by Jim Bruce
The January 16th Tuesday Reading, Leveraging Practices, by Brian McDonald introduced the concept of a practice – “a bridge to help individuals travel from having aspirations to become better, to actually developing the new skills and behaviors to enable her or him to be more effective. Practices are the means to the new level of competency we foresee for ourselves … A practice is a specific, conscious, action that helps an individual change their way of achieving a goal. Like in arenas other than leadership – for example, sports, music, dance, science, design, computer programming, etc. – consistent practice builds competence and confidence. Practices enable you to become conscious of your behaviors and choose a new action. Through this process, you change, grow and become your next self on life’s journey.”
The essay urged us all to have a weekly planning practice that calls for each of us to spend 30-60 minutes each Friday afternoon (or Monday morning) identifying our top three to five priorities for the next two weeks. As part of this work, each individual is expected to identify those actions he or she needs to take (or delegate) to move these priorities forward. As you do this you will also need to turn to your calendar and schedule time to work on each of these priorities. This is also a good time to look ahead to identify meetings already on the calendar that can be delegated or where there is no need for you to attend, or meetings for which you need to prepare.
So, it’s now Monday morning and you are ready to begin your day. Quite likely, your calendar has changed since you last looked at it, even hours or a day ago. Possibly, in this world of cloud-based calendaring, someone may have added a meeting to your calendar without checking with you first, or requested a meeting, or perhaps you got a txt message requesting a short phone call, etc. You may also have a long list of To Do’s that need to somehow be accommodated in this or the coming days. So, before you jump into “doing” the day, you will need to pause to do a careful review of your calendar for the day, plus your To Do list, plus those things you have stored in your mind to do today.
Before you begin this task, a daily calendaring practice, I want to introduce several elements in your day and suggest processes that you might find helpful in addressing each one of them:
You will need to do something similar to have time always available to work on your priorities. It should be the first thing that goes on your calendar. Perry Brunelli, who participated in the second cycle of the Leaders Program, called this preemptive calendaring and urged his fellow participants to find a pattern of regular time blocks and hold them each week so that you have landing places for your high priority work. Surely, you can find one block of two hours on your calendar one day this week to begin this practice. And, if you look at your calendar into the future, you’ll be able to regularly capture multiple blocks of unscheduled time in the same weekly pattern on your calendar (so everyone can see the pattern of what you are doing and learn to respect your reserved time slots). As a goal, you’ll may find that having 25% of your week available for your priority work is a reasonable use of your time.
And, one final thing: Place a block of time at the end of your day for concluding your work for the day.
This practice has three steps: First, shut down and stop every incomplete task. Identify where you are in the task and what your planned next action is, so that you can return to that point when you resume your work on that particular task. And, look into the future on your calendar and determine when you will continue this work. Second, make a final pass through your calendar for the current day and To Do list to make sure that there is nothing urgent there that requires immediate attention. And, third, announce to yourself that the workday is done. Turn the lights out and depart.
I know that the process I’ve outlined for planning each day at the beginning of the day and for working through that day may seem confining, perhaps even excessive in detail. However, if you really follow these practices each day, you will find that it is actually liberating. It leads you to define the beginning and end of your day, to recognize exactly how much work you can get done in a day, and to become more conscious of your need to be deliberate in deciding what you will do, what you will delegate, and what you will say “no” to. I think that it will enable you get to a better place.
As with all practices, you may need to work on it one part of the Daily Calendaring Practice as a time, giving yourself the time you need for it to become an effective habit before adding another step. However, do give it a try as you make this week great.
. . . . jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.