FranklinCovey Consultant Blogs | James Cathcart | February, 2009
Recently, I heard a speaker named Tom Perry give the following counsel:
“Those of us who have been around a while…have recognized certain patterns in life’s test. There are cycles of good and bad times, ups and downs, periods of joy and sadness, and times of plenty as well as scarcity. When our lives turn in an unanticipated and undesirable direction, sometimes we experience stress and anxiety. One of the challenges of (life) is to not allow these stresses and strains to get the better of us, (but instead) to endure the varied seasons of life while remaining positive, even optimistic. Perhaps when difficulties and challenges strike, we should have these hopeful words of Robert Browning etched in our minds: “The best is yet to be.”
As I travel around the United States and take note of how various individuals and organizations are coping with the challenges brought about through these troubling times, I have noticed that those who are most unaffected by the economic downturn, and are maintaining the sort of optimism Perry talked about, are those who have pared their lives and institutions down to their core values and needs. They have lived within their means, with a clear focus on what matters most. They have spent a lot of time in Quadrant II (back when times were booming), and prepared for the eventual downslide (which is always inevitable, if not precisely predictable). To these people, it is easier to reach out and help others, because their own fundamental needs are already met.
I’m reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden, in which he describes his 2-year experience at Walden Pond, near Concord, MA. He lived alone with no calendar and no clock, trying to simplify his life down to it’s basic needs. Contrary to popular belief, he did not live in isolation. He made daily visits to Concord, and frequently had guests over to his small cabin for lively conversation. Explaining his sabbatical, Thoreau said the following:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately. To confront only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what they had to teach…and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Near the end of his life, Thoreau was asked if he had made peace with God. His response was “I wasn’t aware that we had ever quarreled.”
As I ponder Thoreau’s lessons from Walden, and plan ahead for the future, whatever that future may bring, I believe that I too will “confront only the essential facts of life”, and do without some of the Quadrant III things that seem so compelling at the time, but really have nothing to do with what matters most.
Over the last year, I have immersed myself into some of the time-management literature that is wildly popular right now. I began with David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
First of all, let me state for the record that I like and respect David. I think that he has a lot to offer. His distinction between projects and tasks (or, The Next Action Items as he would call them) is an excellent observation. I believe that ignoring such a distinction is one of the primary reasons people get overwhelmed by their goals.
But, as I read some of the blog and forum comments of those who are impacted by this new batch of organizational literature, I cannot help but think that we are taking a few steps backwards.
People are becoming overwhelmed with the sheer weight of information that constantly presses upon them. In a desperate attempt to alleviate the pressure, they turn to efficiency programs for aid. “I just need to learn how to organize my inbox” one might say, or “If I could just get my desk uncluttered, then I’d have a handle on things”.
Many of the new authors in the field of organization and time-management share some excellent tips to help us get more things done, but there is a component missing from these approaches if we’re not careful. That component is “should I be doing a lot of these things in the first place?”
The clock is the tool that we use to measure the amount of time that we have, and drives us towards efficiency. “What time is it?” or “When will this meeting be over?” are both clock-related questions.
The compass indicates our direction, and helps us know whether we are on or off course. This is the symbol of effectiveness.
As Stephen R. Covey has often said, “It doesn’t really matter how fast you are going if you’re headed in the wrong direction.”
So, as we move forward into the 21st-century, and as time-management evolves into its next incarnation, I believe that one thing must never change. That one thing is the price that we all have to pay to understand what our primary purpose in life is, and whether or not we are adhering to the principles that help us to achieve that purpose.
When we focus first on the compass, then the clock, we truly begin to unlock our potential and set ourselves on a course for fulfillment and greatness.