Why we need timeless principles to be truly effective

Effectiveness is about getting the things that truly matter done. You know what they are for you:

  • That project you keep putting off because it seems too complicated and out of your depth. But if you were to complete it would yield great benefits.
  • That conversation with a key person who could help to move things forward.
  • That important family friend or relative you know you need to get in touch with.
  • That time alone or at the gym to re-charge your batteries and help you focus better.

In contrast to efficiency, effectiveness is based on timeless principles that in the end will bring about the maximum long-term benefits. To really understand effectiveness then we need to first understand what we mean by principles.

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Principles are natural laws or fundamental truths about life and the universe that are:

  • External to yourself
  • Do not change
  • Universal and timeless.
  • Produce predictable outcomes in the long term.
  • Continue to operate with or without your understanding or acceptance of them
  • Self -evident and enabling when understood and applied.

Correct principles are like a compass. They are always pointing the way. If we can learn how to read them, not only will we not get lost, confused or fooled by conflicting voices and values, it is more likely we will move forward in our lives with confidence and true power

As Stephen R. Covey puts it:

“We are not in control; principles control. We control our actions, but the consequences that flow from these actions are controlled by principles.”

Principles are natural laws in the human sphere that are just as real, just as unchanging and arguably present as laws such as gravity is in the physical dimension.

The best example of this is found in the principles that govern the seasons and farming. Think about what a farmer does. He must prepare the ground, plant the seed, give time for it to germinate and grow. All this takes time and requires honouring the seasons by doing what is appropriate in a particular season. You prepare the ground and plant in the spring if you want to harvest in the autumn. How ridiculous it would be if you ignored this principle and instead chose to plant in the summer expecting a harvest in the winter! To do so is to violate the principles that govern the seasons and the growth of plants.

What are some examples of principles? When you hear them they seem obvious, and yet the media abounds with examples of people who do not live by them……

What does it actually mean to be effective?

So what does it mean to be effective? In other words how do I ensure I get the right things done and am not just busy for the sake of being busy? Effectiveness (doing the right thing) has to come before efficiency (doing more things in less time). This is powerfully illustrated in the 8 minute video below:

Here are some practical examples of this:

  • As you plan your day how do you know what are the most important things for you to do? What determines your first priorities? Is it urgency, your values? Or is it a clear compelling purpose you have thought through and articulated?
  • What do you do when you feel torn between different roles in your life, such as work and family or contributing to a worthy cause or developing yourself? Does being ‘balanced’ mean running between the different bases of your life fast enough to touch them all?
  • Suppose you have planned your day and someone comes to you saying they have an ‘urgent’ need . How do you know whether the best thing to do is to change your priorities? Can you make that change with the confidence and peace that you are putting first things first? Or are you being driven by whatever is latest and loudest in your life?
  • Or suppose as you go through your day an unexpected opportunity lands on your lap? How do you know whether the best thing to do is to respond to that opportunity or stick to your original plan?

I have to confess that although I am writing about this, for me it too is a daily battle to keep focussed on my most important priorities and remember “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Yes I frequently get it wrong, but I trust over time my choices are getting more effective.

Effectiveness is best defined as getting the results you want in a way that enables you to get even greater results in the future. This is about success that endures, is sustainable and is balanced in all areas of life and not just one part.

There are three key elements to personal effectiveness:
– You know what the important things to be done are.
– You know how to do them
– You are actually motivated to do what it takes and they become habitual.

Without these three pre-requisites you cannot truly be effective. Because this is often not easy to achieve, we tend to focus more on speed and convenience – hence we spend more time on efficiency.

How does the video and these thoughts on effectiveness apply in your own life?

For more on being effective also see Time Management Part 3 and The top 5 regrets of the dying at How Would You Define Success Part 3

These ideas are taken from the work of the late Stephen R, Covey. For more on his work see Podcast #010

Are you being efficient or effective?

The dangers of just being busy

If you ask people these days h0w they are doing, the vast majority will tell you how busy they are. In many ways there is nothing wrong with being busy. The more important question is what are you actually being busy about?

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Efficiency is about doing something faster, cheaper and with less hassle. Its about getting more things done in less time. Nothing at all in one sense wrong with that either. Technology has increased efficiency dramatically in the last few decades. At the same time we have more and more things coming at us and so we naturally find ourselves speeding up and moving faster.

It was Mahatma Gandhi who first said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” He died in 1948 so what would he have made of today’s fast paced frenetic world? Speed is certainly something we have got in our lives!

While efficiency is important it only works when we make it of secondary importance and not the primary thing. In other words, it doesn’t matter how efficient you are if you are doing the wrong things in the first place. Of primary importance is ensuring I am getting the right things done. This is why effectiveness is so relevant.

