The Responsibility Paradox

I know you want more time. And everybody wants time management tips, and they can help a little. But can you muster the strength and courage to look at the root issue? I think you can. The relationship between time management and responsibility is not often talked about, but it’s the link that is the key to dreams coming true.

Read on and I promise two things: 1) I’ll make you uncomfortable, and 2) you’ll learn something that has the power to change your life if you let it. Seriously.

In last week’s blog, I invited you to eliminate “I don’t have time” and other versions of the sentiment from your vocabulary. I want to say more about why and this may challenge you.

Because it’s irresponsible.

Whatever difficulty you’re having, the phrase puts the cause of the problem outside of you. There’s a word for that: it comes from the Latin ex-causa, meaning “outside-cause.” We know it as “excuse.”

Responsibility begins with looking at your contribution to an issue. Irresponsibility is looking at every contribution but your own. It’s tempting to look at external factors first, but you give away your power when you do so and so destroy your ability to manifest your dreams. This is the place where we look for time management tips, which are extremely limited. The reason is simple: if you can see how you created the problem, you have the power to fix it. If you think you have nothing to do with creating the problem (when you actually did), you’re powerless to change it. All the time management tips and tricks in the world cannot help you if you believe the thought “I don’t have time.”

Unfortunately, you can’t have it both ways: you can’t pretend it has nothing to do with you, AND have the power to solve it. Leadership means you go first. “I don’t have time, I need time management tips,” becomes “I need to prioritize” or “I’ve overcommitted” or “I’m not managing my time well.” Those are responsible statements. Those are problems that can be solved, but “I don’t have time” is a problem people tell themselves every day that simply cannot be solved any more than “Crap, it’s raining” when “I need to fix the roof” is the responsible point of view.

Making this shift is inevitably easier said than done. It’s a process of becoming more responsible. And this leads to your next step if you choose to take it.

A Better Assignment Than Time Management Tips

Don’t think of yourself as a responsible person. Consider there’s no such thing. Think of responsibility as a process, not an attainment. It’s the act of discovering your contribution to a situation–you renew it every moment. This leads to what I call the Responsibility Paradox.

Success comes from competence. That’s easy to see. But competence is always based in responsibility: the ability to be responsive–to customers, to market trends, to employees, etc. It’s the ability to show up and see things clearly. Competence involves the ability to affect change. Responsibility is the ability to see how you’re in the way of that change. You become more competent by looking at where you’re incompetent.

Successful and competent people, you’ll inevitably find, are hungry to discover where they’re not yet responsible. They want to learn more about themselves and their own blind spots. This is the Responsibility Paradox: Responsibility means investigating where you’re not yet responsible.

People don’t identify as irresponsible, they just think their circumstance is beyond their control. They assume they already are responsible and so unconsciously avoid the discomfort of looking at how they’re in their own way. It’s not helpful to consider yourself responsible or irresponsible as a person, because this can and does change moment to moment and by circumstance. Let yourself not know and be curious.

The essence of time and task management has nothing to do with time management tips and tricks. The best time management tip is this: be hungry and curious to discover how you’re unconsciously making your day go awry. Here’s an example:

One of my favorite pieces of low-hanging fruit when it comes to getting organized is email clutter. Many people leave every email they’ve ever gotten in their inbox and it’s a well-known fact that this causes overwhelm. But when I bring this to people, they often say, “Oh, those emails don’t distract me.” That’s fine as a first response. Then I explain how distractions can operate at an unconscious level and you can’t really know the impact until you empty your inbox and experience the difference. I add that every productivity expert has inbox zero in their list of time management tips.

Responsibility would respond, “I might be in my own way and not even realize it? Cool! I’m emptying my inbox today!” Irresponsibility sticks to its guns, leaves the thirty thousand emails in the inbox, and asks for other time management tips (that might be more comfortable).

You may be a highly responsible person 99% of the time, but where you get into trouble is the other 1%. Assume that whatever problem you haven’t yet solved is a result of some lack of responsibility and you’ll be hot on the trail to finally solve it. If it’s uncomfortable, you’re getting closer.

Clear Workspace, Open Mind is not only a course that compiles the most important task and time management tips I’ve ever learned, it’s a method for relating to productivity in a responsible way. It makes you smarter, more aware, and more responsible in everything you do. Start the free trial right now!

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