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Meditations on My Weekly Planning

by Meghan Reilly

Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Meghan Reilly, a Program Executive Director with Information Services and Technology, at Boston University. She is a current MOR program participant.  Meghan may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

I used to dread Monday mornings – I felt like I was waking up to a chaotic chorus of demands from every direction. Those perceived demands were in addition to the work related to managing my projects. Then there was the work that wasn’t getting enough (or sometimes any) of my attention – that was the strategic work which really should have been the core of my work, but instead was collecting dust in a corner.

After our first workshop, I decided to start a weekly planning practice. I permitted myself to ensure that the university’s investment in sending me to the MOR Leaders program paid off. I used defensive calendaring and blocked the time off on my calendar. I used the Focusing on Strategic Priorities Worksheet, brewed coffee, and sat down with a fresh page in my notebook and my favorite pen. I get a sense of calm from handwriting things.

I was surprised at how quickly this became a habit for me. It not only changed the way I was approaching my work, but it also changed my outlook on my work. What I found after that first planning practice was that I was focusing on important things, but they weren’t necessarily the right important things. I was hanging on to managing projects directly instead of transitioning them fully to my team. I was reacting to other people’s priorities instead of being intentional about where I spent my time. I still let my email and several meeting invitations drive my to-do list. I went through the worksheet step by step.

Thinking intentionally about my priorities as a leader was eye-opening. I had to “get up on the balcony” first to ground myself in my university’s priorities, my division’s priorities, my department’s priorities, my team’s priorities. Was my work aligned with these priorities? If someone stopped me on the street and asked me why what I was working on was important, would I have a good answer? Ultimately, I knew my priorities and what they were important, but doing that intentional check helped me to feel confident in why I needed to change the balance of my Leading-Managing-Doing.

Other changes also yielded meaningful results. By looking at my meetings for the week through the lens of my priorities as a leader and what I needed to accomplish, I quickly ascertained which meetings were important, which I could delegate, and which I could politely decline. It’s not to say that I eliminated every meeting that didn’t match my priorities (sometimes, I need to be part of helping move someone else’s priorities forward). Still, I found that by being intentional with defensive calendaring, I could be more present and get more value out of the remaining meetings. Don’t worry – the makers of those cute notepads for “horrible meeting bingo” and “this meeting could’ve been an email” won’t be out of work – there’s still plenty of those to go around.

Finally, I could provide opportunities for my team by trusting them to manage the projects I had hired them to handle. I gave them more autonomy and responsibility through delegation.

Here are three actions that helped me establish this habit:

  1. I blocked out the time in my calendar every Monday morning.
  2. I tied my practice to a habit I already have established, which is my morning cup of coffee. It also helps that I look forward to having coffee in the morning. I pick a mug appropriate for the day (I have a whole shelf of mugs for seasons, holidays, and other themes. My favorite is the “Cup of Ambition” mug – a nod to Dolly Parton).
  3. For weeks where there is a holiday, or I’m out of the office for the beginning of the week, I make sure there is time blocked off on the first weekday I’m back to do my planning (a short week often means being more intentional about my time).

What can you do this week to enhance your weekly planning?

Last week, we asked which strategy was most inspiring to focus on to manage workload:

  • 28% said prioritize
  • 21% said be intentional
  • 12% said embody confidence
  • 11% said communicate
  • 11% said think strategically
  • 9% said invest in relationships
  • 8% said develop talent

This week we chose to focus on topics that were top of the list of last week’s survey – prioritizing how we choose to spend our limited time and being intentional in how we show up in that time.  Meghan offers us some great perspective in considering a MOR keystone habit of prioritizing and intentionality: the Monday morning planning exercise.  For those of you who are successfully undertaking this habit, congratulations!  And for those of you who aren’t and are having difficulty with prioritization and intentionality, it is something we suggest you give a try.