Three Reasons Why Executive Time Management is Like Losing Weight

Instead of doing the normal “set your goals” first-of-the-year post that you’d expect from a productivity guy, I wanted to do something different. The purpose of New Year’s resolutions is to take stock of our lives and, hopefully, find things we can improve. However, making a list of resolutions that invariably fail is not only pointless and unproductive, it’s failure – plain and simple. Why do we want to start the year off with a failure?

And then it hit me! The rate of failure of New Year’s resolutions is so high that their failure must have a pattern, a discernible weakness. That got me to thinking. Why do these resolutions (and similar commitments) fail so often? More importantly, how could that dynamic be changed to make keeping resolutions a successful experience?

Much thought and many discussions ensued to uncover the dynamics of resolution failure. The theory proposed below was developed based on these informal research sessions and the actual experiences of success I encountered. I’m sure there are thousands (millions?) of PhDs who could give us all a lesson on the hows and whys we have difficulty maintaining commitments. But, candidly, if they were so smart, they’d be able to do more than explain why we can’t fulfill certain types of commitments, they’d offer us an answer that can be translated into action resulting in success.

Throughout this period of reflection and conversation, I was on my own mission to lose a few extra pounds that I’d picked up over the last … 20 years. This was an effort I undertook in early November, so it doesn’t count as a New Year’s resolution, but it is exactly the type of commitment we’re focusing on here – the self-improvement change that is both good for us (health-wise) and good to us (ego-wise). Moreover, it is a New Year’s resolution, along with its cousin “getting in better shape,” made every year by millions of people.

Moving Forward by Looking Backward – Patience

To explain this theory and to make it relevant to productivity, we’ll start at the end. As of today, January 16, 2011, I’ve lost 11 pounds. That’s productivity measured in pounds. It’s taken approximately nine weeks for me to accomplish this feat. And that’s the first … er last … point in the theory. It takes Patience to achieve lasting results. We must also understand that most results come incrementally – one step at a time – and that mandates Patience.

We live in an immediate gratification society. We expect results right away. We want desperately to lose weight, but only if we can lose 30 pounds in 30 days! To achieve results we must first understand that immediate gratification must be checked at the door and to settle in and wait with Patience for the results.

Exercising Patience doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have goals. My goal is to lose a total of 15 pounds, just four more to go. We need realistic goals married to realistic time lines to achieve success in our commitments.

When applied to executive time management, this means that we need to look for ways to do things better, give these mechanisms a chance and patiently wait to see if incremental improvement is achieved. It’s not realistic to expect to clear your desk of every project by month’s end, but it may be realistic to clear the right side of your desk as of that date. Focus on that goal and diligently work through the things that need to happen to achieve it. There will be bad days when more is placed on that side of the desk and there will be good days when much will leave it. Patience will provide you a boost of commitment when the piles are growing higher and the feeling of accomplishment will prolong the effort when a good day arrives.

Garbage In Equals Garbage Out – Integrity

The primary reason my commitment to lose weight has been so successful this time around – yes, there have been other attempts – is that I’ve been brutally honest with the food I’ve been eating. I’ve displayed a remarkable Integrity in the caloric data I’ve ingested. This has been helped along greatly by my iPhone app MyFitnessPal, which allows me to quickly and easily record all my consumption and exercise behaviors and map them against my daily goal. Yep, there’s an app for that!

More to the point, though, is my own willingness to record every single thing that goes into the pie hole. My observation is that if we maintain a high level of Integrity about what is really happening, we will be using good data when measuring our results. Sure, we can casually dismiss that packet of Southwest Airlines peanuts, but then our data is off by 70 calories. And if we aren’t counting the peanuts, why should we count the Einstein’s Bagel Thin in the airport? In the end, we are only cheating ourselves out of successfully achieving our goal – to lose weight.

In the executive time management realm, there are a number of ways you can maintain a high level of Integrity in determining whether you are, in fact, getting more done. The most obvious is to track the time you’re spending on projects. That means every single minute! Most of us are overly optimistic on how long things take. Part of becoming more productive means reducing the number of times we must ask for extensions on projects. The time it takes to ask and secure an extension is activity with no corresponding productivity. Consequently, one of the best ways to increase productivity is to reduce the number of times extensions are sought. The only way to accomplish that is to have a very strong understanding of how long things take – not a hopeful guess. Integrity in the data – how long a project really takes – helps you achieve the resolution to get more done.

The Buck Always Stops Here – Decision

The first step in fulfilling any resolution is the Decision to change. This is a blatantly obvious statement, but a completely under-appreciated step. Effecting change in our attitudes and behaviors should never be taken lightly. That’s because it’s brutally hard to achieve. Whether it’s the Decision to lose weight or the Decision to get more productive, ingrained attitudes and behaviors must necessarily change. Therefore, it is advisable that we only undertake a resolution to change after careful and extended consideration about whether we’re likely to achieve the results such a change will produce. The dedication it takes to effect meaningful and lasting change is born only of a true Decision to make it happen.

To demonstrate my point, I thought about whether I wanted to truly lose weight for some months. I’m middle-aged, in fair condition, and reasonably healthy. I enjoy light recreational activities (golf and fly fishing in particular), I enjoy going out to good restaurants, and I have a world-class sweet tooth. I travel extensively in my work and we all know how hard it is to eat well while traveling. Therefore, undertaking to lose weight was no passing fancy, not if I wanted it to be a successful experience.

Achieving greater productivity is an equally significant Decision. We all have ingrained behaviors that are counter-productive. The exigencies of the day regularly run us over like a runaway freight train. The technologies we employ to get things done come with their own host of evils from a productivity stand point (e.g., the incessant new message alert!). Before saying to yourself, “I want to get more organized this year,” understand that gaining lasting productivity is a Decision of the first order – the commitment to examine the existing situation and the willingness to learn new habits and behaviors.

From Start to Finish

The commitment to lose weight has been a life-changing experience for me, but not because I lost weight or can do more/different things now. The experience was life changing because I learned that to truly succeed in the commitments and resolutions we make to ourselves and others, there are three inviolate principles that must be honored:

  1. Decision – We must make a thoughtful and mindful decision to change.
  2. Integrity – We must maintain integrity in the way we go about making the change.
  3. Patience – We must exercise patience in achieving the results we seek.

May all your 2011 resolutions become reality!

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