Never thinking of myself as a particularly good planner, I’ve always admired people who clearly identified what they wanted, created the tactical road map they needed to achieve their objective, and then they ruthlessly focused on core priorities until they arrived at their destination.
It isn’t that I don’t set goals or never achieve anything. On the contrary, I have achieved quite a bit throughout my business career. And I know how many times I’ve let opportunities pass me by, because I wasn’t more intentional about my objectives.
Always interested in continued self improvement, I continue to work on planning, priority setting and my ability to maintain focus. That isn’t always easy to do when other people – with their own agenda’s (and we all have them) – want something from us.
Covey said, “begin with the end in mind”. What outcome or results are you seeking? At this stage of planning, I typically don’t have a problem seeing the end goal in my mind’s eye. Where I find myself falling short, is in realistically planning the steps needed to get there.
Though I may not have every step locked down in the beginning, I usually have a pretty good idea of what needs to happen to achieve the end goal. When embarking on a new undertaking, I don’t know how you can know every step needed. As far as I’m concerned, it is OK not to know. One of your planning steps can be – determine what I don’t know yet, but need to know to reach my goal.
Going deeper, I would say that it isn’t so much that I don’t begin with the end in mind or neglect to define the planning steps that hangs me up, so much as it is two other things:
- Writing it down
- Determining the amount of “time” required to accomplish the steps
Write it down.
This is a classic 7-Habits Quadrant II activity. I know from personal experience that if you think you can carry your plan around in your head and actually accomplish it, you are fooling yourself. At worst, you’ll never get there. At best, you may eventually arrive at your goal, but you’ll waste tons of time in the process. Write it down or your priorities will become mushy, and you’ll have no focus.
The issue of time.
Over the weekend, I was exposed to an idea related to time that I hadn’t thought about before. Fluid versus fixed.
The person whose relationship with time is more fixed is all about punctuality, keeping to tight schedules and rarely, if ever, will they change their plan to accommodate something new. They are so focused on achieving the steps on time that it might not occur to them that they are completing the wrong steps completely.
People whose relationship with time is more fluid find it hard to stick to schedules and often find themselves running late to everything. Their focus is on letting activities or what other people want drive them. They find themselves being overly optimistic about the time it will take to accomplish the tasks before them. That five minute conversation they thought they could have on their way to a meeting – ends up making them 15 minutes late.
Anyone who finds themselves on one extreme or another is obviously going to run into problems. Ideally, you’d find yourself somewhere in the middle of the continuum.
When I think about my own relationship with time, I know that I fall somewhere in the middle. When it comes to honoring appointment times, I’m fixed. If I schedule a phone call with you at 10 am, I’m calling you at 10 am. If we scheduled 30-minutes, I’m keeping it to 30-minutes unless we negotiate for more time to continue the discussion.
On the other hand, when it comes to planning the time needed to complete certain activities, I realize that I’m more fluid and often not realistic enough about the time it will take to get specific things done. I always think I can do more in 1-hour than makes sense.
Time Tip: I learned this tip from my good friend, Ruth King. Use the law of three. Whether you think the task takes one hour or 15 minutes to complete, triple that estimation. I’ve found this to be a fairly accurate approach and the worst thing that can happen is that you finish sooner than expected and end up with extra time available to you.
Finally, there is focus.
In the western world, there is an addiction to the fantasy that multitasking works. Study after study proves that switching from one thing to another actually reduces productivity not enhances it.
Recently, I’ve been practicing Ivy Lee’s method of maintaining focus on priorities. Essentially, the idea is that you write down the six most important priorities you need to complete each day. More importantly, you do this at the end of the day for the subsequent day. That way, each morning you hit the ground running.
Determining your priorities requires thought. Make sure these six things really matter in the context of your overall plan. Next, you stick to the first priority until it is 100% complete. Then you move to the next one and on and on until you reach the end of the day. It doesn’t matter if you complete all six. What matters is that you complete as many priorities each day as you can.
Anything worth achieving is worth doing the work to get there. How well are you planning, prioritizing and maintaining focus on what matters most to you?