I have been greatly influenced by the writing of Stephen Covey, the late author of Seven Habits for Highly Successful People.

What I learned from his ideas have been very important for my time management.

Essentially, his message, as explained by the first three of his seven habits, is this: Decide you have control over your life, set goals for your life, and then manage your time by making sure you treat your goals as a priority.

When I speak to groups about time management, I ask the audience what the most common reason people give for not exercising. They always say, “Don’t have the time.”

I agree—that’s the most common reason. But, I don’t agree it’s the real reason. It’s not that we don’t have the time, I explain, it’s that we don’t make the time.

We all have a certain number of activities we want to do, and need to do, in a given day, week, month, or year. Whether consciously or not, we make decisions all the time about which activities are priorities for us, and which are not. From among all the activities, the ones we choose to do are those we have decided are a priority. So, when we say we don’t have the time to exercise, we are really saying we are choosing not to make exercise a priority.

Instead of saying, or thinking, “I don’t have the time,” say (to yourself and others), “I haven’t made that a priority.”

This feeds right into the first step in making desired changes in your life: awareness. When you get into the habit of saying, “I haven’t made that a priority,” instead of, “I don’t have the time,” you will become more aware of the choices you are making. And that will help you on your way from blaming external forces to taking control of your life (as Covey essentially said in the first of his seven habits).

Yes, we are all busy. Yes, we all juggle multiple priorities. But, most of us are also saying certain things are a priority, yet acting as if they are not.

I had a related conversation with my friend Pete. Pete’s son, Bobby, is a college student, living quite a distance from home. Pete had been hoping, and expecting, Bobby would come home for a particular family event and was disappointed when Bobby canceled the trip home. Bobby said he needed to cancel because it would be too much strain on his schedule with final exams coming up.

Pete didn’t want to express his disappointment with Bobby via e-mail (a smart move to avoid misunderstandings), so he waited until the next time he and Bobby spoke on the phone. Pete told Bobby he was surprised about the cancellation and hadn’t realized Bobby didn’t consider the family event to be a priority. Bobby disagreed. “It was a priority for me. I just couldn’t do it,” he replied.

“I’m not trying to give you a hard time,” Pete said to his son, “I’m just saying we all make choices. There were times weeks ago, for example, that you made choices to do other things instead of schoolwork, right?” Bobby said, “Of course.” “And then you canceled the visit home for schoolwork,” Pete continued, “which means you forgot to think through your schedule weeks ago, or something changed that threw a wrench into your plans.”

Bobby’s first reaction was, “It was a wrench in the plans. Things just piled up and I couldn’t make the trip home.”

Pete questioned Bobby further. Pete mentioned a family wedding coming up next year and asked Bobby if there was any way his schoolwork would cause him to miss the wedding. Bobby said it would not: he would plan accordingly, knowing it was coming up, and would fit in everything.

Pete then pointed out Bobby was making the wedding a priority in a way the event this year had not been. Bobby understood the point. He said he thought he had things under control with his schoolwork, and then the deadlines piled up in a way he had not anticipated. He added, “I get what you’re saying. If I had made the recent event a priority from the start, the way I will make attending the wedding a priority, I would have made other choices along the way to make sure nothing would stop me from attending.”

I told Pete I was impressed with the conversation. Not all conversations go that well, especially with family members, and even more so with parents and teens. Pete said in addition to hoping to impart a time management lesson to Bobby, he also wanted to let Bobby understand his disappointment and put that behind them, rather than letting it linger. Once he discussed it with his son, he was more easily able to let it go.

If you don’t make it a priority to address lingering concerns or resentments with family and friends, at some point the health of those relationships will deteriorate to a potentially irreversible point.

The same thing can happen to your physical health. People who say they don’t have time to exercise are undoubtedly incredibly busy with work and family obligations. If they want to exercise, they have to choose to make it a priority. If they don’t want to make it a priority, at some point their declining health may cause them to need to make it a priority, hopefully before it deteriorates to an irreversible point.

Whatever your goals—exercise, relationships, or new habits of any kind—start thinking about making them a priority, and manage your time accordingly.

Take it slowly. Break down your goals into small pieces and work on them one at a time over the 21 days it takes to create a habit.

How are you making time for your priorities? Please join the conversation with your comments…

Best regards,