Archive for the ‘Planning’ 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.

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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.

Worth repeating – August posts from New Leaf News

I’m sharing a few posts from the New Leaf archives. Here’s what was on our mind in August during the past couple of years.

Productivity depends on being able to work in comfort. Eliminate at least one pain in the neck with a wireless headset.

Successfully planning for the future requires acknowledging past wins. Are you overlooking this step in your business plan?

The longer I use Evernote, the more I like this free tool for storing, sorting, and retrieving information. Is your desk littered with a bunch of little notes that you don’t know how to keep? Evernote might be the answer to keeping the information but ditching the paper.

Avant-garde artist and filmmaker Andy Warhol understood the art of business and the business of art. Here he speaks about both endeavors.

Happy August to all the New Leaf News readers & writers!

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.

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

Plan from your passion

Last week I received the audience feedback from a conference workshop I led in November. One respondent commented anonymously:

“So inspiring, clean. Made a promise to myself as a result of this session.”

This is what I live for!

I was leading my popular session “Plan to Thrive – how to shape, track, and follow through on your best business plans,” and while it’s impossible to cover the whole planning process in the 75 minutes typically allotted for a conference workshop, I aim to give people several tools that can take them from vague and disorganized to focused and motivated, with their plan beginning to take shape even during the session.

I am passionate about helping others get in touch with the possibilities in their business so that they can get the results they want with more ease. In that workshop session I spoke from that passion, and consequently I was able to tap that passion in the workshop participants.

As you make your business plans, remember to station your passion front and center. Planing isn’t merely about making a spreadsheet of what’s possible, or worse, probable.

A good plan also touches the passion that is the source of so much energy, creativity, and focus.

A good plan will help to propel you out of bed in the morning. It will hold your passion up before you, reminding you of why you bother.

A good plan will enable you to enlist others in your enterprise, so you don’t have to go it alone.

Success requires clarity about goals and how to reach them. It requires good execution; no plan can help very much if we don’t take the steps outlined in it. And long-term, sustainable success also requires tapping into our passion.

How will your passion inform your plan for the future? What are you excited about right now? Leave a comment here.

Strengthen your success with a gratitude journal

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but also the parent of all the others. — Cicero

Gratitude journalsFor years I had kept a gratitude journal — a notebook in which I recorded things large and small in my business for which I felt grateful.

I knew that great thinkers from all ages and traditions had commended the practice of gratitude. Though I was never certain how the gratitude journal “worked,” I was aware that whatever I focused on was the thing I attracted, and I continued to find the practice helpful in combating the slumps that beset solo entrepreneurs, so I recommended it to many of my organizing and productivity clients.

Recently, I encountered scientific validation for the power of my gratitude journal (see source of original study below.) As described by Dr. Martin Seligman in his book Authentic Happiness, “(the researchers) randomly assigned people to keep a daily diary for two weeks, either of happenings they were grateful for, of hassles, or simply of life events. Joy, happiness, and life satisfaction shot up for the gratitude group.”

Here’s my method for keeping a gratitude journal: Find a small notebook that pleases you. As you finish work each day, jot down a few things for which you feel grateful. Here are some of mine:

  • I am scheduled to teach the GO System workshop at (a client) next month.
  • Steve Overman wrote a recommendation for me on LinkedIn. What he wrote was warm, gracious, articulate, and deeply felt.
  • (One of my board colleagues) told me she is glad I’m president of the organization. She feels the group is more inclusive and welcoming.
  • Tonight I arrived home at 7 pm after an 11-hour day. The dog walker had already taken care of the dog. It was heaven!
  • I was able to refer (a client) to Susan Tiner for bookkeeping and financial organizing. I think it will be a great match for both of them.

Start your gratitude journal. Begin by recording one to five thoughts daily for a few weeks. Then use your journal as often as it seems helpful.

As you prepare to do a review of your accomplishments as part of your planning process, be sure to scan your journal entries to remind you of past accomplishments.

Do you keep a gratitude journal? What have you observed? Leave a comment here.

(Original study cited above: Emmons, R.A., & McCullough, M.E. (2003). “Counting blessings versus burdens: Experimental studies of gratitude and subjective well being in daily life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, No. 84, pages 377-389.)

Recipe for productivity

Bon Apetit!

Bon Appetit!

Like a featured recipe in a cooking magazine, productivity has many ingredients. Some are obvious (oh, there’s beef in the beef stew!) while some are subtle (who knew that excellent doughnuts actually require a whisper of nutmeg??) We can leave something out, we can make substitutions, but the dish won’t achieve the same heights without all its parts.

Here’s the ingredients list for productivity:

  • Be clear about your priorities
  • Funnel everything into one system
  • Manage your time and energy
  • Know how to delegate and discard
  • Play to your strengths

Are you missing any ingredients? Is there something you’d like to add to your recipe?

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