I can't possibly get everything done, and I feel like my day is running me. I am short with my people, aggravated by the amount of time I spend in meetings. I'm frustrated that regardless of how many hours I work, I still go home feeling as if I accomplished very little. I worry all the time about forgetting something or what might be lurking in the shadows ready to bite me in the ass. I am just stressed.
Does any of the above sound familiar to you? Leadership at the speed of today's business can be daunting. Demands are huge and the flow of information is constant. The ability to digest it all and take the needed action is a true challenge. There is no one answer, but without a doubt, a key weapon in the battle is to effectively manage your day. The question is how best to do that.
There has been some real innovative thinking done in the area of productivity. Numerous techniques have been created and many tools developed. My personal opinion on those is quite simple; use what works best for you. My purpose here is not to advocate for a specific system or tool, but rather to encourage the adoption of some guiding principles which you can choose to implement in a fashion that best fits your needs.
Let me start with a fundamental axiom. Things will slip through your fingers. Scoop up a handful of sand, and despite your best efforts, as you walk down the beach, the sand will slowly slip through. That is the reality, in this world, our demands outweigh our personal bandwidth. The key is self-determination. You must identify what can and cannot slip through your fingers.
So when I work with my clients, I teach them the principles of managing their day like an NFL coach. You need to study the tapes, develop a game plan and then adjust.
Start with studying the tapes. I suggest keeping a master task list. Again, the form in which you keep this list is up to you. It does not matter if it is on a simple yellow pad or in Evernote or on Trello. It is just important that you have one. One other suggestion I will make, is that I find it helpful to categorize my task list. For example, I include categories on my list such as "project work," "admin," "outreach" and "deep work." This is just a personal choice, but one that I have found to be beneficial. Every day, either at the end of prior planning for the next or start of the current, review your list. Know what needs to be done and spend some time thinking about how to prioritize the items.
Now, it is time to game plan. Have a plan for every day. I game plan on two levels. The first is a weekly plan. I choose to do this on Sunday. It helps me enter the week with a sense of more control. I review my list and I identify the key things I want to accomplish during the week. I open my calendar and book appointments with myself. I reserve time to work on the things I need to get done, it is that simple. The second level of my game plan occurs daily. For me, I found that to end my day with planning for the next provides me with the most peace of mind. I take out my list and open my calendar. At this point, my calendar has my scheduled meetings for the day as well as those critical tasks I allocated time for during my weekly game planning. I pick three things from my list and again, book time in my schedule to get them done. I don't pick more than three, because, for me, more than that has proven to be unrealistic. Now my day is planned and having this plan makes me feel like I am running my day, rather than my day running me. It gets back to self-determination.
For a coach, the likelihood of a game plan unfolding exactly as it is scripted is slim to none, and you should have the same understanding of your business day. Despite your best efforts in planning, there are going to be those days that you walk into the office and the sh-t just hits the fan. You don't throw in the towel, you adjust. It is no different than an NFL coach whose team is suddenly down by two scores. You open up your calendar, maybe you move that block of time you reserved today for deep work to later in the week, and then you spend five minutes adjusting your game plan for the day.
What I have outlined above is neither rocket science nor a panacea. But what it does do is to put you back into control of your own day. Life is imperfect, it rarely unfolds as we expect or want. The same holds true for an NFL coach. A week's worth of game planning can be rendered worthless within the first minutes of a game. Nonetheless, each week they continue to put the time and effort into their planning. Why? Because you have to plan for success and then adjust as needed.
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Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group. He works to grow businesses and business leaders. He helps organizations tell their stories and build relationships with their customers. He helps leaders better connect and communicate with those whom they lead, and serves as a thinking partner to executives and their teams.
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