Archive for the ‘Goals’ Category

How Much Time Should Planning Take?

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable. — Seneca

Once in a while a client avoids planning on the ground that it takes too much time. They’d much rather dive right in and spend that time getting some of their work done, instead of reviewing goals, choosing priorities, and making lists.

"Out of Business" (c) All rights reserved by Lynn Park.

"Out of Business" (c) All rights reserved by Lynn Park.

How much time should planning take? Less time than anything else you do in your work. Like tooth-brushing, planning takes very little time and pays big dividends for the small increments of time and effort invested.

Good planning requires just two percent of your time, divided between two types of plans.

First, one percent of each day will be used to plan the following day. Before finishing work for the day, evaluate the following day. Choose three tasks that contribute to your larger goals, and work on those tasks first thing the next day. That one percent of time (about five minutes of an eight-hour day) spent planning tomorrow’s work will pay off beautifully in real progress on the things that matter most.

Then, devote another one percent to longer-range planning. Arrange a half-day planning retreat every quarter, so that you can weigh your progress and adjust your focus. This will prevent unproductive drifting.

Finally, use another half day (for a total of two and a half days out of a 240-day work year) to make your annual plan.

Remember that frantic activity does not equal productivity; in fact, productivity thrives on calm and considered action. Invest just two percent of your time – just five minutes a day and two and a half days each year – and watch the productivity returns pour in.

The Won’t-Do List

 

No means no! (Photo taken on Vancouver's Canada Line by Margaret Lukens)

 

Productivity is as much about what we choose not to do as it is about what we do. (Remember the Evil Overlord List? 100 tongue-in-cheek won’t-do entries that begins, “Being an Evil Overlord seems to be a good career choice.”)

With this in mind, I’d like to supplement my list of committed tasks with a “won’t-do” list.

Below I’ve started with five things I’d like to eliminate from my life. I’ll be adding to my list whenever I think of something that is hindering my efforts to get where I want to go.

My Won’t-Do List

1. I won’t attend meetings with no agenda. And I encourage everyone else not to do it, either. Waste of everyone’s time. And in case it’s not clear, “so that everyone can catch up on what’s happening” is not an agenda. It’s a time sink.

2. I won’t balance my personal checkbook. For over 25 years I balanced my checkbook to the penny every month. In that time, the bank made two errors, one for a dollar and one for a dime, both in their favor. (Both came from misreading the numbers written on a check.) For the hours it takes to balance the checkbook every year, I can live with that error rate. I’m done.

3. I won’t get behind in my business bookkeeping. Given the won’t-do above, this one might seem surprising, but last year when my bookkeeper quit, I allowed my books to get months behind, which caused two problems. First, I had to catch up in order to do my taxes. But more important, I can’t manage my business if I’m not looking at the numbers in a timely way. I won’t “fly blind” again.

4. I won’t arrive on time. I’m already punctual; I believe that keeping people waiting often makes them feel disrespected, and I don’t want to do that. Now I want treat myself more generously. I won’t habitually cut my schedule so close that I feel anxious about arriving on time. Instead I will plan to arrive early. When I do, my reward will be time for a few games of ZenBound or Angry Birds.

5. I won’t agree to serve on committees or boards because I’m flattered to be asked. I love to feel needed and wanted, I do, which makes me something of a sucker for nominating committees and clever task force leaders. Plus, the work they offer me is really interesting stuff that I’d really like to do. But I won’t agree to serve just because I am flattered to be asked. If I don’t have room for it in my schedule as well as a genuine desire to participate, I won’t say yes.

Opinions change. Two years ago I would have said that I feel no need to jump out of a perfectly good airplane; now, thanks to the glowing reports of one adrenalin-amped nephew (who is not a daredevil but a well-balanced business owner, husband, and father of three) I have committed to a sky dive. And there was a time that I believed that, except for an omelet and salad, any meal that took  less than an hour to prepare couldn’t be very good; now I’m all about the 30-minute recipe.

