This article originally appeared at Gen-i’

I wanted to reminisce a little today…

Remember when you started your business? You had a VISION, your ‘Why’ and you put everything on the line to turn that vision into a business. You were energised, passionate, excited and maybe a little nervous! Your goal was pursuing the lifestyle YOU want.

Living your DREAM. Living YOUR passion. That takes guts!

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

Not many people do this. It takes courage, drive and vision to quit the day job and jump into the unknown. This is important…just stop reading for a minute…reflect on that and remember what it felt like.

What’s happening now?

How did your day go today? A bit of a blur? One minute it was 8.30am then the next it was 4pm…how does that happen? Where does the day go?

I have used the following exercise at various points in my career to help me look at and manage my time effectively. It starts by drawing a circle….

This circle represents your week – those precious 168 hours.

Like segments of a pie chart, mark on that circle segments of time you spend on different types of tasks in your business:

How much time do you spend:

  • On ‘the work’ of your business? eg. The tasks related to work that your clients/customers pay you to do.
  • On ‘urgent’ issues? Such as crises, urgent calls, that never-ending stream of emails in your inbox?
  • On interacting with your team? Strengthening connections and ‘Teamship’ – Those little conversations that make working in your business feel like a family?
  • Looking after you? Making a healthy meal, sleeping, exercising, meditating, socialising, spending quality time with your family and partner.
  • Gaining feedback and optimising current operations? How frequently do you check in with staff, ask for feedback, listen intensively to your team are saying, what new initiatives have you introduced to improve your operations?
  • On tasks that directly work to reaffirm your goals?
  • Planning future projects/being creative? ‘Big picture’ thinking, where are we going, what future opportunities can we take advantage of?
  • On any other categories that are relevant to your business

Really, do this exercise NOW!

With all the exercises I share in these blogs, for them to work and give you clarity, you MUST do them honestly! I know we all tend to bend the truth when we are maybe embarrassed or don’t want to face up to reality.

Trust me, doing any of these exercises with absolute honesty is hard but enlightening. This will give you clarity and insight into your situation now.

Being busy and lazy – A contradiction

I heard an interesting distinction from motivational speaker and author Mel Robbins the other day – Not many people associate being busy with being lazy. They’re opposites, right?!

But she explains, you can be BUSY and at the same time be LAZY.

I’ll explain: you can be busy with the WRONG things! Tasks that are not aligned with your goals, they are taking up all your time but not moving you forward.

Laziness is defined as: ‘the quality of being unwilling to work or use energy’. In the context of what I am explaining, this is an unwillingness work on the right things – firstly defining what they are and then executing them. So, when viewed from the perspective of actions taking you closer to your goals being ‘busy with the wrong things’, is being LAZY!

Where is your work and energy going?

So how do we break this habit?

An excellent book which I have re-read many times is Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people (There’s a handy summary on YouTube.) One habit I think is particularly relevant is Habit 3, ‘Put First Things First’, in which he explains his ‘Importance/Urgency Quadrant’.

What if you’re focusing your efforts in all the wrong areas – getting caught in the ‘activity trap’, as Covey calls it?

Categorising your to-do list – The Urgent/Important matrix

What do we mean here by Important and Urgent?

• Urgent Tasks: cause us to react. We stop what we’re currently doing and work on the urgent task instead.
• Important Tasks: lead us towards our overall mission or goals. These key actions often require planning, organisation and initiative.

Using a simple grid, it defines tasks according to their importance and urgency:
• Quadrant 1 – Crises – URGENT and IMPORTANT
• Quadrant 2 – Achieving Goals and Planning – NON-URGENT and IMPORTANT
• Quadrant 3 – Interruptions – URGENT and NOT IMPORTANT
• Quadrant 4 – Distractions – NOT URGENT and NOT IMPORTANT

Covey’s way of categorising priorities from Urgent/High Importance to Low Urgency/Not Important not only helps you devote more time to tackling tasks that proactively move you forward, improve your business but also prevent those Quadrant 1 situations.

This is the STRUCTURE of your business.

This method goes a step beyond simply prioritising your to-do list, to really practising effective time-management, where you adopt a holistic view of what you should be focusing on. You categorise each task into those that are really important, and those that really are not – or which ones can be delegated.

When you put this into place, you invariably find that there are fewer fires to put out because you’ve already tackled them at a less critical stage.

So, to help you focus on those task that are important…

Go back to your circle. Find four coloured pens and allocate one for each of the quadrants.

Go through your circle and colour in the tasks/segments with the colour that best represents the quadrant definition. What colour is most prevalent in your circle?

Don’t worry if it’s not all Quadrant 2. We are all human!

Absolute clarity is key. Both on your ‘Why’ (your vision) AND how you are operating now so you can identify improvements and implement them. When we identify what is aligned with our vision, identify what to improve, learn how to improve it and then proactively DO something about it, success is inevitable!

I definitely recommend reading Stephen Coveys book – Amazon.


  • Nicola MacPhail

    Change Expert, Author & Facilitator


    A consultant, writer and facilitator. Based in Cumbria I coach clients across the UK and internationally. I write extensively on ‘The HOW Skill Set’ in addition to offering workshops, training and consultancy. Born from a passion to help others ‘Make Change Happen’, I help people make effective implementation plans, be more productive and leverage habits to implement vital changes and thrive in life and work!