Are you playing chess or checkers?

Time is our most valuable resource. Time is more valuable than money. Money can be lost and recovered. Once we waste time we never get it back. When it comes to time management, everyone plays chess or checkers. The chess game is designed for the proactive. The successful chess player is thinking two or three moves ahead compared to the checkers player who is only concentrating on the move directly in front of them. What game are you playing? Let me share a story to help you decide. I was the shop manager of an auto repair facility. My senior technician told me a month in advance that he was leaving my organization. He told me on May 1 that his last day would be May 31, plenty of time to find a replacement. I started my search for a new technology on May 30th at 4:00 pm! Unfortunately, he was playing checkers. The question is, how do we avoid playing checkers and make better use of our time? Steven Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, divides time management into four quadrants. I will review these quadrants in this article. By understanding the areas that Covey highlights, we will understand what game we are really playing.

Quadrant #1 – Important and Urgent

The main reason we end up playing checkers is that we wait until a task becomes important AND urgent before starting on it. When I needed a technician and didn’t start looking until the last minute, I was operating out of this quadrant. This is what leads to firefighting. Waiting until cash flow dries up to start a marketing plan and not being able to balance tires because we delayed ordering wheel weight are other common examples that will put us in firefighting mode. In the past, it seemed like he drove to work in a red fire truck. If you find yourself reacting to what the day brings, you may have a red fire truck parked in your driveway.

Quadrant #2 – Important and Not Urgent

This is the quadrant of the chess players. By performing tasks while they are important BUT NOT urgent, you position yourself to control your time and not let time control you. Implementing a hiring strategy BEFORE you have an opening, planning your marketing activities in a marketing calendar, and writing your daily activities for the next day at the close of the current day are examples of how to operate in this quadrant. We have the opportunity to help our customers to play chess. We can save you time and money by communicating the value of investing in a maintenance program for your car. Going every three months for maintenance is important but not urgent compared to having to buy a new engine which would be in the first quadrant. Think how much better our businesses would be if we were all playing the same game.

Quadrant #3 – Goal not important Urgent

Daily interruptions and targeted phone calls and emails fall into this category. Often times, failure to delegate effectively keeps us operating in this quadrant. As business managers, we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that we have to solve every concern, work on every car, and satisfy every customer ourselves. If we compare our daily activities to the grand scheme of our corporate vision, we may find that many of the things we engage in are not important. I discovered this many years ago when I was on my first assignment as a District Manager. Initially, I would find myself talking to three or four customers a day about issues that should have been resolved at the store level. I ran seventeen locations at the time. Managers came to ask me for guidance and involvement in very basic issues. I went home every day frustrated and tired. So one day, when one of my managers came to me with a basic problem, I asked him the following powerful question: What do you think we should do to solve this? To my surprise, he had the answer. I then thanked him for handling the situation and told him to update me on the end result. Taking this approach allowed me to play the game I wanted and return my fire truck to the fire station where it belongs. It will do the same for you.

Quadrant #4 – Not important and not urgent

Busy work, time wasters, and certain phone calls and emails would all fall into this category. As an Owner, any task that is not important or urgent is a distraction. It is important that we identify and eliminate those daily distractions that we all have. The question we must ask ourselves is how does the activity align with the vision I have for the business? If we can’t come up with an answer, then the activity falls into this quadrant and should be removed. We must be careful not to allow our people to spend time in this quadrant. Many of the store owners I talk to have a “no cell phone policy” in their stores. This can help prevent our people from playing checkers on the clock. We live in the age of smartphones, texting, and social media, which can be huge distractions. Cell phone policy is a great example of how to eliminate unnecessary distractions.

I am reminded of the main character played by Tim Robbins in the movie ShawShank Redemption. He was serving a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit and made a surprising escape from prison after 20 years. Every day he dug into the wall of his cell, a task that was important but not urgent. Each day, he maintained this discipline without allowing unnecessary distractions. Tim’s character was playing chess and that allowed him to go to the next level. What game do you want play?

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