focus on survival, then your survival is at question; if you focus on thriving, then your survival is assured – and more is possible.
Each week you have but a few discretionary hours to cash in: Will you spend or invest?