Some time ago, one of my top salespeople asked for some advice on growing his customer base, which led to a good conversation on personal development. When I suggested several excellent books that I felt would really help him grow his business, he quickly demurred, “I appreciate your suggestion, but I just don’t have time to read.”

Several weeks later, I reminded him about our conversation and offered him a polite but firm push-back.

“When you said you didn’t have time to read, what you were really saying is that reading just isn’t a priority for you,” I said. Since we are both college and NFL football fans, I know he spends countless hours every weekend watching game after game. “With all due respect, the truth is you have plenty of time to read, but you choose to spend your time doing other things that you feel are more important to you and to your future… like watching TV.” (I also couldn’t help reminding him how many beer, brokerage and car commercials he watches over and over during those lengthy broadcasts!)

“I’m too busy” is a euphemism for “I don’t steward my time effectively.”

In one of my earlier posts, I observed how people love to wear busyness as a badge of honor. Imagine meeting someone at a social gathering and when asked how things are going in your work, you respond, “Great! I have plenty of time in my schedule for what’s most important.” Chances are, people would look at you like you had some rare disease! In a culture that values preoccupation and over-commitment, “I’m super busy” has become more than a reflexive response — it is a statement of personal validation.

The Antidote: Schedule Your Values

In his excellent podcast, pastor, author and leadership expert Craig Groeschel says, “Wise time management doesn’t mean that you do more, it means doing more of what matters most.”  I know lots of busy, highly engaged leaders who are frequently frustrated because they consistently do more of what doesn’t matter and less of what really matters to them. It’s that simple.

How much time do you spend every day watching TV, scrolling through social media feeds or watching YouTube videos?

If I were to look at your calendar right now, what would I find scheduled? What would your appointment calendar tell me about what you value? Do you schedule your exercise, prayer or reflection, and family time or do you “wing it” every week? What I’ve discovered is, if it doesn’t show up on your schedule, it’s probably not going to happen.

Like many leaders, I spend time at the beginning of every week reviewing my goals, clarifying my priorities for the coming week, and placing them in my schedule. I also pay careful attention to scheduling what I call the “non-negotiables” in my week:

My Non-Negotiables:
• Daily time in prayer and spiritual reflection.
• Physical exercise.
• Personally connecting with customers and staff.
• One-on-one time with my wife.

“I don’t have time” is a cop-out, an excuse. Life is all about the choices we make. We all have time to do what we choose to make time to do. You have the freedom. You are in control… but as a wise man once said, “With great freedom comes great responsibility.”

As you launch into this new year, what are the critical, non-negotiable values and priorities that need to show up on your schedule for you to be be the best version of you this year? What would it mean to the quality of your life to make this happen?