For example you may be driving down the road at great speed, enjoying the weather and seeming to make great progress. But if you are heading North on the motorway to Edinburgh, and your actual destination is South in the opposite direction to London, then you are not being very effective!

While efficiency is getting more things done in less time, effectiveness is about getting the right things done. 

Here is how the late Peter Drucker put it:

“Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”

That is the crux of the matter. Being busy for the sake of being busy is not enough. Just being busy can actually be an enormous distraction.

Here are five dangers of simply focussing on efficiency for its own sake while ignoring the question of effectiveness:

Why making a decision can be so hard

Choices! Every day we have to make them. Over the last few decades the number of choices we have had to make has increased dramatically. And it can feel exhausting. The short 5 minute video below humorously and helpfully explains this:

This issue of overwhelming choices has been exponentially increasing to have a dramatic impact on our often already busy and over-streteched lives.

It was back in the 1990s that perhaps Peter Drucker first predicated this decision fatigue when he wrote:

“In a few hundred years, when the history of the our time is written from a long term perspective, it is likely that the most important event those historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is the unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time – literally – substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.”

Drucker was right when he said we as a society have been totally unprepared for this dramatic shift, particularly in the industrialised world.
What he is saying is that the biggest change in society that has crept up on us is the huge array of choices in modern life. Those choices range from what cereal am I going to have in the morning (according to Wikipedia there are over 500 in the Western world!) to all the things I can choose to do with my time.

This has gradually and exponentially increased such that we initially hardly noticed it, but it has now added an extra layer of stress and complexity to our already busy lives. As the video describes apparently in 1990 the average American supermarket had 9,000 products to choose from. By 2015 that had shot up dramatically to 40,000. Apparently we need only about 150 to fulfil our general day to day needs. And that is just in the area of food shopping.

It is rather like the proverbial frog in the water pot. Gradually the temperature is being increased and we are beginning to boil! Some have estimated that the average person in the Western world has to make as many as 35,000 decisions every day. That in of itself sounds exhausting!

Why does this matter?

What does it mean to live with intention?

I don’t know who originally said it, but apparently there are only 3 kinds of people in the world. Those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; and those who say, “What happened?”!

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As well as being somewhat amusing I am also struck by how insightful such a saying is about human nature. It is so easy to go with the flow of whatever is going on around us or get distracted by whatever is latest or loudest in our lives. And at certain times and seasons of life that can be absolutely appropriate. For example think about the stay-at-home parent with the responsibility of children or the receptionist or administrative staff in a busy office. Or the sudden emergency at home with an appliance or device.  In all those instances it is absolutely appropriate to react to the pressing needs of the moment. Not to do so could lead to disastrous consequences!

The danger it seems to me is when we live the majority of our life reacting to what is outside of ourselves rather than in response to the long standing God-given longings, beliefs and desires that have been placed deep inside of us.

Here is how writer Carissa Lada describes how she and her then husband spent much of their lives without intention:

Most of our activities involved going out to eat, planning which movie we’d see that weekend, or awaiting our favorite shows on TV. We had certain shows we looked forward to each night of the week. It was fine for a while, but I began to have this growing feeling like I was missing out on, well, life. I didn’t want to look back on my life in 20 years and say, “Well I saw every episode of [insert show], so I feel really accomplished!” This growing desire to get more out of life caused a rift in my marriage, and was one factor that ultimately led to its demise.’

So what is intention? At its simplest it is about living with an aim or a plan. But when we talk about living intentionally it is also more than that – it is a choice to deliberately pursue what is significant over the long term rather than the short term. It is to get more out of life than what I see in front of me with the vast myriad of choices and challenges to deal with.

Or taking the words of C. S. Lewis:

Feeling stuck? When you don’t know how to do something

Kyle Maynard was born with a rare condition known as congenital amputation. This has left him with arms that end at the elbows and legs that end near his knees. From a young age he has learnt how to live life independently and without prosthetics.

In 2012, Kyle became the first quadruple amputee to climb – actually bearcrawl – the 19,340 feet to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro without the aid of prosthetics. His 10-day ascent was widely covered by the press, followed on social media, and raised money and awareness for wounded veterans as well as Tanzanian schoolchildren. Upon his return, Kyle won his second ESPY (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly) award for Best Male Athlete with a Disability.

The 3 minute video below gives a short insight into his life and attitude to handling challenges:

Kyle thrives on physical challenges and following a few rough middle school football seasons; he went on to become a champion wrestler, CrossFit Certified Instructor and gym owner, competitive MMA/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter, world record-setting weightlifter, and skilled mountaineer. Each of those are for anybody no small achievements! But for someone without arms and legs that is truly amazing. How is that possible for someone with so much in the way of apparent limitations and setbacks?

