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Time Management? Forget it! Align Your Life.

Updated on November 15, 2014

Article Three


Everyone’s looking for a quick fix, including those who are looking for the means to organize their life and their time—especially those people! There are many means of organizing your time and eliminating wasteful endeavors through the use of tools like time management matrices such as Stephen Covey’s (1989) time management matrix, itself a variation of the Eisenhower Matrix, a 2 x 2 four-quadrant matrix with an important-not important axis and an urgent-not urgent axis.

In the end, one wants to ditch those items in the unimportant axis altogether and apply more focus to the important-not urgent quadrant to best utilize their time.

Don’t worry, the preceding paragraphs are as technical as this article gets.

What is of most relevance to us here today is that, even in Covey’s works (including those co-written with others like First Things First [1994, Covey, Merril & Merril] discussing habits for success and time management) the emphasis is placed on living a value-driven life, living based on the highest principles, what Covey refers to through his entire career as living your life by true north principles. This is key and we shall return to this key point later.


Before one can truly manage their time they must take inventory of the activities they engage in and compare them to the activities they would like to engage in. At the simplest level those things we want to do are our goals, but a true life’s goal is one that pulls at our heartstrings and is a direct outgrowth of our passions.

The more visible and the more specific our goal, and the more predominantly displayed in our life it is the more likelihood there is that we will achieve it, let alone attempt to achieve it in the first place.

Most people have heard of “SMART” goals and can probably remember them as goals that are “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely”—SMART. In The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking (2012) Krogerus & Tschppeler make mention of the “John Whitmore model” of goal setting. The John Whitmore adds to the SMART acrostic with the words PURE and CLEAR. The PURE part of the model tells us that our goals should be “Positive, Understood, Relevant, Ethical” and the CLEAR part of the model tells us that our goals should be “Challenging, Legal, Environmentally sound, Appropriate, Recorded”.

You may truly understand your goal and have it well defined if you can define your goals in terms of being SMART, PURE, and CLEAR. The major point here is to be specific, very specific, with your goal.

Once you’ve been specific enough with the creation of your goal you may find yourself wondering, “How do I go about achieving it?” After all, the reason you’re reading this is because you want to develop a strategy to go about achieving your goals. If a strategic formula is what you must see, despite the argument here that what we really need to is change our overall life approach at the level of our values, then one should, perhaps, research methods to achieving goals, perhaps, like Brian Tracy’s Seven-Step Method to Achieving Your Goals, found in several of his books or a variation found on his blog at .

Ultimately, a method of goal-setting has the following elements:

  1. Decide and define what you want to accomplish

  2. Write it down with deadlines and specifics spelled out

  3. Consider or Brainstorm all of the ways you could go about accomplishing the goal

  4. Choose some of the most viable ways, based on your criteria, to go about accomplishing your goal.

  5. Immediately take action on your goal and do something every day to continue to work on that goal.

After all of this discussion of goals, it most appropriate and necessary to ask the question: Where do we get our goals from, and where should we get our goals from? The answer to the first part of the question is as variable and complex as the person asking it, but the answer to the second part of the question is that we should, and do, get our goals from our principles and values.


Written in the courtyard at the temple of Delphi was the phrase “Gnothi sauton”, meaning “Know Thyself”. It may take some people a lifetime before they can be honest enough with themselves to be able to freely admit that they do genuinely know themselves. Confusing sounding terms like “cognitive dissonance” and the like make it seem very hard for people to be honest with themselves and to understand themselves. But that is just not the case.

It takes only a bit of honest introspection and perhaps some journaling to “know thyself”. Since our discussion is on best utilizing our time it is best to suggest that one keep a journal of how they use their time.

Write down, first of all, what your values are and what you believe in. Are you promoting peace? Are you promoting progress? Do you fight for freedom? Are you an advocate of equality? How do you identify yourself? Are you a republican? Are you a democrat? Do you consider yourself a patriot? Are you a progressive? Are you a Christian? A Catholic? A Buddhist? A husband? A wife? A parent? Are you happy in your career or are you looking for something else?

