5 Time Management Tips to Keep Other People’s Problems from Becoming Your “To-Do” List

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creative commons

I once was a zoo keeper. It was more of a primate sanctuary actually.

My days were filled with feeding, watering and cleaning after monkeys that were dropped off by eager donors.

In The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey, author Ken Blanchard uses monkeys as an analogy for “the next move” in projects or problems that needs solved.

Most people with a problem OR a monkey would love it if you would take responsibility for their “pet”.

You probably care at least a little for all of the monkeys that come your way. In fact, the donor probably cares about the monkey too…they just don’t like the responsibility of “the next step”.

As you take on more and more monkeys, you’ll get a reputation as a pretty good monkey-sitter. More monkeys will come your way.

Sounds a little like a death spiral, right? It’s definitely not the best step for achieving the (un)busy good life that we’re after.

If you’re crying a little inside after reading this, there is hope.

Here’s how to break the cycle:
1. Read the book. I’m on my third well-worn copy because I keep handing them off to other weary monkey sitters. You can find it on Amazon here.
2. Learn how to say “No”. Or at least “Not Right Now”. This one is hard (but necessary) for my people pleasing brothers and sisters.
3. Know when to say “Yes”. Sometimes the best person to handle the next step really is you. Take TEMPORARY ownership of that monkey.
4. Keep a list. If you don’t track your monkeys, you’ll forget to feed one. Read my post Five Tips on How to Pray Specific to learn about a great app for keeping lists.
5. Be proactive. You’re goal each day is to feed the hungriest monkey and then find his new owner.

I retired from the monkey business. I now care only for those monkeys that truly belong to me and spend my spare time on meaningful work (like this blog).

There is hope.

Question: How many monkeys are you caring for right now and what steps can you take to give them a new home?

The Secret of Effective Problem Solving Skills

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When I was a kid, I loved G.I Joe. If an episode was on TV, it didn’t matter what else was going on. I would be in the fight with Duke, Flint and my boys just doing what we did:

Fighting Cobra and saving the world, thirty minutes at a time.

The only lasting effect of my time with “The Joes” is the unconscious, automatic response that comes anytime I hear the phrase “Now you know…”

“…and knowing is half the battle!”

If knowing really is half the battle (it is) then it’s probably important that we learn all we can about our enemy.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The secret to effective problem solving skills is to first know the problem you are trying to solve. So many miss this crucial step and end up solving the wrong problems…over and over again.

Time wasted re-solving the same problem is a battle won for busy.

I spent a day logging everything I did both at work and at home in hopes of getting some good intelligence on how Busy fights.

We’ll get into the details of this in a later post. For now, here’s the big revelation:

Lesson 1: Busy is mostly the outcome of good activities.

I wish this wasn’t true, but it is.

I spent most of my day engaged in tasks and projects that, if left unattended, would have a negative impact on my faith, family, health or community.

If this is the case, how do we win the fight against busy? We obviously can’t stop doing the things that we NEED to be doing!

Surely I wouldn’t suggest that we stop doing the GOOD things that fill our day. Right?

That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. Just not ALL of the good things.

Curious? Think I’m crazy? Good!

I’ll give you a teaser for the next post by asking the following question:

What “good” activities are you currently doing only to meet someone else’s expectations?

Death to the Checkmark!

Check MarkHi.  My name is Shane and I’m addicted to check marks.

Oh, sure…I struggle with other vices. This one, though is probably at the root of most of my failures and is a huge obstacle to the life of abundance that Jesus promised us.

Let me explain.

Everywhere we look, there are HUGE opportunities waiting for us.  Self-improvement opportunities, career opportunities, family opportunities and KINGDOM opportunities.  The hard thing about most opportunities is just that.  They’re hard.  They require hard work, goal setting, motivation, initiative, and a whole bunch of other cool words that would look great on a motivational poster.

I have a tendency to approach these opportunities with an absolute, all-or-nothing approach that feels really good at the jump, but sabotages my long range success and motivation.

  1. When I try to eat better, I go hard-core on the diet plan (you pick it, I’ve tried it).  24/7…all in.
  2. When I start exercising, I set a plan.  No less than 6 days a week.  30 minutes – an hour a day.  24/7…all in.
  3. When I try to lose weight (usually the ultimate goal of #1 and #2), I set a weekly weight loss goal of X LBS per week. 24/7…all in.
  4. When I try to grow my knowledge of scripture, I sign up for an online plan for daily reading and/or establish a routine of daily quiet time.  24/7…all in.

