Lessons of the Hourglass


There’s no shot clock in real life; not normally anyway. It’s a shame because maybe if we had a ticking clock to remind us of time that’s passing, we wouldn’t waste so much of it. We spend time on the computer and in front of the TV that could be spent in the Word. We spend time goofing off instead of ministering to others. And once that time is gone, we will never have it to give again. My prayer for you today, is that you will live as if you had an hourglass in front of you.

You only have so much time, and God wants you to make the most of it. There’s a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to reap, a time to cry in, a time to laugh. Don’t waste this precious gift that God has given you
It’s not always that we need to do more, but rather we need to focus on less.”

Nathan W. Morris.

I used to think productivity was about doing more, in less time, so I could do more. I had it all wrong.
We live in a culture of more. We need to earn more, buy more, say more, do more or get more.
When I took my first job out of college, I worked eighty hours/week for about two years. At the time I wasn’t married and I didn’t have kids so this was my top priority. All I wanted to do was learn and get better. But I knew it wasn’t sustainable. I had to figure out how to be “more productive.”

I had a murky thought eighteen years ago. What if productivity starts with doing less?

This question feels strange because productivity is measured by output over input. In other words, if I can do more in an hour today than I did yesterday, I am considered more productive.
This is a simple ‘do more’ mindset. It ignores a couple of critical points. When I measure productivity I look at whether I produced meaningful things well.

Let me break this down in a bit more detail.
Focus on the right things

Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all. — Peter Drucker For the longest time, I would focus on things that were immediate. If it was screaming for attention I would add it to my list and get to work. I was so focused on doing, that I never stopped to think about what needed to be done.

It starts with clear goals, either personal or professional. If I’m not working on the things that matter the most, I’m working on the wrong things.

This process starts with considering the future, not what’s in front of me. Humans suck at long term thinking. We love immediate gratification, so it’s natural to focus on to do lists of obvious tasks. But those tasks need to matter in the first place, they need to have real meaning.

Most people believe that all the tasks on their list are important. That may be true, but they are not all equal. Prioritization matters. Often times I would knock out lower priority work because it was easy and I could get it done. This was another big mistake.

My mindset now is very different. I have a list ranked by importance and I focus on doing the most important things well. Once I stopped feeling bad about not getting items done that were low on the list, my work and impact improved.

Motivation plays another important role in my definition of productivity. Figuring out what I value and why helps me make the right choices with my personal and professional time.

Speaking of time, the easiest, and often hardest, way to find more is to say no.

A while back, I had to say no to my City Council position. I served for 6 years and life was getting too busy. I was a father, husband, CEO of a startup and a non-profit. There was not enough time in the day.

I’ve always heard this line and I’d repeat it myself. But this way of thinking can send us down the wrong path. What people are saying is there’s no time left to do the things that matter. This is a prioritization problem, not a do more problem.

After I sort out my time it’s easier to see the things that have to drop. City Council was an example. I was OK with it because my priorities were clear. By stepping away from that role I could spend my time in the most meaningful ways.

Create It’s easy to confuse busy work with real work. I have bad news, doing email, sitting in meetings and knocking off tasks that are low in importance are not real work.

The biggest problem I’ve seen is that busy work gets done before real work. It seems to always take center stage because that work is immediate. Creating something is harder, so it gets pushed to the bottom of the list.

We get lost when we focus on activity vs impact. I’ve had many different roles in my career and I’ve always had the most impact when I created something. This might be a product spec, a marketing message, a strategy or a sales pitch. Of course, what gets created needs to align with what matters to the company.

Do it well
There is so much focus on efficiency that it often leads to poor work.

If I was working on the right things and I did a sloppy job, it’s a complete waste of time. It doesn’t matter that I was working on the right thing. It doesn’t matter that I created something. If it isn’t done well, not only will I not have a positive impact, I may have a negative one.

Once I am clear on what work matters, then I turn to creating. Once I start that process I can look for ways to be more efficient, but never at the expense of quality.

Of course quality is subjective. There is always a point where it’s better to call it done than keep working it until it’s perfect. Every situation is different. Figuring this one out often comes down to experience.

I can attribute a lot of my success and even happiness to my “productivity.” When I was working hard on low value tasks I would feel stressed and underpaid. In reality, I was underachieving and sacrificing my health in the process. The more I was able to create things that mattered, the more success I saw.

Create time

“It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom” – Aristotle

We all get the same amount of time each day. What differs and sets people apart is how they choose to spend it.

Make no mistake, we are “spending” time. Which begs the question, what is our time worth?

When I was young I didn’t think my time was worth much. I made minimum wage like a lot of others. After going to college, I got a raise. The world told me my time was worth three times what I used to make.

The biggest problem I see with this hourly thinking, is the hourly part. It focuses on short term output. Compare this to an investment. This is long term output. The more I think about my time as an investment, the better decisions I seem to make with how to apply it.

After I figured out that this process was helping me be more successful, I wanted to do more of it. That meant I needed to create time.

Since I can’t create a 25 hour day I had to cut out the things I was doing that wasted time.

I looked at my day and found a lot of opportunities. I cut out TV, reading news and staying up late. I also decided to get up earlier. Combined, I created twenty hours a week to focus on the most important work I can.

To help make sure I don’t lose time I try to stay healthy. I eat well, exercise and get a good night’s sleep.

Be a doer

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. – Walt Disney

At some point it’s time to get down to work. There is no substitute for getting started. If I don’t have everything mapped out, I will start with the first obvious step. My goal is to keep moving forward.

There have been plenty of times when I failed to take action. Sometimes it’s hard to get started. But a little action goes a long way. It creates momentum and helps me move on to each following piece of work.

A lot of people think this is hard. In fact, a few of my friends tell me I’m the most productive person they know. Here’s the thing. I’m not special.

It does take discipline to make these decisions, but these decisions are not hard. Anyone can do what I’ve done and even do a better job.

I do it because productivity is important to me. It’s important that I work on things that matter. I love to create and I get a lot of satisfaction from it. Since my name is on the work, I always want it to be something that I can be proud of.

It’s taken me a long time to figure this all out. Now that I have I can tell you that I am living a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life.

by Chad Bockius, October 26, 2017.