Once you’ve been able to pinpoint your identity and those things you stand for, the next step is to log how you are using your time. How long do you sleep and at what time to you go to bed and rise? How often do you go to the restroom and for how long? How much time do you spend watching TV? When’s the last time you read a book, and was it a book about a subject that would really increase your value to yourself or to others? How much time do you spend on self-improvement? How much time do you spend networking, volunteering, or otherwise meeting and serving others? How much time do you spend on leisure activities? Intoxication? Romantic pursuits? Reading emails or playing on Facebook?

Now that you’ve taken the time to pay attention to how you use your time, for a week let’s say, now comes the time to compare how you use your time against how you would like to use your time. Aligning your time with your preferred identity and your highest principles, i.e. Covey’s “True North” principles, will give you the needed map to begin re-organizing your life around what you want to do. Aligning your principles with your goals will allow you to develop a personal mission statement—a statement of who you are and what you spend your time doing and advocating that you can write down on a 3 x 5 note card.

If lacking in ideas for how to determine for yourself what your values are, one could consider reading some books or articles on ethics, law, philosophy, or any of the great religious texts such as the Bible, the Torah, the Upanishads, or the ideas and values written by those who have created and popularized the very ideals you wish to stand for. The point is, your most important values and your highest ethics provide the starting point for who you are and what you should be doing.


Jack Canfield, the guy of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame, and Janet Switzer wrote a great book called The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (2005) I highly recommend reading. In a nutshell, what is necessary, according to the two, is a strong sense of personal responsibility and accountability.

You have to, the authors tell us, give up blaming, complaining, making excuses, and saying “I can’t”, and instead take full responsibility for your entire life. Clarify what you want, believe you can get it, make no excuses, and get after it. Those are the keys to success the authors tell us. The author Napoleon Hill, who worked for FDR, interviewed and worked for Andrew Carnegie, interviewed Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, and spent twenty plus years researching a formula for success, would undoubtedly agree with Canfield and Switzer’s ideas, and so would I.

Once you’ve changed your attitude toward success, the next thing to understand is that you need to be ready to change your behaviors. As Andrew Carnegie would say, “Success in any undertaking calls for definite, well-organized and continuous work.” (Napoleon Hill, 1948).


According to Napoleon Hill (1937) faith is a prerequisite to and a foundation of success. One must have faith in one’s self, and in what one is undertaking. One must have faith in life and the universe itself to have and to provide what one needs. Faith in a higher power, i.e., God, certainly couldn’t hurt, and indeed, according to Hill, the 8th of 10 qualities of one’s personal power is, amongst other things, “faith in a Supreme Being” (1948). In Christian belief, the biblical books of Proverbs, Sirach, and, indeed, all four gospels speak of this powerful faith in one’s self and in God to assist in one’s undertakings.

Steering away from the potential perceived stigma of religiosity, it is just as important to point out the psychological principle known as the “self-fulfilling prophecy” in which through our actions and concentrated thoughts we make those things we strongly believe in come true. Other sciences verify the power of faith as well. Findings in quantum physics strongly suggest we influence the material and immaterial world around us just by focusing our thoughts on the objects around us, and ultimately, on the fields of possibility. Words in the English language also have within them these spiritual and metaphysical truths encoded in them. The word “inspiration”, for example, has the root of “spirit” (i.e. the breath of life) right in it. The word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek entheo and iasm and means “the god inside”. “Confidence” comes from the Latin con fides and simply means “with faith”.

“Believe it’s Possible” is one of the success principles described by Jack Canfield and Janet Switzer (2005). While it is difficult to do, one can raise their levels of faith and confidence, through the practice of those actions they wish to accomplish and through regular affirmations of that in which they want to be true, i.e. “God is with me and through God all things are possible” or “I am a capable person and I can accomplish anything I wish to.”


To do a thing, and to do it successfully, it is necessary that we first see it in the mind’s eye. It is necessary, after believing you can do something, to actually see yourself doing it, and to see yourself succeeding.

Joe Tye (1995) made a couple of powerful suggestions when it comes to visualization. He says, “Create a space in yourself where you have already achieved success.” More specifically related to our goals he says, “Keep a focus of your real goals by creating a mental image of their achievement so real and tangible that they become memories of the future.”