On the other hand, when I look at my won’t-do’s, they look like they’re with me for the long haul. They represent real learning about what supports productivity and what diminishes it.  Last year’s “no way” may be next year’s “why not?” but my won’t-do list is here to stay.

What’s on your won’t-do list? Leave a comment here.

Why Tasks Hang On – Three Productivity Traps to Avoid

Gum tree seed pods stick; your tasks don't have to. (photo by M. Lukens)

Take a look at your to-do list. Are there things that have been lurking there for weeks, maybe months? How do you feel when you think of those tenacious tasks? Tired? Discouraged?

You can get rid of those “Velcro jobs” faster if you know how they got to be clinging to your days in the first place.

There are three common reasons that tasks hang on.

1. As my father said, “You can always think of more things to do in a day than you can get done.” Expecting yourself to accomplish everything that enters your mind just isn’t realistic.

To avoid this trap, observe how long various tasks actually take. Try scheduling tasks in your calendar to give yourself a more realistic benchmark. If I have 10 hours of work to do, but only six hours available, something is going to go undone, at least for today. Recognize that on days when your calendar is full of appointments, you probably won’t be able to accomplish a lot of other work. Be realistic in your expectations.

And if a task is non-essential, give it an expiration date. This prevents jobs from dragging on indefinitely.

As the philosopher William James observed, “there is nothing more fatiguing than the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

I find that because I dream up new ideas nearly every day, I often have assigned more jobs to myself than I could ever possibly finish. If I haven’t written that non-essential proposal or made that call within the deadline, I’ve learned to delete it. If it’s really important to me, it will come back again. For now, I’ll actually be more productive if I just let it go.

2. In his book The Procrastinator’s Digest, a Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, Timothy Pychyl, PhD defines procrastination as “a needless voluntary delay.” Procrastination is a terrible productivity trap that keeps tasks hanging on, usually the least pleasant ones.

One strategy Dr. Pychyl recommends for moving past procrastination is to understand the costs of our procrastination and the benefits of acting without delay. Each day, do the least palatable job first. Then, the rest of the day looks brighter, and you are unburdened by the costs of procrastination on those unpleasant jobs.

3. If your goals and objectives aren’t clear, there’s no good way to know which tasks are most important. When everything looks like it has equal weight, important things are bound to drag on.

As I teach in my Plan to Thrive workshop, the solution is to make a clear and compelling plan that really suits you and your business.  This will help you sort out the really essential jobs from the “nice-to-have” ones.

Did you know that people routinely over-estimate what they can accomplish in one year, and also wildly under-estimate what they can do in three to five years? Think about it: if you’re like most people, what you’re doing today is something you could hardly have dreamed of just a few years ago. A clear and compelling plan can help you to be both realistic and ambitious about the tasks you really want to accomplish.

What do you want to brush off your task list? Declare it by leaving a comment here.

No Regrets

When I asked my father, then aged 85 and about to move out of the home he’d built with his own hands 25 years earlier, whether there was anything more he really wanted to do, his response was memorable: “You can always think of more things to do in a day than you can get done. But, no, there’s no place I want to go and nothing I want to do that I haven’t already done.”

Snowy Plover, hand-carved by Donald Lukens (photo by Margaret Lukens)

What an inspiration, a life so well-lived as to be free of regrets!

My father is the source of my “organizing genes”. His well-appointed workshop was  legendary for being immaculate: no sawdust, no unlabeled bins, no tools without a home. When I was 12, we worked together on a large project: he painted some 50 empty coffee cans an appealing pale yellow and I hand-painted labels on them in black: “3/8 inch bolts”, “roofing nails”, “1/2 inch washers”. The ones that made everyone smile were the set of three labeled “miscellaneous”, “maybe here”, “it’s here”.

From his workshop my father turned out a succession of projects requested by his family — a desk for my mother, adjustable stilts and a toy sailboat and a slingshot for my son, a cuckoo clock for one granddaughter, a chicken coop for me, a playhouse for my brother’s girls, a coffee table for my sister, and much more — along with many projects inspired by his own varied interests. (The snowy plover in the photo was made for me at my request; if I had asked for a six-foot California condor instead, I probably would have gotten it.)