From the video we get a glimpse into Kyle’s thinking and mindset to achieve something so extraordinary. Here is what he says:

When the small things make a big difference

Lessons from the school of hard knocks

How do you discern the motives and intentions of others? How can you tell the honesty and trustworthiness of someone before it is too late? There is no easy answer. Often we learn these lessons from the school of hard knocks.

I am often struck how in human relationships the small things can make a huge difference. Apparently inconsequential actions can reveal otherwise undisclosed hearts and attitudes. Here are some stories that illustrate this.

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It took just a change of words

The power of focus

Words are powerful and can have a dramatic effect on our feelings, energy and attitude.

To illustrate this, have a look at the introduction to Charles Dickens’ classic book ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ :

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

 

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So according to Charles Dickens what kind of time was it? Was it the best of times or the worst of times? It all depends on where you choose to focus your attention. There are literally  a million or so thoughts that run through our minds, but we alone get to choose which ones we focus on and take to heart. In turn it seems to be a principle at work that whatever you choose to focus on in your mind, that is what will eventually become more of a reality in your life.

I have to confess I have not read the rest of A Tale of Two Cities, but the introduction for me shows something of the power of the words we use.

In a similar way we live in one of the most amazing times in history with opportunities and resources that only a few decades earlier would have seemed unimaginable to our parents and grandparents. And yet at the same time there seems to be more uncertainty, unpredictability and anxiety inducing  possibilities  out there than ever before.

That is why a change of vocabulary and reframing our circumstances can be so powerful. There is power in the words we choose to use or choose not to use. And no where is that more powerful than in the way we talk to ourselves about our circumstances.

Many of the circumstances that seem to block us in our daily lives may appear to do so based on a framework of assumptions we carry with us. Draw a different frame around the same set of circumstances and new pathways come into view…….

The First Question To Ask Yourself To Thrive And Not Just Survive

In our rapidly changing and complex world, for those fortunate to have the opportunities and skills,  there has never been a better time to develop and grow in your chosen field or profession. However, in many ways this is a double edged sword. The further you rise and develop, the more responsibilities and expectations will come your way. With more opportunities will come more responsibility and more people will look to you for guidance, leadership and direction. Will you have the depth of character and resources to handle that apparent success? Or as David Allen succinctly puts it, “The better you get, the better you’d better get!”

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To put that another way, the skills and talent that got you out of Egypt (the mental constraints you find yourself in) are not necessarily the same ones that will get you to your Promised Land.

It is your self-leadership skills that will be the limiting factor which will determine whether or not you can thrive and grow for the long haul. That is,  whether you can fulfil and meet the expectations of others and even yourself.

In other words, it is your self-leadership that will determine how much you find yourself in the zone of your strengths (flow as we have previously discussed) or frustrated and even despondent.

In 1999, Peter Drucker, who has been described as one of the greatest management thinkers of the 20th century, wrote a paper for the Harvard Business Review entitled “Managing Oneself”. In this paper he explained how understanding and knowing oneself is vital to ensuring success in life and all that we are called to be and do. He outlines 5 critical questions he challenges every leader to reflect on.

In this post we are going to look in detail at the first question. It is absolutely critical to ask yourself this question if you are going to thrive and not just get by. What is that first question?

When life just doesn’t make sense

Joseph is one of my favourite Bible characters. The story has been well known over the centuries, and more recently was the subject of a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Who was Joseph? He was the favourite son of Jacob. Jacob in turn was the grandson of Abraham, greatly revered in the three great monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Joseph was given the famous multi-coloured coat and also had the ability to interpret dreams. However, he went through a series of unfortunate and undeserved betrayals and tragedies.

Joseph was betrayed by his brothers to be sold as a slave to Egypt. In Egypt he began to prosper as slave to a rich official in Pharaoh’s court called Potiphar. However, Potiphar’s wife persisted in making sexual advances towards him, which because of his faith in God he refused to succumb to. Even so on one day when they were alone she attempted to grab him with the intention of seducing him. Joseph had no choice but to run away, leaving Potiphar’s wife to claim that he had tried to rape her. Thus started a long and undeserved 13 year prison sentence.

The short video above is from the film ‘Joseph, King of Dreams‘. Yes it is a cartoon, and there is artistic licence, but don’t let that deceive you into thinking it is simplistic or childish.

I think the movie clip powerfully conveys something of the confusion we all at times struggle through when life does not go the way we intended or hoped for.

Here are the words of the song to ponder and reflect on: