Justin wrestles with how to implement margin and discusses some of the ideas he’s reviewed to do better to implement it in his life.
Hello and welcome to Process. My name is Justin DiRose, owner of the Productivity Guild. This week we’re going to talk about the big rocks of life. Let’s dive right into today’s topic. I recently found myself in a little bit of a pickle. I was exhausted, anxious and feeling quite overwhelmed. I was getting easily triggered or feeling angry, and for those who know me, that’s not normal. I’m a pretty even keeled person and can keep a pretty steady demeanor through just about any circumstance, but when I’m exhausted, obviously that tends to go a little bit. For the last few months since becoming self employed, I’ve been trying to find the right balance in my schedule and frankly it’s been difficult for a variety of reasons. Combine that with a multitude of things that are influx and that are changing that started the month of January this year, it’s been quite a challenge to find that place of peace, so to say.
So as a result, I recently spent half a day in reflection on that problem and out of that time I came to a conclusion. My life was largely misprioritized. I realized that my work and finances were elevated over all other things in my life. So other things like personal care, my sleep and relationships took a back seat and due to my own state of being overwhelmed and exhausted, I knew that I couldn’t continue on this path very much further. So now I’m on a journey to figure out how to get better. I will take a little bit time today to share with you some of the thoughts that I’ve had around this whole situation and some strategies that I’m trying to kinda bring myself out of it and do something new. I will say up front here that I don’t have all the answers. Some of the things that I may work for me might not work for you and frankly, some of these things, 10 months down the road or a year down the road might not be working for me as well.
This is the deal with this podcast. The whole reason I have the subtitle as “making productivity personal” is that I want to take a journey with you. I want to share these things in my life that may be of benefit to you. This is definitely something that I don’t have figured out, but I want to be able to talk through it in this place because one, I know talking through for me, helps me get a better sense of what the answer may be and two, you might be able tolearn from what I’ve been processing through as well. If the situation that relevant to you right now or even if there’s something that you’re like, ah, I don’t really know if that works very well, maybe you can take a page from my book and do something better.
Looking at my priorities. The number one thing that comes to mind is Stephen Covey in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He talks about scheduling the big rocks first. This is an idea of basically making sure that you put your highest priority items on the schedule and then fill the rest in. He illustrates this very well and if you’ve been around the productivity world or read the book, you may have heard this already. I’ll iterate it just briefly here, but also put a link in the shownotes to an extended version of the story. Basically the illustration goes like this. There’s a jar and in that jar you can put a bunch of rocks. You can either put the small rocks in first and the sand to try to fill it up, but if you do that, the big rocks don’t fit in at the end. But if you start with the big rocks and then put the progressively smaller rocks in they largely fit.
The whole premise of the illustration is to make sure that you’re scheduling the most import things first and the rest of fall into line. I’ve known this principle for quite awhile, but haven’t needed to follow it religiously, but I do now. I read the book The Now Habit by Neil Fiore. It’s a whole book basically dedicated to strategies to help people get over procrastination. I do think there’s a lot of interesting material in that book that’s applicable to people in productivity space in general, whether you’re a procrastinator or not. When I’m looking at Seven Habits and scheduling the big rocks first, I’m making a connection to one of the tools in The Now Habit called the Unschedule. The Unschedule basically asks you to start by filling your schedule out with guilt free play. Then you have empty spaces in your schedule where you work, so guilt free play is basically the things in your schedule that are rewarding for you to do.
So for some people that might be playing video games, or it might be going and playing a game of tennis, going for a run, going out to eat with your family, something like that. And so you start off your schedule with those things. It’s basically you’re scheduling your margin in first and then your work fills in the other way around. The the premise behind the unschedule is to say, hey, you don’t have 24 hours a day to do something. You don’t have a full week to get something done. You have these blocks of time. And so it basically creates space where you have these rewards and then it draws you to want to get work done in the spaces that you have in your schedule because you’re actually compressing the time that you have get your work done. It’s basically Parkinson’s law, we’re work expands to the time allotted to it.
If you allow a whole week to a piece of work, you’ll take a whole week to get it done. But the Unschedule and also some of these other scheduling habits really actually helped to compress the time that you have in order to be able to work in in a small period of time. Play is a big piece of margin, and margin as the exact thing that I realized I had been lacking in my life. And so play like I said can be anything from exercise or playing with my kids. And so what I’m looking at doing is to use these two strategies is combination, the big rocks and then this unschedule, to be able to schedule my priorities a little bit better.
Okay. So let’s dig in a little bit deeper. What is a big rock? Well, a big rock is anything that’s a main priority in your life. This could be family time, a weekly cribbage game, a project or a meeting. Selecting big rocks requires you to know what your priorities are.
Each of us has a certain set of priority buckets in life. I like to reference back to Zig Ziglar’s wheel of life. This is a diagram that Zig Ziglar used to help illustrate where areas of your life may need attention. There are a number of areas and they are mental, spiritual, physical, family, financial, personal and career. Mike Schmitz references a wheel of life quite frequently as do other folks in productivity space. And the reason being is that it’s a really good benchmark for areas of your life that need attention. So looking at the wheel of life in regards to my case, I was finding that the financial and career aspects of the wheel of life were getting over emphasized and I wasn’t emphasizing the energizing activities and other areas of my life to help build margin. So in essence, my wheel is flat.
When looking at the wheel of life and you’re evaluating each one of those areas in your life, then becomes a lot easier to find what your priorities are. You look for the areas that need the most attention and then from there you can start to set goals in those areas to start to build them up in your life again. So my whole thing here is that I’m just looking to build margin in those areas. Margin with my family margin, my physical health, and my personal life. Basically by saying I’m going to pour into those areas more than I’ve been pouring into my work and my finances. And as a result I’m planning and betting that those other areas will be benefited as well.
So after defining what these areas of priorities are, how do you schedule them? There’s a few different ways you can take, obviously there’s just the simple “I’m gonna block out some time on the calendar”. You can take it another level and do something like hyper scheduling, which is taking every hour of the day and making sure that it has some sort of thing attached to it. So you can say from seven to eight you’re getting ready from eight to noon, you’re doing work from noon to one you are having lunch, from one to two o’clock you have a meeting, so on and so forth. And then we’re actually starting from the place of saying, okay, what are my priorities? And you block those in first and then fill in the rest of the day from there. We also talked about the unschedule already. You could take the unschedule approach and say I’m a block in all of my time during the week that is my playtime, my non work time, my time for these priorities and then I’m just gonna let the other time ride. But that’ll be the time where I’ll get my work done. Then I’ll do other things as well. That way you’re not overloading yourself with hyper scheduling because it can be overwhelming for some people, myself included. But you’re also saying that you’re committing to something on the calendar as well.
The other big way that you can schedule big rocks is by using your routines. So like your morning routine or evening routine and making sure that you’re getting a little bit of time to work on those areas. So say one of your priorities is to write, well, you can work into your daily routine to get up at five o’clock I’m going to write. There’s lots of other ways to handle this and obviously not all of them are going to work for you, but you can definitely pick one or two and try it out. And if that doesn’t work, you can try something else. That’s the beauty of these productivity systems. There’s so many ways to approach these problems, but you can try to figure out what works best for you.
How am I handling this situation? I want to make sure that I’m not compromising on a family time, making sure that I schedule fun and making sure that I get enough time to sleep, eat well and have some physical activity. So those things are going get scheduled into my day. Now my schedule’s a little bit variable and so I can’t necessarily say every Friday at two o’clock I’m going to have a fun time and every Wednesday at noon and I’m going to take a run or something like that just doesn’t work. So the way that I’m handling it is that I’m looking at every single day and every single week individually and the beginning of week, I’m gonna try to plan those few items into my calendar and then from there try to commit to that as best as I can.
Ultimately these things come first and then my work is to fit around it. Dealing with priorities can be difficult and especially so if you’re a person who tends to oblige other people. There can be instances where priority shifts take place because we have extenuating circumstances in our lives such as an illness or a situation in our family or we’ve lost their job, whatever that is. Those things provide external pressure for us to make changes in our priorities, but that’s never really the situation that we want to be in. The better situation is to be proactive, and proactivity is difficult when you try to rely on outside pressure to make you to make changes. John Maxwell talks about that. People tend to make change when it hurts more to stay where you are than it is to make the change. And frankly, sometimes it just takes a little bit thinking about the outcome that you want in your life to be able to make the right changes. So for example, I’ve been exhausted. I’ve been tired. Well, I know that down the road, continuing down that path will mean I’m not available as well for my family because I’m exhausted. I’m not going to be as productive as to the work that I’m doing because I am focusing on other things and anxious and stressed. And so when I look down the road a little ways, it makes it a lot easier for me to make proactive changes ahead of time. So instead of waiting for a nervous breakdown, I’m trying to make a change ahead of the fact so that I avoid it. Like I said, it’s not always easy to make those kinds of changes, but often they’re very necessary. Keeping the first things first is be very hardest thing to do, but is the most important.
Well, that’s all for this time. If you want to join in on the discussion for this episode or you want to connect with others who are in the process of becoming better on their productivity journey, head on over to the Productivity Guild at https://productivityguild.com. Or if you want to support this podcast and get access to video modules, productivity courses, and more consider signing up for a Pro membership Productivity Guild For just $10 a month. Lastly, if you liked the show, rate us on iTunes or recommend us Overcast. I’m Justin DiRose and join me next time on Process.