I’m trying to achieve success at work, and you can too! For the next 6 weeks, I’ll be running a #SuccessAtWork challenge on this blog. Each week’s challenge will follow one of the 7 disciplines I highlight in my new ebook, What the Most Successful People Do at Work. If you’re participating, please let me know in the comments, or on Twitter.
Do you know, at the beginning of each workweek, what you’d like to accomplish by the end of it? Do you create time and space to think through what important actions should — to borrow that memorable Billy Ocean lyric — get out of your dreams, and into your car?
Successful people tend to use their limited hours intentionally. One of my favorite stats from the Executive Time Use Project was that the number of hours the CEO works and firm sales are correlated — but this relationship is driven almost entirely by hours spent in planned activities. CEO time is a limited and valuable resource, and planning how it is spent increases the chances that it’s spent on productive things.
Of course, carving out space to plan is easier said than done. Some people, in addition to daily planning, do a weekly review on Sunday night — not a bad idea, so you hit Monday morning knowing what you (and your team) should do. That way you don’t waste energy and willpower deciding. If you don’t like the idea of working on weekends — and Sunday night is a great night for hosting a party — Friday afternoon is also a good time.
But the specific time is less important than getting in the habit of planning — whenever happens to work for you.
That’s what Marcy Ratcliff has been figuring out. Ratcliff is a regular blog reader here, and kept track of her hours as part of the time makeover series I’ve been doing. She is the office manager of a small church, and is the mother of a baby girl. She is allowed to bring her baby to work with her. “As one might expect, compared to being a stay-at-home mom or a typical mom working outside the home, this is pretty much both the best and worst of both worlds,” she notes. The job is officially contracted for 27.5 hours, but she trades a bit. Since she takes time away from the job to nurse or otherwise care for her baby, she often stays there extra hours.
Those hours feature a lot of interacting with people. The church has a preschool, volunteers, ministers, members, and so forth. “One thing this exercise reminded me of is that, some days, there are more interruptions inherent in my job than there are in being the mother of a three-month-old!” Ratcliff told me. “I mean, as babies go, she's pretty easy; my logs will attest to that… but still.”
Her biggest challenge is finding time to think through the information that’s coming at her, and figure out what to do with it. “I want to spend a lot more time organizing my notes both in my work and personal life,” she says. “In David Allen's Getting Things Done terms, I'm great at capturing everything, but lousy at processing, and not too great at review.” She explains: “I keep a log of notes every day, but then, theoretically, I copy tasks from it over to a separate to do list, so I don't have to skim back through my logs all the time to see what needs to be done. Problem is, when I'm working hard on a deadline (which is most of the time right now), I don't always copy everything I need to over, so I have a backlog of days of notes to process. It sounds like something that'd be really easy and fast to do, but it's often a little more complicated and takes some thought, especially the notes on ongoing projects. Or worse, the notes on ongoing projects with other notes in earlier days that haven't been processed, either.”
In other words, Ratcliff needed to spend some more time planning.
She knew this. The more bedeviling question — for this working mom who's also trying to run and write regularly — was when?
She kept another time log for me after we emailed back and forth about this issue. Her logs showed she was experimenting with lots of different planning times. Some days, she’d do a bit in the morning during a quiet spell. Many days, she’d do a bit of work processing later in the day, around 3:45 before she left. Some days she did a bit after dinner.
No one time is inherently right. I suspect that as she experiments, she’ll start to figure out the best time for her. I’ve been trying to figure out what time slot would be best to supplement my usual planning time, too. I used to think through my to-do list for the week on Sunday nights, but I’ve been trying to move this back to Friday afternoon, just to clear up a bit of mental space over the weekend. My biggest problem lately has been coming up with enough ideas. So I’m thinking of scheduling in a date with my “soon” pile (things I need to tackle in the next week or so) and my “idea” pile (fodder for future articles/posts/books) on Thursday afternoons. That way, the ideas are fresh, and the best ones can be put on the to-do list on Friday for the next week.
This week’s challenge: Give yourself a planning period. Carve out at least a few minutes to think through your goals and ideas, and figure out what you’d like to stick on your priorities list. Then check in when you’ve done it. Or if you’re already a regular planner, tell us about your routine in the comments.
In other news: I have an op-ed in today's (Monday's) USA Today called 'Blended learning' win win situation.
Photo courtesy flickr user grafixtek