Failing at Time Management? Try Self-Management!

time-management-clocksI’ll fallen for all the false promises around time management, time and time again. Do this and find 30 more minutes in your day. Do this and free yourself. Manage your calendar or your in-box or your “to-do” list and marvel at how much you’ll get done and all the free time you’ll amass.

No matter how faithfully I follow the instructions, I’ve never achieved having any span of time, even 5 minutes, where I marveled at how much time I had “created” in my schedule and then wondered how I might use that time I’d freed up.

The reason is quite simple. We neither “create” time nor “manage” time nor “lose” time. Time is time. We all have sixty seconds in every minute, sixty minutes in every hour and twenty four hours in every day. Each and every one of us. No exceptions.

So the question of time management is not outside of us (better planning, calendar tricks, a time saving device) but within us. How efficiently we use our time is within our control. Even more importantly, how effectively we use our time is us to totally up to us.

If it’s not “time management”, then what is it?

Two compelling questions, one about focus and one about distractions, are:

  1. Are you spending your time on the most important things?
  2. How much time are you spending on things that really don’t matter?

Even though time is equally measured for all of us (Chronos time), we’ve all experienced the subjective nature of time (Kairos time). Think of the times where time appears to go slowly, when we are bored or waiting in eager anticipation. Or those times, in a crisis, where time slows to a point of almost being suspended. Contrast those with the occurrences where time seemed to “fly”; when you were immersed in a pleasurable pursuit or creative work, where your focus was fully present and “in the moment”.

In either situation, where time either sped up or slowed down, in actuality it marched along, second after second. What changed was our internal state and our perception of time. Which leads me to my assertion: It is self-management, not time management that is important.

Wise Self-Management Looks Like…

Wise self-management means that you:

  • Are clear about your priorities and use your time in proportion to your priorities
  • Realize “busy” is a choice (and often a self-inflicted one) and not a badge of honor
  • Have the courage to say no to the things that don’t really matter or distract you from what really does matter
  • Recognize that your full attention is one of the most valuable things you have to offer – and act accordingly
  • Focus on the right things (for you) and not the many things that you believe others expect of you
  • Put your energy into the important few and discard the trivial many

Managing yourself also is a matter of recognizing that it is not only time but focus. Think of all the times you have bewailed that I only had more time: I’d exercise, I’d go back to school, I’d spend more time with my friends and family, I’d take more time for myself…. And how often, when you had that free block of time did you actually do any of these noble pursuits? Dedicating the time is the first step; dedicating yourself to the discipline to actually do that important thing is the second.

Showing Up in the Time You Have

There is another vital element of self-management and focus. Wise self-managers understand that it is how you show up in the time you have. There are dramatically different results between the time we spend focused, energized and productive versus the times we are weary, distracted or unable to concentrate. On those days I have energy, focus and clarity – I can get higher quality outcomes, with less effort and in much less time.

To show up in this best possible way requires taking care of yourself. You rest. You relax. You spend time with others who help you be your best self. You spend time alone in reflection and learning. For when you include self-care as a part of your self-management routine, you show up fuller, better and more robust when you are immersed in those things that really matter. This is not frivolous time – this is time spent investing in yourself, your capacity, your clarity, your stamina.

In a world that values busy, that stresses more over less, that places efficiency before effectiveness, it is counter-cultural to take bold actions such as:

  • Clearly defining a few top priorities and allocating your time accordingly
  • Taking time for your physical, mental and emotional well-being in order to be your best
  • Saying no
  • Doing less
  • Focusing on what really matters in the long term

From Busy to Bountiful

I’ve talked about some BIG ideas in this post and none of them are easy to implement. I think this is especially true in America, where our culture equates busy to better, importance to hyper-activity and over-extending our physical and mental limits as the professional default.

For just ONE week, I’d like you to observe just how many times you are either asked or ask others if “they are busy”? I suspect you’ll be shocked (and perhaps dismayed).

And so, let’s take a counter-cultural stance, merely by changing the dialog, one person at a time, about busy. And so, rather than asking others “if they are busy?” ask these questions instead:

  • Tell me about something you are doing that really matters to you.
  • What have you done in the last week that brought you great joy?
  • What are you focusing your time (or talents) on currently?
  • How are you using your skills to benefit others?
  • How are you? (and then just listen)

And when you are asked if you are busy (or some variation of that), shake up the conversation by using some of these responses:

  • I’ve given up busy for bountiful. I’m working to fill my life with (fill in the blank).
  • I’ve realized my best contributions happen when I am focused on fewer things, so I’m working hard not to be so busy that I lose sight of what really matters.
  • I’m not busy, but I’ve been super productive the last few months.
  • I’ve realized that busy wasn’t working for me – instead I’m focusing on doing fewer things better.
  • I’m not busy, but I am focusing on (fill in the blank) as the most important things for me.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts and insights about this topic. Please share!

