I know this will sound strange, but one of the best things we can do as leaders is to have a regularly scheduled meeting with ourselves. Yes, that’s right, a meeting in our calendar where we’re the only attendee, and in the Subject line of the appointment it reads “Reflection and Planning”.
We all know we need to do this – we need regular moments of quiet time, with no distractions, where we can reflect, look back, look ahead and plan what the next move or moves need to be. Yet so often, actually way too often, we don’t do it?
Because we don’t put it into our calendars. We don’t create a meeting with ourselves.
I know this is another strange thought but the reality is when we write down or type something, in this case, into our calendar, we’re saying it’s important. You see our brains work this way – when we think about something, speak it out loud and then write it down, we’re significantly more likely to remember and then follow through on it.
Now, at the risk of seeming even more strange, I need to say this as well – when we set meetings with ourselves, we need to create and write down an agenda. It may be a simple, repeatable agenda but, like all other meetings, a thoughtful, intentional agenda leads to a meaningful, productive meeting, even with ourself.
So the next question is – how often should we meet with ourselves and what do we talk about? We should meet every day, even if it’s for just a few minutes. And we should answer questions like those below. I have a rhythm of meetings I try to stick too – they follow the same pattern as our organizational meeting rhythm –
Meeting and Agenda (questions to answer):
Daily (10 min):
- What’s the most important thing I can do today?
- When will I do it?
Weekly (15 min):
- What’s the 3 most important priorities I need to accomplish this week?
- Do I have time in my calendar blocked out to do them?
Monthly (30 min):
- What are my top 3 to 5 priorities for the month?
- Do I have time in my calendar blocked out to do them?
Quarterly (30 min):
- What are my top 3 to 5 priorities for the quarter?
Annual (2 hours):
- What are my 5 to 7 goals for the year?
- Is my life aligned with my purpose, values and dreams?
- What’s my unifying theme for the year?
So here’s the challenge – starting next week, try meeting daily with yourself. Put these meetings into your calendar and simply ask the questions above. See if you don’t become more focused, more effective and less stressed than you’ve ever been.
Do you take the time to plan your day, your week, your month, your life? Do you have clearly stated personal core values and purpose statement? Do you have a map that guides you to the places you want to go and a plan for becoming the person God’s called you to be?
If you answer to these questions is a “no” or “not to often” – here’s the harsh reality – someone else, by default, will create answers to these questions for you. They’ll plan your time, set your priorities, fill up your calendar and make sure their priorities and goals are being achieved before yours. Not because people are manipulative or malicious but simply because they can, because you let them, because you’re not doing it yourself.
You see our days and weeks, represented by our calendars, have their own magnetic pull. They will draw in the nearest activities, tasks, projects, and appointments into every available time slot of your life. And trust me, if you’re a leader, there’s always somebody’s priorities close by. The question is which priorities will be closest and fill up your calendar? Yours or others?
So what can you do to assure that your life is filled with your plans, goals, priorities, and the people you want and need to see? It’s simple, with discipline, diligence and tenacity, fill in your calendar before others do so for you. And this starts by having a planning rhythm for your life. This rhythm should include five separate personal planning sessions, or as my friend Jack McQueeney calls them – meetings with yourself. These meetings are:
Annual Planning – where you set you goals and priorities for the year, then schedule these, along with other major events, into your calendar for the year. I do this in November or December of each year with my wife Denise. Typically it takes an afternoon to accomplish.
Seasonal or Quarterly Meeting – check your progress on your annual plan, map out in more detail your calendar, and move things around that have unintentionally crept into your life. This meeting should only be a couple hours at the most.
Monthly Review – adjust your Seasonal/Quarterly plan and fill in open times with your priorities. At this step be much more detailed in filling in your calendar. I spend about an hour during the last week of each month planning the next month.
Weekly Meeting – the most important meeting of your life. This is where you set weekly goals then build time into your calendar to accomplish them. You do this by doggedly moving the less important things out and making time for the most important work to be done Though it’s the most important meeting, once you’ve done it a number of times it doesn’t take long – 30 minutes is my typical time needed. I usually do it on Sunday morning.
Daily Plan – everyday it’s important to look at your weekly plan and calendar and make sure you’re on track to accomplish your goals and key work. Early every morning I identify my top 1 to 3 priorities for that day. This takes about 5 or 10 minutes.