I once read of a method where one spends regular time (probably while alone and without likelihood of being disturbed) in which one would have conversations with their future ideal (successful) self. The idea is to frankly speak with your successful future self and ask him or her how they got to where they are, what they did to get there and to be open to encouragement, criticism, reinforcement and advice from your future self.

Andrew Carnegie, who started off with barely enough money to afford simple passage and made himself into the world’s wealthiest man, had this to say in an interview with Napoleon Hill when getting him started on the development of his success formula, “All riches and all material things that anyone acquires through self-effort, begin in the form of a clear, concise mental picture of the thing one seeks,” (Hill, 1948).

Another of the success principles according to Canfield and Switzer (2005) is to “Be clear why you are here.” Know what you are doing and know how you intend to do it. Know what it looks, sounds, smells, feels, and tastes like.


Once established our principles can, and should, drive us.

Our emotions are undoubtedly, the most powerful driving force in the universe. Pleasure we pursue and pain we flee from. Desire, love, and pleasure in front us and fear and pain behind us—this is how much of life is lived for us so much of the time. We can use the power of emotions to our advantage, or like so many others be overwhelmed and become slaves to our emotions. Are your actions, your emotions, and your principles in line?

Sometimes, it seems like something is pulling us forward while something else is holding us back. A physical representation of this struggle is described and illustrated in the Rubber Band Model (Krogerus & Roman, 2012). The illustration is of a human being with two rubber bands around his waist, one also wrapping around something behind him and the other wrapped around something in front of him. They illustrate the questions, “what is pulling me?” and “what is holding me back?”

In the book One Word That Will Change Your Life (Gordon, Britton, & Page, 2014) Present the reader with three questions that in their own way almost help us address the problems we may have when our situation is best represented by that aforementioned rubber band model. The three questions are:

  1. What do I need?

  2. What’s in my way?

  3. What needs to go?

The first question, “what do I need?” (or “what do I want?”) can be represented by the rubber band pulling us forward. The second question “what’s in my way” (or “what’s holding me back?” if you prefer) is that rubber band pulling us back away from our desired destination. The third question, “what needs to go?” or rather the answer to the third question, is your ticket for cutting or snapping that rubber band that holds you back.

What motivates the human being is a complex, convoluted collection of thoughts, emotions, and habits that have collected over the years that form a person’s perception of their self and how they relate to the world around them. To avoid that cognitive dissonance mentioned before and to, instead, live with consonance and congruence one should strive for consistency in their thoughts, actions, beliefs, feelings, attitudes—in their whole being. The fact is, the internal striving for consistency, can be in itself a powerful motivating factor. Do what you say and say what you do. Be honest with yourself and others. Jeffrey Gitomer (2006), a writer of sales and motivational literature states, “Do what you say you’re going to do—what you say to others, and what you say to yourself.”

The best answer to the question of what drives you, then, is to say emphatically that you and your principles are your greatest driving force for what you do in your life.


Where should you start? When should you start? What should you do? First of all, just get started. Beware of the self-defeating traps you may set for yourself, such as setting overly-high goals that you’re guaranteed to fail at or the danger of over-researching an issue and never taking action. The point is to begin with knowing yourself and to know where you are at and compare that with where you would like to be. Visualize and believe in yourself getting there. Create a plan and act on it. In simplest terms, follow the tennis shoe company’s slogan and just get to it already. Peter Economy, in his article 6 Habits of Super Successful People (2014), writes as the third habit, “Keep a daily plan of attack”. The first habit in Stephen Covey’s (1989) original Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is to “Be proactive.”

So let’s review. There’s a good chance you have read this article, in the beginning at least, because you were looking for a new means of organizing your time utilizing some formula drawn from advanced technological studies or arcane magical means. The bad news is that unless you can stop or slow down time, there’s very little you can do to get more things done in the limited amount of time you have on this earth. Now, the good news, with an understanding of your values and principles and a shifting of your values you can drop off the nonsensical wastes of time from the get-go and you can begin to accomplish those things of value to you.

Described, in as close to a formula you are ever going to get, is the means to best maximizing your time (and accomplishing your goals):

  1. Begin by knowing yourself. Write out your most important and passionate beliefs and desires. For some it may require an entire notebook, but for most a person can write or type out, at most, a one-to-two page list or brainstorming of those things that mean the most to them, that they want to spend their time doing. Be sure you can truly stand behind the values, principles, and ideas, full-heartedly. Write out your mission statement. All of your goals should be inline and subservient to this statement.

  2. From those elaborated values, write out your goals. There is no magic number, only be certain that you do not have yourself a ridiculous amount of goals that will be impossible to achieve. For our purposes, we suggest you have one goal of accomplishment or becoming, and along the way you will develop (and accomplish) as secondary goals those strategic steps you will take to reach your primary goal. Your goal should be as specific as possible, complete with deadlines and means of monitoring progress. (Note: It is possible for the truly ambitious to have more goals than one can possibly achieve in a lifetime and to be quite aware of that fact. Don’t work on too many at one time and this is not suggested for the obsessive-compulsive or the neurotic.)

  3. Visualize and Believe. You may have to spend some extra time here, more than most are willing, but again you must encourage yourself and get your sub-conscious on your side. Make sure you are full-heartedly into your goal(s) and work every day to raise your level of confidence and see yourself, in specific detail, accomplishing your goal. Affirmations, prayers, and meditation are powerful tools that should not be ignored, and should be utilized daily. Try to get your loved ones and associates to share in the vision with you and to encourage you. This is an ongoing step, that you will, and must, do from the moment you are crafting the wording of your goals up until, and through, their completion.

  4. Observe how you use your time and modify accordingly. This may be the one only part that fits into the “time management” milieu. Keep track of your time. This may require a month or so of diligent observation and recording. Note how much of what you do is aligned with your goals, how much is indifferent to your goals, and how much is actually contrary to your goals and, by extension, your highest values and principles. Intentionally, spend more time doing those things of the highest priorities associated with your goals and principles. A caveat; you must incorporate balance between all areas of life. Sometimes your loved ones are right along with you in your goals, sometimes they are indifferent and don’t understand them, and sometimes, unfortunately, loved ones will be antagonistic to your goals. Also, don’t forget to share your time and resources with your spouse, children, your family and community at large. Your significant other should have a good amount of your time daily and weekly. So must your children. What good is a career, for example, if you lose your family?

  5. Work on it daily, or at least 5-6 days a week. You will have to do research. You will have to network and sell your ideas and elicit help. You will have to be resourceful in finding means to finance your goal, to create the needed physical environment, to put it all together in its entirety. You will have to back away from it, now and then, again to spend time on the other aspects of your life; including your spirituality, your family, your spouse, your country, etc., and also simply to get away and allow your sub-conscious to work on it while your conscious mind takes a break.

That’s all for now. Remember, the most important things are to be fully aligned with and behind your goals, and to be emotional and faithful towards their accomplishment. Remember the words of Goethe, who said, “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”


Canfield, Jack., & Switzer, Janet (2005). The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. New York: William Morrow.

Covey, Stephen R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. New York: Simon & Schuster Free Press.

Covey, Stephen R. (2005). The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness. New York: Free Press.

Covey, Stephen R., Merrill, A. Roger & Merrill, Rebecca R. (1994). First Things First: To Live, To Love, To Learn, To Leave a Legacy. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Economy, Peter. (2014, April 14) “6 Habits of Super Successful People.” Retrieved from www.petereconomy.con/6-habits-of-super-successful-people/ .

Gitomer, Jeffrey. (2006). Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Black Book of Connections: 6.5 Assets for Networking Your Way to Rich Relations. Austin, Texas: Band Press.

Gordon, J., Britton, D., & Page, J. (2014). One Word That Will Change Your Life. Hoboken: Wiley.

Hill, Napoleon. (1937) Think and Grow Rich. Napoleon Hill Foundation.

Hill, Napoleon. (1948). Think Your Way to Wealth.

Krogerus, Mikael, & Tschppeler, Roman. (2012). Translated by Jenny Piening. The Decision Book: 50 models for Strategic Thinking. (1st American Ed.).

Tracy, Brian.

Tye, Joe. (1995). Never Fear, Never Quit: A Story of Courage and Perseverance. Random House.


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