Quotes, Questions and Books that Shaped My Thinking in 2018

I don’t collect “things”, but I do collect quotes that call to me, questions that reframe my thinking and books (lots of books). And daily I capture glimmers of wisdom culled from all three in my yearly journal.

Today, I’ve gone back through my 2018 journal to glean the wisdom from the quotes I’ve captured, the questions I’ve wrestled with and the books that resonated with me.


In hindsight, I regret that I captured many quotes this year but failed to note who to attribute them to.  None the less, here are the quotes that made my daily journal this year.

On Time and Our Journey

  • When 99% of your life is work, either you are really bad at what you do or you are completely off balance with the rest of your life. Neither is something to be proud of.
  • Burnout is not the price you have to pay for success.
  • Busy is a decision.
  • I am a traveler, not a map maker. I am going down the same path as you.
  • Your heart is more powerful than your brain.
  • Your dreams are the blueprint to reality. (Greg Norman)
  • Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.
  • Integrity is the only path where you’ll never get lost.
  • Happiness is choice you make and a skill you develop.
  • Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving. (Pratchett)
  • A wise person has his not and he has his yes. (Lao Tzu)
  • The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

On Mindfulness / Presence / Well being

  • Nature is a great therapist.
  • We decide what we want to see before we see it.
  • It is not what you look at that matters, it is what you see. (Henry David Thoreau)
  • When we prioritize our well-being, performance goes up across the board.
  • What separates the good from the great is a deep presence, relaxation of the conscious mind, which leads to flow. (Waitzkin)
  • Don’t believe everything you think. (Buddhist saying)

On Difficult Situations

  • Often when you think you are at the end of something, you are at the beginning of something else. (Fred Rogers)
  • Anger is what pain looks like in public. (Brene Brown)
  • If you want to be the best, you have to risks that others avoid. (Waitzkin)
  • Lean how to use adversity to your advantage. (Waitzkin)
  • Learn the hard from the soft, the soft from the hard.
  • The first mistake is seldom disastrous. It is the downward spiral of the second, third and fourth error that creates a devastating chain reaction. (Waitzkin)
  • If I am ready, I will learn. (Waitzkin)
  • Be at peace with imperfection. (Waitzkin)
  • Contribute more than you criticize. (Brene Brown)
  • Don’t be afraid of being wrong. Being wrong is just an opportunity to find more of the truth. (Annie Duke)
  • We fail the minute we let someone else describe success for us. (Brene Brown)

Compelling Questions

I find that questions are more powerful than answers. Questions open us up. They reframe our perspective. They enable us to think bigger and better. Here are a few of my favorite questions from 2018.

  • What would it look like if this was easy?
  • Is this a crisis or an opportunity for growth?
  • What is the one thing you wish someone had said to you as a child?
  • What is the most loving thing I could do for myself and others right now?
  • What do I need to stop doing because it hurts me?
  • What can I start doing to heal myself?
  • How can I contribute to the end of suffering for humanity?
  • What is the biggest misperception others have about you?
  • Am I able to make a difference right now? If not, can I be patient?
  • Where does my heart lead me?
  • What is my biggest fear right now? How likely is it?
  • Does my worrying about this help the situation?
  • What does “done” look like?
  • What does success look like?
  • What did we set out to do? What happened? What did we learn? How fast can we improve on it? (Brene Brown)

My Top Reads

Well, where do you think I find all those great quotes and questions? From reading! Here is my short list of good non-fiction reads for 2018 with a short reason why.

A Second Chance: For You, For Me, For the Rest of Us by Catherine Hoke

One of my first books read in 2018 – and one that caused me to volunteer for Defy Ventures, the 501(c)(3) founded by Catherine that enables incarcerated individuals (think the toughest of the tough) and corporate executives transform themselves using the power of connection, vulnerability, accountability and entrepreneurship. This is the story of her journey to defy the odds by her prison programs that have many successes, including graduates that have less than a 5% recidivism rate.

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery

In the past two years I’ve been drawn to hikes on the Appalachian trail (not through hikes, mind you) and I began to get curious about Grandma Gatewood, who was the first women who through hiked the trail in 1955. And by the way, she did so at the age of 67. And then again another year. And again. And did I mention that only wore Keds and that her gear consisted of a blanket, shower curtain and a bit of pocket money? A story of grit, of determination and doing something big without really intending to!