Now if this all seems to require to much time, let me ask you one final question – if you don’t have time to plan, how do you have time to do everyone’s else’s priorities and yours as well? So make 2017 your best, most fruitful year yet by filling your calendar up before someone does it for you.
This week I met with my friend and advisor Bill Payne. The topic I sought his input on was prioritizing and managing my time. It’s become a bigger challenge as my job continues to evolve in light of SpringHill’s growth (see my post Time – One of Most Valuable Gifts). As always, Bill provided wise and practical input.
Below are the symptoms I’ve been experiencing over the last year and some of Bill’s wisdom to help cure the out of control schedule I’ve had. As you read, ask yourself – “are you experiencing any of these same symptoms?” If you answer yes, then join me in trying some of Bill’s input for yourself.
My time and schedule feel like they’re being driven and managed by everyone else but me.
I’ve had barely enough time to do all that I need and should do in my role.
To accomplished both what I need to do and what everyone else has expected me to do, I’ve cut short or cut out such things as exercise, sleep, house and home projects, reflection time and planning, time with friends and even, I hate to admit this, at moments, time with my family.
Block out time in my daily and weekly schedule as “no meeting” times to assure I have space to do both the important things and the things only I can do.
Trust my team to do their work and to do it well.
Stop trying to please everyone by saying yes to everyone’s requests and begin to say no in appropriate ways. Bill promised that saying no becomes easier the more you say it.
Then stop feeling guilty when I say no.
Finally, stop over playing my desire to please, a good quality I have, until taken to the extreme – which is trying the impossible – to please everyone all the time.43.928283-85.286682
If I learned anything in 2011 it’s that time isn’t just my most valuable resources, it’s a gift.
It’s a gift because it’s part of God’s creation. It’s one of God’s most valuable gifts because (along with space) it’s the context in which we experience all His other good gifts.
In the book What to Ask the Person in the Mirror (see my post) Robert Steven Kaplan recommends leaders do an audit of how they spend their time. Sensing, that with the growth of SpringHill, I was beginning to lose my grip on this gift, I did a time audit in November and early December.
I accomplished this audit by carrying around an Excel spreadsheet with a list of key activities I do, or should do, during a typical week. Then I marked down, in ¼ hour segments, where I spent my time. I did a tally at the end of each day and at the end of the week. After the first week I made adjustments in the spreadsheet to better reflect where I was actually spending my time. It was a simple process, requiring little time and, most importantly, it was enlightening.
After five weeks one major theme became apparent – the time I’m committing to my work has increased as SpringHill has grown. The trouble is, if this pattern continues, one day I’m going to run out of time (time being a finite resource), which could result in me becoming a hurdle instead of an aid to SpringHill continuing to reach more kids in more places more effectively.
This result would be unacceptable. So I’m taking intentional steps in 2012 to do a better job with the gift of time God’s given me. (See my post on questions to ask yourself in preparing for 2012).
What will you do with your gift this year?43.928283-85.286682
I just completed a regularly planned ritual I began after my first year at SpringHill when I experienced the seasonality of both SpringHill’s work and my job. Now before the end of any given 4 month “season” I lay out my calendar for the next season.
I literally create space by blocking off days for planning, administrative work, meeting with staff and supporters and yes – days off, all based on my goals for the season and the year.
I learned in that first year that if I didn’t take a proactive approach to my schedule it would be filled by others. And if my calendar became filled by others that meant there would be very little time left for many of the other things I needed to do for SpringHill, my family, and myself.
Now don’t get me wrong I work hard to make myself available to our staff, board and supporters as I create space by planning my calendar.
Being available and approachable is a high value of mine.
But without a thoughtful plan I actually become less available and can seem more unapproachable because of the frantic pace I end up running.
So after that first year I learned this fundamental truth – only I can be responsible for my time, my days, and my calendar.
I can’t entrust it to others.
And it’s not fair to do so, because they’re not in a position to manage my time. They’re only in a position to use it.
Only I’m in a position to manage my time, and create the space needed to do the things that only I can do for SpringHill, for my family, and for myself.
To read more on related topics see my posts:43.928283-85.286682