Color Your Choices

Choose; The First Activity Management Skill.

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What You’ll Learn

How to make better choices
True priorities
Effective communication

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Sync up priorities with co-workers.

5 Minute Read

A key part of choosing activities is refusing activities.

We must become highly skillful at managing our daily activity traffic. Just as with heavy traffic on a freeway, our daily activity traffic congests our day. It makes it difficult for us to move forward with our plans. We are often forced to take detours away from our desired direction.

Like automobile traffic, our daily activity traffic can be controlled by a metaphorical traffic light. The traffic light will help us be better at the second part of being good activity choosers. Simply put, activity traffic management requires the ability to know when to stop, when to go, when to use caution, and when to say no.

To help us make better choices we’re going to use the metaphor of a traffic light so that we can color our choices.

STOP, Do This Now
CAUTION, Reality Check
GO, The Majority of Your Day

Good choosers are also good refusers. They know how to say no. One of the first steps to overwhelm is the inability to say no to activities that distract from value-added activities.

The Color Red

We are going to let the color red stand for events and activities that are both vital and urgent. red reminds us to STOP whatever it is we’re doing and go do this new thing now.  There is generally a human emotion connected with the activities we manage. In this case when we are dealing with red activities, the human emotion is UPHEAVAL.

A good example of a red event is when the Internet goes out or the internal system goes down. I see this happen countless times inside organizations. When the system goes down everybody scrambles, “we’ve got to get the system up and running” and that is a red event. Other examples include:

+ Request from boss
+ Unscheduled meetings
+ Equipment breakdown
+ Customer complaint
+ Project deadline
+ Proposal request
+ Sick employee
+ Sick child
+ Accident

Remember, these are true urgencies where you have to stop whatever you are doing at that moment and go take care of this new thing right now. Let’s move into the second type of activity we manage, the color green.

The Color Green

Green stands for GO. Go do as many green activities as you can today because green is where the money is made and where relationships are nurtured. Green activities help us balance our work and our personal life. Green activities have high payoff and are value added activities.

Green activities do not require an immediate response. In other words, they are vital to our job and to our life but they are not urgent. But beware! Many green activities can become red activities if we procrastinate and don’t do them when we should. Any guesses on the human connection to green activities? The human connection is HARMONY.

I know that when I am focused on green activities that are directing me towards the completion of a goal, then I am experiencing harmony. Many people never make the connection with harmony. Virtually every activity that promotes our personal and professional well being would be considered a green activity. Examples include:

+ Family time
+ Exercising
+ Building relationships
+ Writing goals
+ Business research
+ Team building
+ Training
+ Journaling
+ Time with kids
+ Hobby
+ Running
+ Goal planning
+ Grocery Shopping
+ Time with friends

Beware! When we choose instant-reward activities at the expense of value-added activities, our productivity goes down and very often some self-esteem with it. When we do this, we put ourselves into our very own choice-made activity trap.

If we do this habitually, we begin to get a bigger and bigger backlog of value-added activities that need to be done, which, as you may well imagine, drives stress up . . . way up! That’s right! Full-blown overwhelm! To avoid this, it is critical to learn when, where, and how to say no to yourself!

The Color Yellow

Now let’s brighten things up with the color yellow. Yellow stands for not vital but some value. Yellow reminds us to use caution. Just as you do when you are driving in traffic, when a yellow traffic light pops up you hesitate, stop, and then proceed on green.

When yellow activities pop up what we do is stop, reschedule, and proceed with the activity we are doing at that very moment. If we don’t we’re operating in a state of ILLUSION which is the human emotion for yellow. We have a problem in time management today. I call it artificial urgency.

Sometimes yellow activities come to us wrapped in the context of artificial urgency like when an associate drops in and claims your help is needed right now at that moment! They interrupt you! They stop your productivity in its tracks! Technology creates counterfeit urgencies too.

We may be focused on a project at work or engaged in a conversation with someone when all of the sudden we hear a ding or a beep alerting us of a new email or text message.

It is very tempting to interrupt ourselves to check who it’s from instead of proceeding with what we are doing.  So what we have to do in today’s environment is to be master editors of some voicemail, email, and drop-in visitors. When people interrupt us with things that could be rescheduled, learn to reschedule those things and stay focused on the green activities.  Examples include:

+ Marketing summary
+ Expense report
+ Budget review
+ Purge email
+ Dinner reservations
+ Paying bills
+ Client follow-up
+ Research
+ Submit time off request
+ Schedule dental appt
+ Auto maintenance
+ Clothes shopping

Remember, yellow activities are things that are not vital but have some value. In other words, they need to be done but not today or tomorrow or maybe even this week.

3 Tips

  1. Close your email program down unless you are working on email and only check it at specific times during the day.
  2. Turn your phone ringer off if you are working on a project that requires a concentrated effort.
  3. Put a sign on your office door that simply notifies co-workers that you are working on a red or green. This will limit your interruptions
The Color Gray

Now the color gray. We’ve added this color to stand for activities that are a waste of time. We often say, don’t waste “gray matter” on gray activities. Just say no! If we are honest with ourselves, we all know what these are.

+ Junk mail
+ Negativity
+ Complaining
+ Procrastination
+ Multitasking
+ Office gossip

I have seen companies torn apart with office gossip. Gossip is definitely a total complete utter waste of time and something that is easy to get pulled into regardless of the size of the organization. Gossip also can impact our relationships and put a huge strain on our performance. This drives productivity down.

Too much time;

+ Watching TV
+ Internet
+ Gaming
+ Texting
+ Facebook
+ Twitter
+ Snoozing
+ etc.

The average American watches approximately 153 hours of television every month according to Nielsen. That’s about 5 hours per day. According to IDC, 32.7 hours per week is spent online. And we wonder where are time goes? Gray matter consumes most of it.

Remember what we said earlier: the inability to say no is the first step to overwhelm. The payoff for being skillful at choosing and refusing is big. People who are good at it always have a leg up on the corporate ladder. It’s one of the most important survival skills in modern organizations today.

It’s actually easy to make some sense out of our daily activity traffic. Managing our daily activity traffic this way can facilitate our making fast and good choices. Ridiculously easy time management, is about making good choices.

You can begin today to color your activity choices. Then, manage your choices with the metaphorical traffic light. You’ll make great choices that way. You’ll always know when to stop, when to go, when to use caution by rescheduling, and when to say no. Don’t be colorblind. See every activity in the context of its true color.


3 Minutes