The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing our Humanity  by Sally Kohn

If you are like me, I am amazed, dismayed and baffled about how hateful people can be toward one another. Kohn sets out to answer the question of why, using research and interviews with internet trolls, white Nazis and people engaged in hate groups. She puts forth some compelling observations – including that what we most yearn for in connection.

The Art of Learning: the Inner Journey to Optimal Performance  by Josh Waitzkin

You may have noticed by the number of quotes above that this book spoke deeply to me. Waitzkin, a child chess prodigy, national and international chess prodigy and martial arts champion, unpacks the inner game of exceptional performance. No matter what you are attempting to master, this book is packed with keen insights on how our mind shapes our performance and outcomes.

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal

I did a geek out reading binge on collaboration and this, by far, was my favorite read. McChrystal recounts the situation he found himself in when commanding the Joint Special Operations Task Force battling Al Qaeda in 2004. Resources, training the best equipment and military might was not match for the situation he found himself in. He proceeded to abandon traditional military hierarchy and put in its place a network with transparent communication, decentralized decision making and new structures of “teams of teams”. His insights and strategy are well articulated and translate well into any organization that is faced with the need to be agile, fast and adaptive.

In Praise of Difficult Women: Life Lessons from 29 Heroines Who Dared Break the Rules by Karen Karbo

Karbo is a witty writer who, in just a few pages per heroine, provides a pithy view of the life and impact of 20 women who dared break the rules. She covers a wide variety of fields (from arts to the sciences to politics) and ages. A fun read, a great history lesson and an inspiration to any of us who want to dare ourselves to do something that matters.

No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results by Cy Wakeman

I found myself saying “yes!!!” throughout this book. As a leader, I’ve been guilty of spending too much time on poor performers and their drama. As a consultant, I’ve seen organizations go to extreme lengths to create workplaces that do superfluous things to build engagement. Cy gets to the heart of it: the best employee experience is being able to meaningfully contribute to work that matters. This is a blueprint to engagement that matters, accountability to results and crating workplaces where people want to work together for a higher purpose.

Facilitating Collaboration: Notes on Facilitation for Experienced Collaborators by Brandon Klein

If you never facilitate groups – skip this one. If you do, this is one of the best (and geekiest) guides I’ve found. Klein takes this work very seriously and details every step of the way….from how to plan, how to engage sponsors, how to set up space and how to balance moving with the group and moving the group along. This book has upped my game….and I’ll read it at least one more time to capture even more insights.

Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World by Tim Ferriss

A good friend gave me a copy for Christmas last year, about a week before the holiday. After reading just a few entries, I immediately ordered 20 copies for peers, clients and practice partners. Ferriss reached out to his list of successful people (albeit a bit heavy on media, sports and martial artists) – and asked a series of questions like:

  • What book do you give most often as a gift?
  • How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for future success?
  • In the past five years, what have you become better at saying no to?

The answers are both varied and provocative. This is a book to savor; I read one entry a day. It’s like having a mentoring conversation every day of the year!

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brene Brown

Brene describes courageous leadership as an inside out type of courage. Of having the courage to be vulnerable, to risk, to be emotionally available and to lead with your whole heart. This is the kind of leadership that creates connection, energy, and the psychological safety to take risks and do big things. This is the kind of leadership that makes the stoic “leave your emotions at home” leaders cringe. Given that what organizations need right now (and even more so in the future) are people that will create, innovate and to operate with candor – this is a book with great relevance for leaders in organizations that want to succeed in today’s business environment.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

This book was an airport splurge on a business trip – and well worth the cost. I’m a fan of Yuval’s past two books, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (which at 464 pages is not really brief) and Home Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (another rather lengthy book). No matter the size, Yuval takes complexity and distills it into a compelling read that is both well researched and well written. This book is 21 chapters where Yuval explores technology, politics, despair and hope, truth and resilience. If you like to ponder where the human race has been, where it might go and what forces are shaping the world we inhabit – pick up a Harari book!

And a Kris Taylor quote: We are better together! Share some of your best quotes, questions and books from this past year!

Student or Learner: What About Learning Agility?

Today I share a blog written in response to my blog asking if you were a student or a learner. Dave Hoff, co-author of Learning Agility: The Key to Leadership Potential and COO/EVP of EASI Consult.

