Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Priorities vs. Time Management

By Linda Rohrbough

Ever hear this? “I’d love to write, but I just can’t find the time.”

I hear it all the time, from people in all walks of life, from specialized surgeons to the barista at Starbucks. For a very long time, I thought writing productivity was about time management.

I struggle with guilt that niggles at the edge of my consciousness when I’m not writing more. People tell me I’ve been pretty prolific. I can concede that. But I have the idea I could do better, lots better, if I could be more proficient at time management.

Now I’m finding out that’s not true. When I mentioned my time management struggles to one of my friends, Jo Mangum, who is a national speaker and productivity coach, she said, “It’s never about time management. It’s all about priorities.”

That struck me. Priorities.

Like a writer, the first thing I did was ask what does that mean? Here’s a definition thanks to Merriam-Webster online: “Priority – 3. something given or meriting attention before competing alternatives.”

There are always plenty of competing alternatives. So then I asked myself, what do I put first? I realized I wasn’t conscious about choosing what I put first. I kept coming back to the rocks in the jar analogy. I’m sure you’ve heard this. You take a jar and fill it first with rocks. Then you pour in sand. Then you pour in water. At each stage it looks like the jar is full, but more can go in if the new material is made up of smaller components. But this only works if you put the big rocks in first. If you put the sand or water in first, then you won’t have room for the big rocks. By now, I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. The jar is my day and one of my big rocks is writing.

So rather than manage my time (and go on a guilt trip as I watch it slip away) I decided to manage my priorities. Does that mean I don’t look at time? Not at all. But I am conscious to plan for the writing first.

The other side of the priority game for me is to stop multitasking. I watch people who are doing well and I noticed they don’t multitask. They focus on one thing at a time. I used to pride myself on multitasking, a skill I developed when I was raising kids. (I think you have to multitask when you have kids.) But the concept of concentrating on one thing, blocking out everything else, was rather refreshing. And now that my kids are grown, I can choose to focus on one thing more often.

Also, I recently had some serious health issues that put me down for several months. Between August and October of last year, I spent more time in a hospital than at home. I’d hoped I could still be productive, but after the second of five surgeries, I gave that up. Now that I’m back to work, one of my discoveries was how many things I was doing that didn’t need to be done. However, plenty got neglected and I figured out pretty fast what really needs doing.

Do I get to spend long blocks of time writing, now that I’ve shifted my thinking to priority mode? Not really. I’m still playing catch up from my hospital time. However, writing for me now is a lot like building a brick wall. Bit by bit, piece by piece, it comes together. The difference now is I put in the pieces early in my day, not last. I think the work is better for it because it has time to cure and I’m fresher when I go at it. When I thought about it, I realized my more successful writing friends work that way. When we traveled together, I found them up writing in the morning, often in their pj’s. Once they’d been in contact with their work, they were relaxed and we spent the rest of the day having fun.

Frankly, I’ve been more productive since I’ve adopted the priority mindset. I like that. For me, so much in life is about adjusting my thinking first, and then the “mechanics” seem to fall into place. I think it’s working for me to stop my focus on time management, because I put in the time when I focus on priorities. So I thought I’d share this concept with you. Give the priority mindset a try and see how it works for you.

About the Author: Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit along with national awards for her fiction and non-fiction. New York Times #1 bestselling author Debbie Macomber said about Linda’s new novel: "This is fast-paced, thrilling, edge-of-the-seat reading. The Prophetess One: At Risk had me flipping the pages and holding my breath." The Prophetess One: At Risk has garnered three national awards: the 2012 International Book Award, the 2011 Global eBook Award, and the 2011 Millennium Star Publishing Award. An iPhone App of her popular “Pitch Your Book” workshop is available in the Apple iTunes store. Visit her website: