Your Route to Cisco Career Success – Part 4: Time Alchemy

career success Dec 20, 2015

While having lofty goals is key to propelling your career into the stratosphere, if you don’t have time to take action on your goals, what good are they? I shouldn’t say that you don’t have time. After all, we all have the same amount of time during a day. Unfortunately, our days can become filled with distraction (e.g. Facebook®, television, and those people in your life that are “time vampires”). That’s the focus of this blog posting: Time Alchemy, which is the fourth in the Your Route to Cisco Career Success blog postings.

Life… is a timed test. No pressure.
– Kevin Wallace

This quote came to me after having a conversation with one of my daughters about a timed test she had at school. She had a limited amount of time to answer a certain number of questions, and it occurred to me that life is the same way. We’re here on earth for a limited time, and we’re presented with questions to answer and problems to solve while we’re here. As I dwelt on that thought, it created in me a sense of urgency to be a good steward of my time.

You’ll notice that this blog posting is entitled Time Alchemy. Alchemists of old would try to create gold from lead. While they were unsuccessful, we can be time alchemists, creating “gold” (i.e. something valuable) from our time.

If you want to dive into a very systematized and strategic time management plan, you should be aware of two of the more popular approaches to time management:

1. Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits Process

Supporting Books:

2. David Allen’s Getting Things Done Process

Supporting Books:

This blog posting provides an overview of these two very popular approaches. However, if embracing a study on time management is a bit much for you at this point, I’ll also give you some very basic time management strategies to get you started towards a more productive way of life.

Overview of the 7 Habits Approach

Time management using the 7 Habits approach uses the following six-step process:

Step #1– Connect to your mission: This step involves you thinking about your main purpose in life. All decisions you make should be congruent with this mission.

Step #2 – Review your roles: Think about the different roles you play in life. For example, I have the following roles: husband, parent, son, teacher, entrepreneur, author, animator, and Christ-follower.

Step #3 – Identify your goals: In this step, you define a goal for each of your roles.

Step #4 – Organize every week: Prioritize your activities on a weekly basis, with an emphasis on performing more important tasks first.

Step #5 – Demonstrate integrity when faced with a choice: When the inevitable distractions occur in your life, make sure your actions are driven by your true priorities, rather than what seems urgent or easy to do in the moment.

Step #6 – Evaluate the previous week: Determine what lessons can be gleaned from last week when planning for the upcoming week.

Overview of the Getting Things Done Approach

Time management using the Getting Things Done (GTD) approach uses the following five-step process:

Step #1 – Collect your commitments: Capture all of the commitments you make. This capturing could be done on paper or using one of many GTD software applications available on the market today.

Step #2 – Process your commitments: Determine what you’re going to do with each of the commitments you captured in the previous step.

Step #3 – Organize your commitments: Group your commitments into context lists. For example, one context might be the office. Another context might be phone calls. Yet another context might be home. Tasks that you need to perform in your office would therefore be grouped together. Similarly, all task involving phone calls you need to make would be grouped together, and tasks you need to perform while at home would be grouped together.

Step #4 – Review your commitments: Review your commitments at different intervals (e.g. daily and weekly). As part of this review, identify where you need to place your priorities.

Step #5 – Carry out your commitments: This step involves actually doing a task to which you’ve committed. This is with the assumption that the task you’re doing is what you consider to be the most important task you could be doing right now.

Basic Time Management Strategies

If you’re not yet at the point of getting into a highly structured time management system, you can at least get started with a few simple actions. Once you see results from these simple processes, who knows, you might be motivated to dig into the 7 Habits or GTD processes.

Step #1 – Identify the six most important tasks for you to do each day: At the beginning of each day, or preferably the night before, write down what you consider to be that day’s six highest priority tasks. You could do this on paper or using software. (Personally, I use Nozbe for my to do list. It runs on my iOS devices, OS X computers, and Watch OS.) As you complete each task, check it off of your list. Tasks that don’t get done today can be carried over to tomorrow’s list.

Step #2 – Give yourself the gift of 20 minutes: We often hesitate to begin a task, because we know it will take a relatively long time to complete. Instead of putting off the task (and mentally burdening yourself with the knowledge that it still has to get done), make an agreement with yourself that you’ll put total focus into that task for the next 20 minutes. During this 20-minute period, you won’t answer e-mails or take phone calls. This is a time of total focus, with the knowledge that you’ll get a break of five to ten minutes afterwards. Making the small time commitment of 20 minutes not only results in progress toward the task’s completion, it creates momentum, motivating you to dedicate another block of 20 minutes to the task, and so on, until the task is complete.

Step #3 – Put yourself first: As we begin our workday, many of us check our e-mails. Author and speaker Brendon Burchard says it best, “Your e-mail inbox is nothing more than a conveniently organized list of other people’s priorities.” While this is the most difficult of these three basics steps to do (at least it is for me), I encourage you to not respond to e-mails until 11:00 AM. During those first few hours of your day, spend time making progress on your priorities. (This assumes that you’re not in some sort of a customer service role where one of your priorities is to respond to customer e-mails.)

Do yourself a huge favor, and try out these three very basic time management strategies for the next week. I think you’ll be astonished.

A Tale from the Trenches

One example of a time when following a time management system dramatically helped my career was as I was preparing for the CCIE Voice lab.


My lab date was March 28, 2012. In the weeks leading up to the exam, I would take vacation days and use weekends to go through full eight-hour mock lab scenarios. I had fully documented several mock labs that I repeatedly practiced. As seen in the figure, I scheduled mock lab days on my Microsoft Outlook® calendar. If I had not scheduled this time, it’s very possible that I would have been caught up in the current of life and lost some of this super valuable practice time that led to my successfully passing the lab.

For me, time management is more than just a way to get things done. I want the things I do to be in line with my values, my purpose, and my mission. Have you ever taken the time to document your values, purpose, and mission? Let’s consider each of these.

  • Values: Make a list of things and personal traits that you value most and that you want to be reflected in your life on a daily basis. As an example, here are my personal values:
    • Honesty
    • Family
    • Growth
    • Prayer
    • Financial stewardship
    • Knowledge
  • Purpose: Identify what it is you were put on this earth to do. This is often a hard question to answer. For me, articulating my purpose has taken lots of thought and has been refined many times over the years. However, at this point in my life, I define my purpose as follows:
    • My purpose is to honor God, provide for my family, and serve others by using my spiritual gift of teaching.
  • Mission: Your mission defines how you will live out your purpose, and it should be congruent with your values. To give you another personal example, my mission statement goes like this:
    • I make the world a better place by sharing my message with others. I grow my business prayerfully and with integrity. By being a good steward of my blessings, I honor God and support the dreams of my family.

I keep my values, purpose, and mission in Evernote, where I can review them frequently.

As we wrap up this blog post, please take the time to decide how you are going to manage your time over the next week. Do you already have a time management discipline in place? Are you going to learn more about the 7 Habits approach? What about the GTD method? Or, will you try the three simple strategies I shared with you?

Also, while you’re scheduling your week, schedule some time to complete at least a first draft of your values, purpose, and mission. I recommend keeping them somewhere that will let you view them frequently.

Finally, if you missed any of the first three postings in the Your Route to Cisco Career Successseries, you can check them out here:

Your Route to Cisco Career Success – Part 1 (Goals: Your Destination Address)
Your Route to Cisco Career Success – Part 2 (When Life Gets in the Way)
Your Route to Cisco Career Success – Part 3 (The Curiosity Key)

Kevin Wallace, CCIEx2 (R/S and Collaboration) #7945, CCSI 20061

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