Here’s a sneak peek at Dave Hoff’s blog:

My colleague Kris’ last blog posed the question, “Are you a student or a learner?” From my perspective, the answer could lie with your development of learning agility.

One of the specialties of my consulting firm is learning agility.  We define learning agility as finding yourself in a situation that you have never been in before and don’t know what to do but then you figure it out. Regarding learner versus student, I’d say that learning agility is probably more characteristic of a learner than it is of a student.

I want to step back, though, and first describe some aspects of learning agility, partially within the context of Kris’ earlier blog. 

Keep reading to learn more!

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Are You a Student or a Learner?

As I work closely with many others in my consulting practice, I see a distinct difference between how people approach new situations. Some eagerly jump in, even though they aren’t fully prepared. Others may be willing, but they wait for clear direction, for the path to be cleared, for step by step direction before they will venture into this new territory.

As I observe these two approaches, I see a distinct difference between learners and students.

Discover what I see as the key differences between learners and students, and find out which of these two categories the world needs more of.

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What Collaborative Teams Do Differently

I sincerely hope that you’ve had a chance to be a part of at least one highly collaborative team! It is a peak experience that I’ve worked to define in my new blog post. If you have not been a part of a collaborative team, I’ve attempted to capture the essence of this experience so that you are more alert to it.

During this blog, I dive through my past experiences to highlight how collaborative teams function and to define what they do differently.

Is your leadership or your team truly collaborative? See if you can find out by reading this post!

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What Is Collaboration and Why Is It Needed Today?

True confession….when no less than three different clients this year asked for help on collaboration I experienced a sense of validation and vindication. Because on no less than three prior occasions, as I was up for a promotion in my earlier careers, I was denied. The reason for not making the cut? “I was TOO collaborative.”

There was no denying I was collaborative. Still am. Always will be. I do my best work side by side with others, dreaming, creating, and then doing. But TOO collaborative? How could that be?

Join me as I explore the concept of collaboration with knowledge I’ve learned through reading current thought leaders, creating content, facilitating workshops and more. During my exploration of collaboration, I come to a stunning conclusion about how I could be TOO collaborative that I want to share with you! At the end, you’ll also find my chart on “collaboration at a glance”.

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The Innovation Imperative: Four Things to Foster Innovation in Organizations

The forces of change surround us and are unrelenting. Fiber optics allow us to move data at amazing speeds and the cost of storage has plummeted from a cool $300K for 1 gig in 1980, to virtually free today. In addition to the accelerating power of the internet, we see an explosion in the speed of change. It may be driven by technology but it touches all that we do.

We find ourselves in an environment in which disruption is the steady state. Responding to today’s environment requires us to think about business in a different light. Where innovation exists alongside optimization. Where we get comfortable with the joy of creating, the emotion of connecting, and the powerful output of networks and collaborations.

Keep reading to find out four ways to foster innovation within organizations. You won’t want to miss the section where I discuss bringing creativity into the workforce to build connections with current and future customers.

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Five Networks Every Leader Needs

As I speak to leadership groups and mention the value of networking, I invariably get a brave soul or two who raises their hands to make points like, “I hate networking events. They seem like a waste of time. You meet a lot of people, none of whom remember you for more than a millisecond.” Or, “Networking just seems like a way to promote yourself and get others to do things for you.”

And I remember the time I thought the same thoughts and had the same questions. And how, over time, I’ve done a complete shift in how I view networking and my own network.

Keep reading to learn what I now know about networking as a leader. You won’t want to miss the section where I dive into the five categories of people that all leaders need for their networks.

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Why Embracing Failure is the Wrong Message

Face it: Failure stinks. No one I know likes it. And even the most successful and creative people I know, don’t celebrate things that turned out poorly.

Yet a mantra that has emerged in the last five years is to “celebrate” failure. Really? Celebrate?

While I get, on some level, the reasoning to encourage people to take a risk and actually “do something” – the notion of celebrating failure is not, what I believe, is in anyone’s best interest.

Learn about other behaviors that are detrimental to organizations, and discover what healthy behaviors your organization should consider adding.

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How to Tend Your Team’s Fire and Not Get Burned

Leaders are always responsible for generating energy (or heat) as they engage the hearts and efforts of others in moving toward a common, shared and worthwhile goal.

In thinking about that energy and momentum as “heat” generated by a “fire”, I recalled that fire takes three elements: Fuel, Oxygen and a source of Heat.

In this article, learn what your team’s Fuel, Oxygen, and source of Heat are, and discover why you should keep your team burning – but not too hot.”

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