Are You Playing Chess or Checkers?

Time is our most valuable resource. Time is more valuable than money. Money can be lost and recovered. Once we lose time we never get it back. When it comes to time management, everyone is either playing chess or checkers. The game of chess is designed for the proactive. The successful chess player is thinking two to three moves ahead compared to the checkers player who is only focused on the move directly in front of them. Which game are you playing? Let me share a story to help you decide. I was the shop manager of an automotive repair facility. I had my top technician tell me a month in advance that he was leaving my organization. He told me on May 1st that his last day would be May 31st, plenty of time to find a replacement. I began my search for a new tech on May the 30th at 4:00pm! Sadly, I was playing checkers. The question becomes, how do we avoid playing checkers and make better use of our time? Steven Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, divides time management into four quadrants. I will be reviewing these quadrants in this article. By understanding the areas that Covey highlights, we will understand what game we are really playing.

Quadrant #1 – Important & Urgent

The main reason that we end up playing checkers is that we wait until a task becomes important AND urgent before we start on it. When I needed a technician and did not start looking until the last minute, I was operating out of this quadrant. This is what leads to firefighting. Waiting until the cash flow is depleted to begin a marketing plan, and not being able to balance tires because we delayed the wheel weight order are other common examples that will put us in firefighting mode. In the past, it seemed like I drove to work in a red fire engine. If you find yourself just reacting to what the day brings, you may have a red fire engine parked in your driveway.

Quadrant #2 – Important & Non Urgent

This is the quadrant of chess players. Performing tasks while they are important BUT NOT urgent, you position yourself to control your time and not let time control you. Implementing a recruitment strategy BEFORE you have an opening, planning your marketing activities on a marketing calendar, and writing out your daily activities for the following day as you close out the current day, are examples of operating in this quadrant. We have the opportunity to help our customers play chess. We can save them time and money by communicating to them the value of investing in a maintenance schedule for their car. Coming in every three months for maintenance is important but not urgent compared to having to purchase a new engine which would fall under the first quadrant. Think about how much better our businesses would be if we were all playing the same game.

Quadrant #3 – Not important but Urgent

Daily Interruptions, and specific phone calls and emails fall into this category. Often times, a failure to effectively delegate keeps us operating in this quadrant. As business runners we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that we have to solve every concern, work on every car, and satisfy every customer ourselves. If we compare our daily activities to the grand scheme of our business vision, we may find that many of the things that we involve ourselves in are not important. I discovered this many years ago while in my first District Manager assignment. Initially, I would find myself talking to three to four customers per day regarding issues that should have been resolved at the store level. I managed seventeen locations at the time. The managers would come to me asking for my guidance and involvement on very basic issues. I would go home every day frustrated and fatigued. Then one day when one of my managers approached me with a basic issue, I asked him the following powerful question: What do YOU think we should do to resolve this? To my surprise, he had the answer. I then thanked him for handling the situation and told him to update me on the final outcome. Taking this approach allowed me to play the game I wanted and return my fire engine to the fire station where it belongs. It will do the same for you.

Quadrant #4 – Not Important & Not Urgent

Busy work, time wasters, and certain phone calls and emails would fall into this category. As an Owner, any task that is not important or urgent is a distraction. It is important for us to identify and eliminate those daily distractions that we all have. The question that we must ask ourselves is how does the activity align with the vision that I have for the business? If we can not come up with an answer then the activity falls in this quadrant and must be eliminated. We must be careful not to allow our people to spend time in this quadrant. Many of the shop owners that I speak to have a “no cell phone policy” in their shops. This can help to prevent our people from playing checkers on the clock. We live in the era of smart phones, text messaging, and social media which can be major distractions. The cell phone policy is a great example of eliminating unnecessary distractions.

I am reminded of the lead character played by Tim Robbins in the movie the ShawShank Redemption. He was serving a life sentence for a crime he did not commit and he made a surprising escape from jail after 20 years. Each day he would dig into the wall of his cell, a task that was important but not urgent. Each day, he stuck with this discipline without allowing any unnecessary distractions. Tim’s character was playing chess and it allowed him to go to the next level. What game do you want to play?