Imagine waking up tomorrow morning, taking a shower, getting ready for work, and walking out the door–briefcase in hand–to your car. Instead of getting in the front seat, however, you get in the back seat because there’s a person already sitting at the steering wheel of your car.
“Great,” you say to yourself, “someone’s going to drive me to work. It’s about time!”
But instead of heading in the direction of your office, the driver takes you in the complete opposite direction, like a bat out of hell, leaving you clinging to the upholstery for dear life. Thirty minutes later, the car comes to screeching stop. The driver jumps out and another driver gets behind the wheel and that driver, too, speeds off in a random direction.
This happens a dozen times throughout the day, and you return home late for dinner. Alive, yes, but exhausted and frustrated. The work you were planning to do in your day will now have to get done in the evening. You wake up the next morning, and, like a scene out of Groundhog Day, the event repeats itself again. Day after day, week after week.
Even on your vacation, a driver is sitting in your car to take you on a wild ride, away from your personal plans for the day. This goes on for months, then years.
It’s Not that Far from the Truth
As goofy as this story sounds, it’s not that from the truth. No, there isn’t a physical carjacking going on in your life; but for most of the leaders I work with, the course of their daily activities have been ceded to others over which they have no control. Instead of actually getting any work done in their day, they race from place to place, meeting to meeting, doomed to do their actual work in the evening at home or on the weekend. In the end, both their professional life and their personal life suffers.
That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news. It only takes an hour, just 60 minutes or less, to fix this problem. Here’s how:
The First 30 Minutes: Proactive Weekly Planning
The most important discipline you can instill in your life is scheduling a weekly planning meeting with yourself and keeping that meeting without fail. I have a client who does this on Friday morning, another who does it on Sunday evening. I prefer the quiet of Sunday morning while my family is sleeping in. It’s crucial, however, that you carve out a private, uninterrupted space of 30 minutes every week to reflect and plan.
Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I would like to modify his words slightly: The unexamined week is not worth living. For our life is made up of the days in our week, and the effectiveness of those days is dependent on their honest examination. Here’s what to do in that 30 minutes:
STEP ONE: Answer These Four Questions
All the activities in your week should flow from the vision you have for your life and work. In other words, you should be the one driving your car, not someone else. To ensure that this is the case, start this meeting you’re having with yourself by answering these four questions:
- What kind of person will you be? How are you staying healthy and strong physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
- What kind of relationships will you have? How are you investing in the lives of those whom you love the most?
- What kind of work will you do? What is the best way to make a contribution in the marketplace with the gifts and abilities you possess?
- How will you give back? What causes are you supporting with your time, talent, and treasure?
Over time, you’ll develop set answers for these questions, and that’s a good thing. Taken together they define what it truly means to have a vision for one’s life and work.
STEP TWO: Answer This One Question
Now ask yourself this one question, “What’s the most important thing I can do this week for these areas of my life?” Your answer may not be just one thing, it may be two or three things, but they must be the most important things for the upcoming week.
Neither are these things everything you’ll do in the week. Again, they’re the most important things. Your first things. On the list may be regular exercise, a date night with your spouse, visiting your aging parents, one-on-one meetings with your team, follow-up calls to current prospects, or writing thank you notes to new customers. All tasks are not created equal, and you’re choosing the most important ones for the coming week.
You may have a journal where you write these things down or an app where you record them digitally. Do it. Don’t keep this stuff in your head. Some of the activities that come to mind as I conduct my weekly planning meetings are recurring tasks, like reading and exercise, but many times ideas have come to me in my Sunday morning planning sessions that I had never thought of before and are the perfect solution to a pressing concern. I’ve planned trips with my kids and employee rewards programs, marketing campaigns and consulting innovations.
STEP THREE: Schedule It
What do you do next? If you had a doctor’s appointment on Friday, how would make sure you got there? You would put it in you calendar, of course. Nothing really magical about that. The fact that a doctor’s appointment is scheduled on Friday allows all the other activities in your day, and even your week, to fit around that appointment.
This is what you do with the activities you’ve identified in your weekly planning meeting. Put them in your calendar giving each a specific day, date, and time. Here’s why this is so important. Imagine in front of you a five-gallon bucket, a pile of rocks, and a pile of sand. If you put the sand in the bucket first, there’ll be no room for the rocks. But if you put the rocks in the bucket first, the sand will sift around the rocks. I refer to this phenomenon as Bill’s Law of Scheduling.
Bill’s Law of Scheduling states:
Unscheduled events will conform to scheduled events.
In other words, when you place your top priorities in your schedule–your rocks–everything else will adjust to them. We all know email can take fifteen minutes or an hour and fifteen minutes. The difference? The way you schedule your time. Sand conforms to rocks.
Fundamentally, what you are asking yourself is this, what are your highest personal and professional priorities for the week? Having determined them, schedule them so you live life differently, based on importance and not urgency. In other words, drive your own car.
The Second 30 Minutes: Dynamic Daily Check-Ins
Now, just like you’ve scheduled a 30-minute planning meeting with yourself one day in the week, schedule a 5-minute check-in meeting with yourself the other six days.
The vibe of the daily check-in, however, isn’t the quiet reflection of a weekly planning meeting, but the quick connection of a football huddle. Your goal is to arrange the day in light of the weekly plan you’ve made and the dynamic developments that have transpired during the week.
Missed your workout because of an unplanned sales meeting? Reschedule it for this afternoon. Skipped date night because of sick kids? Reschedule it for the weekend when your sister’s available to watch them. I have clients who prefer to do this at the end of the day and others who do it at the beginning. But do it without fail.
Any cross-country flight, and any week in the ever-changing world in which we live and work, has things happen that take it off course. Regular mid-course corrections keep your week on track and get it to its desired destination. And that’s all there is too it. Thirty minutes of planning one time per week and thirty minutes adjusting that plan five minutes a day.
Beats being driven all over the world by someone other that yourself!