Part of time management is making time for one's priorities. The problem is that it's not always clear what those priorities are, or else we have many priorities and have trouble figuring out what's good to do next.
So in workshops, I like to have people do an exercise that involves performance reviews. Across the corporate universe, people are now engaged in this annual ritual of looking at successes and "opportunities for growth." Some companies are moving away from them, but they remain popular.
These reviews tend to be backward looking (hence, "review") but I find it's more effective to do this exercise looking forward.
Instead of looking back over last year, pretend it's the end of next year. You are popping the Champagne corks because it has been an absolutely amazing year for you professionally. What 3-5 things did you do that made it so amazing? Write this list as next year's performance review, and you'll have a good sense of what's most important for you to tackle at work.
In the spirit of taking my own advice, I worked on this exercise this week. Of course, that made me think about what I would say in my normal, backward looking review for 2016. Does this match what I said in the prospective review I wrote at the end of 2015?
The answer: sort of. One highlight I'd identified (figuring out what my next book will be) matches. But two other major things I'd list from 2016 — writing an essay for the New York Times on tracking my time for a year, and giving a TEDWomen talk — were serendipitous. I did not see either coming. These opportunities came because work I'd done came to the attention of the right people, but I had not declared either as goals I planned to work toward.
So yay, serendipity. Sometimes serendipity is presented as being at odds with planning. Why plan if you have no idea what some of the best stuff will turn out to be? However, even with the mismatch, I don't think this means there's a flaw in the idea of writing next year's performance review now. You can achieve things on the prospective list but have other things overtake them as highlights. There are 8760 hours in a year — plenty of time to play around with. These things can be both/and not either/or. I set an income goal for speaking, and I will hit it, but I think that unpaid speech (i.e. TED) was more interesting.
But even if you don't achieve what was on the prospective review, that's OK — you wrote it for you, and as the author you can change it. People let go of goals all the time. As long as it's because you're consciously choosing to devote your time to something else, that's called flexibility, not failure.
Regardless, articulating what you find interesting and meaningful can help answer the question of "I have time, what should I do with it?" Serendipity is great, but counting on its appearance feels a lot like spinning one's wheels. I think the best approach is to plan for great things, but be open to even more wonderful things happening that you didn't know to plan for.
Do you write prospective performance reviews?
Photo: A good spot for some breakfast pondering.