Where Do We Choose to Spend Our Time?

At a business workshop last year, I had a sort-of revelation. Everyone there struggled to answer this question:

Where do we spend our time?

Everyone I know, consultants, my clients, my writer friends—all of us share this concern.

We all have too many possibilities for where we could spend our energy and time.

  • We need to create and support products. (For consultants, and writers, this is books, articles, and more.)
  • We need to let our customers know we exist and what we have to offer. (Marketing activities.)
  • We measure our efforts to do decide what to continue doing, what to drop, and what to change.

All of us need to choose what to do—and when.

We all have too much we want to do. Many of us have too much work in progress (WIP).

And, while I might choose for myself, my answers might not work for you.

We can’t solve other people’s problems.

I bet you’ve seen people inflict help, telling people how to solve their problems. I have to bite my tongue half the time because I know how to solve other people’s problems. (I’m right much of the time, and when I’m wrong, boy, I’m totally wrong.)

I might have finally grown up enough to realize my solutions don’t fit everyone else—and that if I decide to offer those solutions, I can stop there.

Avoid Inflicting Help

I’ve been trying to avoid inflicting help. Instead, I’ve been asking these questions:

  • Would you like to discuss this? (I make sure the topic is open for discussion. If not, I stop right there.)
  • What outcome(s) do you want?
  • What alternatives have you tried?

Now, we have a frame for a conversation. I might also ask:

  • How’s that working for you?
  • How much progress have you made since you started?
  • What other hypotheses do you have about the situation?

These are coaching questions.

I ask these questions because I am curious. The other person might have a solution to a problem I didn’t even know I had. (Yes, the more I coach others, the more I learn.) And, the questions help us frame and reframe the discussion.

Here’s what I learned that week and with my consulting cohort over the past few months:

  • We never have enough time. And, time isn’t the problem. The problem is the actions we choose and when.
  • Everyone’s system is often a big interconnected ball of mud, held together by lack of self-esteem. When we don’t feel good about ourselves, we might not be as willing to experiment and learn early.
  • If I really want to help, I need to be attached to the outcome, not the process. That’s because the other person’s problem isn’t mine to solve.

The more adaptable we are, the easier it is for us to be attached to the outcome, not the process. That’s because we can see we need a new reaction to the situation. And, the less self-esteem a person has, the more trouble we have to discover and discuss alternatives.

Time management isn’t the problem. Where we choose to act (David Allen in Getting Things Done)—that’s the problem.

That’s the question this week: Where do we choose to spend our time?

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