Tick Talk Issue 23
"The principle of life quality is simple. We change the quality of our life simply by changing activities." - Trapper Woods
Manage Your Daily Traffic
Concentration of power is the ability to focus upon and accomplish the most vital priorities. A priority is an activity to which we assign value. Vital priorities are high payoff and crucial. In business, vital priorities are essential for the existence, continuation, and well-being of the organization. In our personal life they are the priorities that align with our innermost values.
The first step toward achieving concentration of power is to develop the ability to quickly categorize activities according to how vital and urgent they are. It helps us to distinguish priorities from urgency.
Urgencies are situations or conditions that require some immediate action on our part. In some cases it might be inaction. Nevertheless, when an "urgency" occurs, we must respond. Urgencies are created in a variety of ways. You've experienced most of them: a sudden demand from the boss; a time sensitive opportunity; an accident; a close deadline; a request from a friend; some e-mails and some voice mail; any drop-in visitor; and a sick child. The list goes on and on. In the new paradigm urgencies have increased in frequency and complexity. We must be able to edit urgencies as they pop up throughout the day.
Once we understand the difference between priorities and urgencies we are in better position to "choose and refuse". All activities can quickly be categorized according to how vital and urgent they are.
We can use a familiar symbol, the traffic light, to help us remember the four types of activities and the actions to take when we face them.
We assigned the colors of the traffic light to the four kinds of activities with which we deal - Red, Green, Yellow, and Gray. (Okay, there isn't really a gray light but use your imagination. It will make perfect sense.)
Know When To STOP!
Red activities are both vital and urgent. When faced with a red activity STOP whatever else you are doing and do the red activity NOW!
As red activities pop up during the day, they aren't hard to recognize. Just ask my brother Paul. Paul is in his late fifties. He's a handsome man with a bit of gray hair around his temples. He dresses tastefully and works in a jewelry store. Upon entering his store one is overcome with a feeling of elegance.
On this particular day he was showing an exquisite diamond to a young couple shopping for an engagement ring. He had the diamond up under a light in a pair of tweezers as he expounded about color, clarity, and cut. He was really "romancing the stone"! Noticing a speck of dust he inhaled to blow it off the diamond. Just then the tweezers snapped, shooting the diamond like a bullet into the back of his throat. He gagged! He swallowed a nine-thousand dollar diamond in front of his customers. It was vital and it was urgent! Five days later the diamond was retrieved. Five days of "diamond in the rough." In a news article about the incident the last line stated, "The customers decided on another stone."
Red activities often catch us off guard, but when they occur we know we must take action. Red activities put us in a state of upheaval and plans are put on hold in order to address these unexpected events.
Some examples, other than swallowing a diamond, are: the system is down; a customer has just asked for a proposal and they want it now; your child fell off the monkey bars at school and has to be taken to the hospital for stitches; an immediate request from your manager; computer failure, etc! These kinds of activities are no-brainers. They occur, we respond!
Know When to GO!
Green activities are vital but not urgent. Green Means: GO there as much as possible. Green reminds us that theses activities make money. They are necessary for the existence and continuation of the business. On a personal basis green activities are the ones that bring quality and balance to our life. It is through green activities that we build and maintain strong relationships, serve others, and improve ourselves. When doing these activities that are vital, but not urgent, we are typically in a state of composure, alignment, and harmony.
Green activities will often haunt us later if we procrastinate them. I was reminded of that when my son, a college student, lamented the fact that I was too busy to read to him as a child. Yes, a green activity can be as simple and crucial as that. All activities that are tied to our innermost values are green including activities that seem small or mundane, and those that are fun and recreational. Green activities include: long range planning, exercise, relationship building, sales calls, family time, etc...
Know When to use CAUTION!
It isn't easy being green. One reason is because yellow activities challenge us so much. Yellow activities are urgent but not vital. Yellow activities create an illusion of the need for immediate action. When we succumb to the temptation to handle these activities as they occur, we are operating in a state of delusion. When we resist the temptation to respond "now" our plans proceed as scheduled and theses activities are rescheduled so they can be addressed at a more appropriate time in the future.
The color yellow reminds us to use caution. For example, you are preparing for an imminent conference call just as a co-worker shows up for a chat. It's urgent because the co-worker is there and you must respond. At the same time, the activity being brought to you is far from vital. And so it goes with some visitors, some telephone calls, some e-mail, and some voice mail. Caution! These kinds of urgencies can interfere with your concentration of power. The consummate self-manager knows what to choose and what to refuse and has fortitude to say "No! Not now!"
Know When to say NO!
The fourth type of activity is gray, gray means RETHINK THIS ACTIVITY! Gray activities are not urgent and they are not vital. These are activities, behaviors, and practices that are of little or no value to self and others. When involved with these activities, we are primarily engaged in trivia.
These types of activities become an escape for those of us who aren't coping constructively with our daily activities. For example, a recent study reveals that the average American employee spends 30 minutes a day surfing the Internet on company time. Another example is opening junk mail when you know you are going to throw it in the recycle bin anyway. Some gray activities are not only trivial they can be destructive, such as countless hours spent in office gossip, reading junk mail, unnecessary tasks, etc. Avoid wasting gray matter on gray events!
So how do you operate? Where do you spend your hours and energy? What is the state in which you are operating most of your time? Is it harmony (green), upheaval (red), illusion (yellow), or trivia (gray)?
Managing Your Daily Traffic!
You may be thinking to yourself that the concepts illustrated by the traffic light seem awfully familiar. And in fact, they are. Charles R. Hobbs, Ph.D., introduced me to the process of categorizing events based upon how vital and urgent they are when I worked for him promoting his Time Power® system. This information is found in his book Time Power®, published by Harper and Row in 1988. And in fact, these concepts are so powerful they have been included in some form or another by many different time management programs over the years. Charles sold his seminar copyrights to Day-Timer Inc. As Day-Timer authorized training partner, I have included portions of this material with permission.
By attaching the use of vital and urgent to something as common as the traffic light you can quickly categorize an activity and easily remember how to proceed. The following illustration may help you use this new skill to your greatest advantage.