When we set up such regimented structures in our lives, we replace the freedom that God has given us with a legalistic approach. History has proven we aren’t capable of living up to such rules/laws…that’s why we need Jesus and the freedom he gives us.

Please understand that I think a daily quiet time in the Word is crucial to our spiritual growth…but, if we’re doing it for the sake of staying on track with a plan or to avoid the guilt of missing a day, we’re doing it for the wrong reason.

Eventually, the inevitable unknown of life creeps in and robs us of an opportunity to work out because we have a cold.  We eventually oversleep and miss our morning quiet time.  We land in an all-day business meeting with lunch catered and NOTHING fits the diet plan.

That pretty little checkmark that we love to see show up every day on our planner calls in sick.  Because of our regimented approach, that blank spot where the checkmark SHOULD be is a HUGE hit to our motivation. We resign to failure and abandon our mission.

Does it really have to be failure?  Absolutely, not.

Goals are good place markers to check the pulse on our progress.  They shouldn’t be used as a pass/fail metric.

I’m working to change my perspective.  I’ve just begun my latest attempt to get healthy.  This time, I’m not keeping a planner.  I’m not setting rigid goals.

I’m not making check marks.

Instead, I’m going to live freely, knowing that every decision I face is an opportunity.  Sometimes I’ll make the right one, sometimes I won’t.  As long as I’m making more good decisions than bad, I should be trending in the right direction and can feel victorious.

God has a plan for us…there’s no need to tie ourselves down with our own.

Live a life free of check marks.

At the Trailhead

Greenland TrailheadMy family loves the outdoors.  We struggle to find time to get away but, when we do, we morph into a modern day “Swiss Family Robinson”. In reality, if the AC unit goes out on our camper trailer, we’re out of here.  As long as that dude is humming, we’re hard as nails.  Joking aside, we do love to hike.  I grew up in Scouting and lived in a small town where there was no shortage of places and opportunities to get in the woods.  I also spent some time in the Army where “hikes” were decidedly less fun and infinitely harder. We’ve found it to be a good way to get away from the emails, texts, and phone calls and find a slower pace to find peace from the business, revisit our values and restore ourselves.

For my wife and daughter, the thrill is on the trail. They love finding waterfalls, cliffs and streams for photo opportunities, rock throwing, wading and splashing.  I love this time with them as well.  There’s a different category of happiness that God has reserved for men when they spend time with their family in His creation.  Perhaps my favorite “Man time” however, is in the preparation at the Trailhead.  Ticking the boxes on a checklist and knowing that I have prepared well for any eventuality short of the Apocalypse somehow keeps my man-card up to date:  “First Aid kit….check”, Water…check, flashlight with extra batteries…check, satellite uplink for global communication…check”.  (I’m only half kidding on that last part…if I knew where to get one; it would be on the pack list.)  Part of this comes from years of Scouting where we were taught well to “Be Prepared”.  It was also engrained in us during U.S. Army Basic Training so we were always “Mission Ready” when we arrived at the objective.  The greater pride comes from being the leader of my household and knowing that I’ve done my level best to care for the family that God has entrusted to me should the unexpected occur away from civilization.

This “trailhead thinking” has translated well to all aspects of life.  As I write this, I stand at “The Trailhead” of a new adventure with my first blog.  I’ve always enjoyed reading and writing.  For the last year or so, I’ve felt God calling me to blog.  I’ve since spent a lot of time arguing with Him kind of like Moses did when God asked him to lead His people out of bondage in Egypt “Not me, God…pick someone else!”  God has persisted and, out of obedience, what you’re reading is my first step out in faith that His plan is greater than my fears and apprehension.  Not knowing how to do much more on the internet than key a question into a search engine, this adventure required a lot of trailhead preparation before taking this first step on the trail.  As this thing moves forward, if you return to the site and it still works, rest assured it’s a “God thing” because I’ll be busy re-watching how-to videos every time I want to post!

What adventures do you have coming up in your life?  New job? Lost job? New addition to the family? Creating a blog?  I would encourage you to first make sure you’re on the right trail by asking God and seeking his direction in the Word, in Prayer, and in quiet listening for His voice.  Once He shows you the way, I encourage you to employ trailhead thinking in preparing for the adventure ahead and get moving!  Don’t wait a year like I did…just like hiking a new trail for the first time, there’s no way to know for sure what lies ahead.  The adventure lies in hitting the trail and finding out!