Working Smarter

My New Year’s resolution to improve personal productivity has been making a huge impact on my quality of life. The journey began when I read Maxwell’s Today Matters and Allen’s Getting Things Done.

The Information Work Productivity Council is an independent group of companies and academics that have joined together to study the issue of information work productivity. The goal of the Council is to build a model that measures productivity in today’s information-centric business environment.

So how does the average information worker spend their time?

  • 3 hours and 14 minutes a day using technologies to process work-related information – just over 40% of an 8-hour work day
  • 2 hours/day to e-mail (20% of an 8 hour day)
  • 47 minutes on telephone and voice mail
  • Receives 44 e-mails daily (a few people received as many as 500 a day)
  • Sends 17 e-mails daily and has more than 3 e-mail accounts
  • Receives 18 calls, places 15 calls, and gets 7.6 voice mail messages
  • Participates in 2.75 conference calls a week

Like so many people, I found that I was getting buried by the sheer volume and magnitude of incoming and outgoing information as well as trying to keep track of hundreds of discrete tasks. I was between systems, having abandoned the Daytimer model of calendar appointments and A,B,C priority lists, to ad hoc email and Blackberry activities.

Getting Things Done has transformed my approach to work and I am getting ready to tackle the home front. Over the past several years, I have not been able to establish a system to effectively manage the incoming flows at home and, as a consequence, we fill Banker’s Boxes with papers accumulated during a calendar year. Unfiled and irretrievable. Digital sources, such as documents, audio and images, are stored adhoc. I am very strict on backups so I have confidence that the data, while disorganized, is located in at least two places.

I started phase one at home by organizing my personal email system. And, shortly, I will be putting attention to the other areas of the domestic environment.

Being more productive is not an attempt on my part to get more things done in my life rather it is an attempt to reclaim time to focus on the important things: faith, family, friends. The story of the Jar is one that I keep in the back of my mind.

One day an old professor was invited to lecture on the topic of Efficient Time Management in front of a group of 15 executive managers representing the largest, most successful companies in America. The lecture was one in a series of five lectures conducted in one day, and the old professor was given one hour to lecture.

Standing in front of this group of elite managers the professor slowly met eyes with each person, one by one, and finally said, “We are going to conduct an experiment.”

From under the table that stood between the professor and the listeners, the professor pulled out a big glass jar and gently placed it in front of him. Next, he pulled out from under the table a bag of stones, each the size of a tennis ball, and placed the stones one by one in the jar. He did so until there was no room to add another stone in the jar. Lifting his gaze to the managers, the professor asked, “Is the jar full?” The managers replied, “Yes.”

The professor paused for a moment, and replied, “Really?”

Then once again, he reached under the table and pulled out a bag full of pebbles. Carefully, the professor poured the pebbles in and slightly rattled the jar, allowing the pebbles to slip through the larger stones, until they settled at the bottom.

Again, the professor lifted his gaze to his audience and asked, “Is the jar full?”

At this point, the managers began to understand his intentions. One replied, “Apparently not!”

“Correct” replied the old professor, now pulling out a bag of sand from under the table. Cautiously, the professor poured the sand into the jar. The sand filled up the spaces between the stones and the pebbles.

Yet again, the professor asked, “Is the jar full?”

Without hesitation, the entire group of students replied in unison, “No!”

“Correct” replied the professor. And as was expected by the students, the professor reached for the pitcher of water that was on the table, and poured water in the jar until it was absolutely full.

The professor now lifted his gaze once again and asked, “What great truth can we surmise from this experiment?”

With his thoughts on the lecture topic, one manager quickly replied, “We learn that as full as our schedules may appear, if we only increase our effort, it is always possible to add more meetings and tasks.”

“No”, replied the professor.

“The great truth that we can conclude from this experiment is this: if we don’t put all the larger stones in the jar first, we will never be able to fit all of them later.”

The auditorium fell silent, as each person processed the significance of the professor’s words.

The old professor continued, “What are the large stones in your life? Health? Family? Friends? Your goals? Doing what you love? Fighting for a cause? Taking time for yourself?”

“What we must remember is that it is most important to include the larger stones in our lives, because if we don’t do so, we are likely to miss out on life altogether. If we give priority to the smaller things in life (pebbles, sand) our lives will fill up with less important things, leaving little to no time for the things in our lives most important to us. Because of this, never forget to ask yourself, what are the large stones in your life? And once you identify them, be sure to put them first in your ‘jar’ of life.”

Is your jar full of sand or is it full of large stones?

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