For years I've suggested to clients that putting in a good hour or two of planning at the beginning of every week would help them to be dramatically more effective than if they simply started the week without a plan. While it's always made sense to me to do this on Sunday evenings, I've advised people to make use of whatever time makes most sense to them: Friday afternoon, Saturday morning, etc.
I have a recurring task that shows up every Sunday on my task management system to “plan the week” so that I would be sure to never forget to take this action myself. I am always sure to take time on Sunday evenings (or sometimes Monday mornings) to plan things out. This is supposed to make me much more productive and successful.
Only problem? For me it hasn't worked.
Sure, lots of great things have happened in my life in the recent past…but when I consider the gifts that God has given me in comparison to what I accomplished in 2010? Drawing a big blank. In fact, I'm having a tough time thinking of anything that happened last year that wasn't either a repeat accomplishment from the prior year or that dramatically improved my effectiveness in my life, career, marriage, volunteer work, etc.
Now, before you comment and express concerns that I'm going off the deep end, let me assure you that I haven't and that I'm wonderfully happy in almost every area of my life. Amazing things have happened in recent years and I probably wouldn't got back and change anything, even if given the chance.
What's the problem? I usually put off planning my week to late Sunday evenings when I'm pretty tired after the weekend. I quickly scan the week ahead, generally copy and paste whatever I spent my time on last week into the coming week, work around changing appointments and priorities for the week, and call it a night. Takes a good 5-10 minutes, on average.
The upcoming week looks a lot like the previous week, but that's not a big deal. Week after that? Same thing. Then, multiply that 52 times a year and you get…well, pretty much the same thing for a year.
Zig Ziglar once said, “Some people live 80 years, and some people live one year, 80 times.”
There was a time that I planned my time to be in alignment with some weekly priorities, and even monthly priorities. However, it never lasted since I didn't have a detailed plan in writing…and really I didn't take the planning that seriously. After all, it was never long until phone calls, people who needed me, appointments, schoolwork, and tons of other things came up.
In his book Predictably Irrational, author Dan Ariely says, “In running back and forth among things that might be important, we forget to spend enough time on what really is important.” That's assuming of course, we even know what's important. For me, coming to a major transition in my life (finishing a degree in the coming weeks) has had me wondering if I'm clear on what's important to me. In the past few months, it's become increasingly clear that while I have some general clarity on what's important to me, I've rarely taken consistent action in the recent past to turn desires into reality.
That's why I was intrigued when I found the free Creating Your Personal Life Plan ebook and Ideal Week template from Michael Hyatt. In the past few weeks, I've worked through this book and template to get full clarity on paper as to what's important to me and (even more helpful) what the consistent actions are that I will take to get me to these objectives. I haven't even completed the process yet and already I've seen the following results that I can tie directly back to some of the initial actions I've taken:
Getting more sleep (7 hours on average)
Exercising 3 days a week consistently (4 days coming soon)
New business opportunities
Major website update
Podcast on iTunes with my friends at GCWJ
Rebalance of work responsibilities that will better align with my gifts
Opportunities to connect with new friends
Started blogging again (thus this post)
Reading at least an hour a day
As much as I should know this with the field that I've studied and taught in for years, it constantly astounds me how powerful we become when we get clarity in writing about our goals and action items.
Time management tools and weekly planning only gets you so far if you don't have long-term goals for where you are going and how you plan to get there. Perhaps you've already been doing this for a while and seen wonderful results come out of it in your life. If you have, then I'd love to hear what's worked for you too – leave a comment and help us learn from you.
However, I'm willing to bet though that most of the people reading this post have spent even less time planning weeks, months, years, and life than I have. I bet you are as irrational with your time as I have been.
My suggestion? Take at least one of the following three actions:
1) Download and complete Michael Hyatt's Creating Your Personal Life Plan ebook (yes, it will take a day or two of work)
2) Read the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
3) Grab the May, 2011 issue of Harvard Business Review Magazine (cover story: How to Get More Done)
We are in alignment with God and we serve others better when we are intentional with our goals and actions first. I'm going to have a much more productive year in 2011…take action now so you do too.