Structuring your day helps pave the way. In order to achieve your goals, you have to develop an action plan with steps to accomplish them. And an action plan is more easily executed when you have structure to your days and weeks. You can’t just haphazardly approach the time that you have and then hope things will get done. Knowing yourself and knowing how to make the most of your time and your moments are the keys to goal achievement. But, what is the best structure for you? Is there one plan or schedule that is right for you? Or is it more of a process that can be tailored towards your needs? Through experimentation, research, and coaching high performers in sports, business, and life, we have found the following to be effective in facilitating a flow to your life:
- Create An Ideal Week – An ideal week consists of a template for how you want to approach your week. It is a picture of what your best days look like. Some people like to create a template that highlights blocks of time for things such as phone calls, client meetings, strategy and planning, and office tasks. They then insert specific items for the week into the template blocks each week. Other people I have coached use a strategy of “Plan Weekly, Execute Daily” where they invest time on Sunday night mapping out a game plan for the calls they need to make, the highest priority things they need to do, and the people they must see based on the week. Regardless of your style and preference, the point is to get in the habit of scheduling your priorities (proactive), not just prioritizing your schedule (reactive) as Stephen Covey so wisely noted in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s your week. Make it count!
- Attack To Do's Before Ten (A.M.) – There are several books that have highlighted the concept of getting your most important things done in the morning. Most people don’t do this and instead place a priority on doing urgent/non-urgent but sometimes non-important things like checking email and Facebook and other social media. I have found that I am most productive and feel best about the days when I knock the most important things out in the morning. I feel highly creative – especially after a great cup of coffee and a morning quiet time – and seem to find a flow that energizes me. When I get things done early, especially the right things, the rest of the day seems to sail along, and I find meaning, purpose, and impact in my moments. It also allows me to strategically consider and plan for what I want to accomplish in the days that follow.
- Assign Tasks That Are Appropriate For The Time Of Day – This point is a corollary to some of the other techniques. You need to understand yourself in terms of when you are most creative, when you need to do routine tasks, when you are most energetic, etc. You don’t want to be meeting with clients when you are lethargic. Plan time for tasks that are appropriate to your personality and style. For example, planning for creative and strategic things for many people is most appropriately scheduled during a mid-morning block, because many people feel more enlightened during those times. Responding to email and returning phone calls can be blocked for 30-minute windows before you are leaving for lunch or at the end of the day in what sales expert Todd Duncan in his excellent book Time Traps calls an “efficiency zone.”
- Protect Time For Planning And Strategy – Many people set a goal that requires planning and developing a strategy, yet they never make time for strategic thinking and planning in their schedule. The most common reason for this is that it seems esoteric and non-productive to set a block of time in your schedule from 9:00-11 labeled “Planning,” and you don’t know how your colleagues and leaders may react if they saw something like that on your schedule. Yet, this may be one of the most important time blocks that you keep with yourself if used in the right way. How do you expect to accomplish this goal if you never make time for it? Breaking your goals down into actionable steps demands time in your schedule for planning.
- Make Time To “Sharpen The Saw” – The key to developing, growing, and living a healthy and fulfilling life must include developing yourself in all four quadrants of your life – mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Stephen Covey called this “sharpening the saw.” You would never cut something with a dull blade, and you never want to approach your life with a deflated, worn-out, and half-hearted effort. The myth and trap that many people fall into is to wear themselves out in order to accomplish their goals. While high achievers will go through periods of intense time, we have found that they always make time for recovery in terms of rest, contemplation and reflection, and recharging.
- Be Present – Finally, in order to achieve anything in life, you must be present. This involves not just showing up physically, but being there in the moment mentally and emotionally as well. Whether you are business leader, a sales executive, a parent, or a competitor in sports, your teammates, clients, and prospective clients want more than your physical presence. They want to know that you have thought about and prepared for this moment. They want to make sure that they have your attention – your head and your heart – and that you are fully engaged in this moment. If you are not present, you are going to miss so many moments this year and wonder where the days went and why you missed the opportunity to accomplish your goals, maximize your potential, and make a positive impact in the lives of others.
Make it a point of emphasis this year to go further than just announcing resolutions and writing down goals. Develop an action plan for your goals and execute this plan with discipline, consistency, and passion structured by a daily flow that works for you. You and the people you lead and influence will be so glad you did!