One year I phoned my parents at about 9 pm on December 31st to wish them a happy new year. My mother and I chatted for a while, then she said, “Well, I’d call your father to the phone, but he’s got a project that he wanted to finish this year, and he’s downstairs working on it.”

For a man in his 70’s and 80’s, January 1 was much like December 31, yet he valued his time, he established goals, and he did what was necessary to achieve those goals. He couldn’t come to the phone on December 31st; he had a deadline to meet!

His joyful dedication to his chosen work resulted in a long life well lived, with no regrets.

Last week I read an article about the regrets of the dying by Bronnie Ware, that I found quite striking. The author, who worked for many years in palliative care, assembled the top five regrets that she had heard repeatedly from those at the end of life. Listening carefully to those with very little time left can often help us clarify what matters most to those of us who, for now at least, have time to spare.

The one I found most surprising was the fifth on the author’s list of five, “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” Wise men from Marcus Aurelius to Abraham Lincoln have observed that happiness is a choice, requiring very little to be within our grasp. Yet it seems that many of us have a hard time realizing that happiness is ours for the choosing.

My father had made that choice, and kept it throughout his long life, which ended this past Saturday, at the age of 92. Among the many things that I appreciate about him, one that I value more highly than the many objects he gave me  is the fine example he showed me of a life with no regrets.

Claim your spot in the “Plan to Thrive” teleclass

Register for this free session with Meggin McIntosh and me.

Does business planning really matter, or do all business plans sit forgotten on a shelf?

According to a recent study, lack of a well-developed business plan is a factor in 78 percent of all small business closures. In fact, planning is one of the best practices you can habitually engage in to bring success and ease to your growing business, develop your skills, and achieve the goals you set.

Wondering how to create a plan you will actually use?

One way is to join host Meggin McIntosh and me for this informational and practical (and free!) teleclass.  As a participant, you will:

  • review types of plans to find one that meets your needs;
  • begin writing your own plan;
  • receive planning tools to use again and again;
  • learn techniques to focus on the steps with the greatest impact;
  • discover secrets to sustaining your motivation no matter what!

Don’t just survive — plan to thrive!

Registration is free – reserve your spot here.

Worth Repeating – July posts from New Leaf News

photo by Margaret Lukens

I’m sharing a few posts from the New Leaf archives. Here’s what was on our mind in Julys past.

How can you make progress on a goal that, for lack of a “natural” deadline, seem to take a back seat to everything else? Here are a couple of ideas to help you get it done.

In good economic times and bad, it always pays to be respectful of your most firmly limited resource,  time. Are you saving a little money but squandering your time?

Abraham Lincoln provides a timely and timeless hope for Independence Day and every day.

In-Box Zero

Remember merit badges, those embroidered circles used to mark achievement for Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts? Now there is a company that makes merits badges for grown-ups, and there’s one I desperately want to earn: In-Box Zero.

My goal of an empty email in-box is more elusive than live tech support. I crossed into the new year on 1/1/10 with an empty in-box and a zero credit card balance. The credit cards are still paid off, but the in-box currently houses over 500 messages.

I know what’s there. It’s not that I haven’t taken in the content of those 500 messages; I have. Some are offers I wanted to think about, like a class I wanted to attend but wasn’t sure I’d have time for. (I didn’t.) Some are newsletters I haven’t read (and probably never will.) Some are threads of complicated conversations involving several people, conversations in which I am not an active participant but was copied on the messages because someone thought I might be able to contribute or might need to know.

I receive between 80 and 100 emails each day, which based on my non-scientific observations of business people, is about average. I deal promptly with the vast majority. I respond and delete, or I file for later action, or I file for reference. Still, that 3 or 4 percent that I don’t move out of the inbox immediately begins to accumulate, until by mid-year I’m looking at a 500-message surplus. A quick calculation indicated that if I could deal with just three more messages each day, I could have kept the message count to nil. But three more was too many.

