I’ve seen a lot of leaders struggling to wrangle everything that’s thrown at them and regain a bit of sanity in their weeks. Time and time again, I’ve seen one change have a huge impact on their ability to break the cycle. So what is it?
Block one hour each day for planning/thinking time.
Seems simple, right? And yet, you’re probably already forming a list of reasons you can’t do it. Or you might be game now, but at the end of the week you’ll find that all your intended thinking time got gobbled up by fire drills. Am I right?
I said it was SIMPLE – not EASY. There is more to do than hours in each day, so the idea of taking an hour to simply THINK probably feels like a luxury you can’t afford. And yet, if you want to be effective, I’d argue that you must. Here’s why…
When you blindly allow your pace to match your environment, it’s like throwing gasoline on a fire. Sure, you’re getting a lot done, but how do you know it’s the RIGHT stuff? After all, as Laura Vanderkam notes in her Ted Talk, How to Gain Control of Your Free Time, “We cannot make more time, but time will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it.”
There’s a difference between being busy and being effective. Being effective comes back to doing the RIGHT things, not ALL the things. And unless you create time to sift through all your options and be deliberate with your choices, you’re likely to blow through your task list from top to bottom (or easiest to hardest) with a sense that you’re getting things done, but at the end of the week, you won’t have much to show for your efforts other than exhaustion.
Even worse? As a leader, part of your job is to help the people on your team focus closest to the dollar or (in the case of non-profits: the impact). If you’re not creating the space to think strategically about where that is, you’ll bury your staff in an avalanche of requests (many of them urgent) and they’ll either lose sight of the goal or burn themselves out trying to stay on top of everything that’s thrown at them. And I know you don’t want that.
So how do you maximize that hour to yourself? Here’s a STARTING place:
- First, get clear on your priorities for the quarter, the month and the week. I would hope that the quarterly/monthly priorities are a given, but if you’ve been too busy to think about that, start there. Once you have those, each week you’ll just need to figure out your top 2-3 priorities for the week. Then check your calendar and make sure it reflects those priorities.
- Next, think about 1-2 things you can do TODAY to advance those priorities. Set a daily goal for yourself.
- Then, look at the meetings on your calendar (for the day or the week). Are you clear on what you need to get from or contribute to each meeting to make it a good use of time? If not, get clear or find a way to scrap or the meeting. (Think about how much you bristled at the idea of giving YOURSELF an hour each day, but how often you’re willing to give others an hour of your time without knowing there will be any ROI!)
What I’ve just outlined usually takes about 15 minutes and is critical to having days and weeks that are more intentional. If you can’t yet find an hour per day, AT LEAST commit to giving yourself 15 minutes each morning for this. I’d wager that this alone will help you reclaim other time on your calendar because it helps break the mindless cycle and maximize impact instead of just showing up.
If you decide to go whole-hog and give yourself the hour each day, that remaining 45 minutes can be used for a variety of things. My clients have found it game-changing to use that time on: strategic planning, staff development, succession planning, post-morts on recently completed projects, their own development, or reading up on industry trends, to name a few.
Try it for a week and see what you notice. Start with the gift of 15 minutes on Monday morning and see if it doesn’t change the course of your day – then stick with it and see if it doesn’t change the course of your week! It’s ironic, but the more you slow down and create space to think, the more time you’ll find you have.
Now what are you waiting for? 😉