I was in an executive leadership group for more than 3 years. Surrounded by other COO's & CFO's we chatted about the issues and complexities facing our organizations. We had been fixated for the past 3 months about time or lack thereof. We were drowning in e-mails, stuck in back to back meetings, having meetings about meetings- and just plain tired. Occasionally we had guest speakers come in and that is when I heard something that changed the way I looked at my time.
I am sure the speech is nothing new and that for many of you there has been a speech or a coach who in one form or another shared this type of information. The general gist was this - we are all liars. When we fail to complete a task- we let people around us know that 'We don't have time'. Go ahead. Wait. How many times have you said this statement in the past week? To significant others, spouses, children, colleagues, and friends. Intuitively I sense a big pull back. I have told this to people in person as they start defending their statement. I smile politely. Then, I fire back what was done to me 'You had time- you just chose not to'. There is a moment of pause - and then the same response. 'I suppose you are right'.
At the leadership group - we were given a handout - a Productivity Planner that asked us to plan our days with intent and purposes. Once we had completed this planner - we had the option to decide if people asked us outside of our plan whether we wanted to stray or not. This is particularly important now for me as a business owner- because it's incredibly easy to get sucked into other people's agendas. There is always a networking event, happy hour, or some person I have to meet - but I get to decide whether or not to go based on my plan for my day. It's been a year and I haven't stopped doing this planner. It's tough and some days I don't want to but we'll talk about results in a minute.
The planner has 3 small sections: Projects, People, and Priorities. It also has my favorite section 'The things I must do no matter what'. It gets to the point quickly.
I also made a rapid change in how I do my mornings. Instead of checking e-mail, getting a horrible message, and rushing through my morning to get to the office, occasionally forgetting my laptop or power cord. I wake up, drink my coffee, and grab my little handout. I fill out the day's plan, review yesterday's, and then I get ready. I check e-mail only after I fill out my planner and/or have arrived at my office. This is not easy. It's difficult. I want to check my e-mail. I have to know if that proposal was read. I need to know if my content writers have finished the latest piece. I must know if we received that wire in for a project next week. It's hard and I try to give myself an excuse every day of why I shouldn't go it.
It sometimes drives people I work with crazy because if I'm working on a task, I'll turn e-mail notifications off and put my phone on silent. I know, 30 minutes, it's a long time- but think of what you can do with just 30 minutes a day. I need to not be connected. I need to focus.
I know your answer, or at least what you are thinking because I have heard this from my clients and friends who say doing this is impossible. I always think it's strange that asking someone to focus on core items that move them and their business forward is 'impossible'. Each of the clients below was able to successfully implement planning their days after 30 days- what's important to note about them is that we started smaller - on a post-it to be precise.
- Client: I have to check e-mail in the morning, I run a global company and have to put out fires. Me: If you are putting out fires every day they aren't fires - and you can plan for how you choose to respond.
- Client: People won't think I'm responsive. That matters to me. I have to get back to them asap! I'm known for being quick! Me: You are the CEO of a 150 Million Dollar company. if people expect you to respond in 5 minutes that is your fault. You have set that expectation. Wouldn't you rather respond with information and facts, than emotion? You need time to make sure the answer you give doesn't cancel out a strategy you have laid out.
- Client: If I make a plan like this and something important happens then I'll feel like I failed. I can't even make it to the gym at lunch and it's scheduled on my calendar. Me: So.. you can scrap the day plan and keep one thing to move forward- preferably anything that only you can do. Transfer it to the next day. You decide. Most likely anything that is moving the business forward should stay on the list. Delegate out the small stuff.
The point is simple, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Benjamin Franklin wasn't kidding and neither am I. It is incredibly easy in the age of distraction (Facebook, LinkedIn, E-mail Notifications, Office Interruptions, Text Messaging) - to put things on a list that keeps growing. One of my clients used to write out his to-do lists in the morning - get pulled into meetings all day - only to end up back at his desk at 3:00pm and see the list he had tried to make. The items never moved forward and they were never checked off. These were in various stages of development, but never completed. Nothing was finished.
If you have a plan for your day and something comes up, you can make a conscious choice to do something else in lieu of one of the items of your plan. There's a copy of the planner I use here. And yes, I keep a spiral 3 ring binder to store them. I am sure I will get rid of them. But they are my living breathing progress report for now. They are also a reminder of HOW things get done.