The goal of in-box zero is a great goal, but I know that I’m not the only one who struggles with it. How do I know? Two ways: I’ve worked with clients who’ve had tens of thousands of inbox messages they needed to clean out. And whenever someone reaches inbox zero, they’re apt to crow about it. Just this week author and business guru Tim Sanders posted a screen shot of his empty inbox. That’s a measure of how difficult it is to achieve.

Still, I remember how great it felt to have my computer desktop as well-ordered as my physical desktop. I’d like to get back to that happy state. And the causes of my email clutter are the very same things that cause my clients’ physical clutter: deferred decisions, being unclear about what the next action should be, and keeping things I don’t need.

So here’s my mid-year resolution: I’m going to return to inbox zero by the first day of autumn. That means dealing with an extra 5 or 6 messages a day for the next 3 months.

  • I will unsubscribe from newsletters I don’t read; I’ve already canceled three.
  • I’ll make time each week to review those tempting offers and make a firm decision about whether or not I’ll accept them, then either delete the email or sign up and delete.
  • I’ll make time to review any long conversations in which I’m just copied, and either participate or bow out.

And I’ll do the work required to keep the email from accumulating again. Check back to see my progress toward my goal. And if you’d like to join in with a goal of earning your own In-Box Zero badge, state your intention by leaving a comment here.

Time Myth: “I have to run faster to get everything done”

We all have certain beliefs and assumptions that we make about time. One common assumption I encounter: getting more done requires running faster.

clock with color pencil effect by Margaret LukensSome time management systems encourage us to work faster to save maybe 10 or 15 percent of our time. And while a saving of 10 percent is always welcome, there are much bigger gains available, and they come with less stress. Getting those really big productivity gains requires challenging our fundamental assumptions about time and how we use it.

While I respect David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, the title is a bit misleading. We can “get things done” 24-7 and still be no further ahead. There is simply no correlation between getting lots of stuff done and being successful.

Productivity improvement does not come from running faster. It comes from having clear goals to pursue and then allocating enough time to work on the steps required to meet those goals. It may require defending that allotted time against others who would intrude on it.

What could we substitute for the old belief, “I have to run faster to get everything done?” Try this on: “I need to be absolutely clear what I want to achieve so I can get the most important things done.”  There will always be more stuff to do than can easily be done in a day. It was true when my ancestors were clearing granite chunks from farm fields, and it’s true when silicon chips allow people to flood my in-box with email day in and day out.

Before trying to run faster, ask yourself where you really want to go. You may find it’s closer than you thought.

Quote: write your goal

A quote for the day:

The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.

— Lee Iacocca

Five steps for ending “tolerations”

Get ready to stamp out persistent pests!

I call them “tolerations” – those little irritants we hardly notice. Maybe it’s something small, like a sticking wheel on a desk chair. Maybe it’s something you try to ignore because you feel you can’t change it, like a noisy neighbor. It could be your life-long habit, such as piling your papers rather than filing them, making your desk feel like a barricade.

Whatever our tolerations are, they act like potholes in our path. They slow us down and make the journey much less pleasant than it needs to be.

Uncovering and addressing our tolerations can free up huge amounts of time and energy.

Here’s an exercise that I use to uncover and eliminate those energy-sapping tolerations:

  • Make a list of anything that you may be tolerating, putting up with, overlooking – anything that bothers you or drags you down at work. These could be incomplete tasks, other people’s behavior, equipment and tools, frustrations, problems, or even your own behavior.
  • Choose one to work on. (This is where a coach can be especially beneficial, helping you determine whether this is the time for small steps or bigger challenges, and what is the best focus for you right now.)
  • Consider this toleration. How long have you had it? What do you know of its origin? How big is its impact now? What would be your payoff if you were to eliminate this toleration?
  • What do you want to do with this toleration? You may know immediately how to get rid of it. If not, brainstorm several steps you could take to address your chosen toleration.
  • Take action now.

Take a deep breath and enjoy the increased room in your office, your schedule, or your mind!

What have you been tolerating? Are you ready to get rid of it now? Leave a comment here.

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