A woman recently reached out to me to ask for some help. Despite being good at time management in her youth, life had taken its toll and she was really struggling. When I got on the phone with her for our 30-minute session, I had her explain her situation.
Wow. No wonder she asked for help.
She had so much on her plate. Work issues, housing issues, money issues, insomnia, and a lawsuit were just a few of the things she mentioned. I certainly had my work cut out for me.
She was interested in becoming one of my coaching clients, but I wanted to see if she was a fit before I had her join. The last thing I wanted was a client spending money on a program that they wouldn’t be able to take advantage of.
It was obvious she had bitten off more than she could chew and was spreading herself too thin. Rather than focusing on one issue at a time, she was trying to do everything at once, and as a result, getting nowhere.
Here’s a good analogy to explain what happens to most people struggling with time management.
Imagine each of our problems is a fire.
Our job is to act as a firefighter.
Naturally, some fires are bigger than others. Some people choose to tackle the big fires first, others go after the more manageable ones. People that struggle with time management try and put out all the fires at once. They turn the hose on one fire for a bit, then as it becomes less dangerous, they move onto the next fire. As a result, each fire only gets so much water. Since the fire isn’t put out, it will slowly gain strength and if you’re not careful, soon you’ll have raging fires all around you.
Stress is a very real issue for millions of Americans. According to the New York Times, 55% of Americans experience stress during “a lot of the day” prior, compared with just 35% globally. The most common causes of stress being money, work, and health. These are the fires most people have to deal with in one form or another.
Anyway, back to the call. As she continued to explain things to me, her voice seemed to speed up and it was obvious that she was at her wit’s end. Frustrated that life seemed to have gotten the best of her, she seemed to be at a loss with what to do.
So I advised her to do what I tell my clients – “Slow down.”
She was confused.
I continued, “You’ve got to slow down in order to be able to speed up.”
Like the firefighter who is working on all the fires at the same time, she was not making any headway on her issues because she was trying to tackle all of them at once.
If you’ve ever studied time management, chances are high you’ve heard of Ivy Lee. Lee introduced a simple concept to Charles M. Schwab, the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation back in 1918, and it’s become one of the most valuable time management tools that exists.
Lee taught Schwab to write down all the tasks he wanted to accomplish the following day before going to bed, put them in order of importance, then the next day, work on the first item on the list and work on it to its completion. Then and only then move on to the second item.
The Ivy Lee Method is not about how much you get done, but rather on getting the really important things done.
The lady on the call with me was busy; busy doing the wrong things.
By slowing down and dealing with a single issue, quite quickly she would be able to cross it off her list.
It might seem counterintuitive to slow down, but when things are out of control, that’s the best thing we can do.
Multitasking sounds great, but science has shown it to be the opposite. Our minds are only capable of dealing with one task at a time and by jumping around from one task to another we lose “flow.”
Look at Apple: At one point they were on the verge of bankruptcy. Then, Steve Jobs returned and focused on one item at a time. First the iPod, then the iPhone, then the iPad, then the Apple Watch. That single focus allowed them to grow into the juggernaut they are today. What’s more interesting is that Jobs would invest just three 90-minute sessions a day into each project. Jobs understood the power of focus, and the results speak for themselves.
Before our call finished, I lay out a plan of action for her and suggested she come back to me after she started to get her life in order.
Will she? I don’t know. I worry because I got the feeling that she wanted me to just wave my magic wand and make everything all right.
That’s not how it works.
“The Tortoise and the Hare” is a classic for good reason – slow and steady does win the race.
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