Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth!
— Mike Tyson
Many of my friends and co-workers tell me that it has become increasingly difficult for them to plan. The challenge of developing a good action plan confronts them daily, at work and at home. It is a recurring trial for me as well. Even after attending nearly every seminar that is designed to help executives to manage their time more effectively, there are still times during which I get lost.
Following years of training and practice, falling and getting back up again, I continue to learn and digest the best practices that are prescribed for effective planning. It has taken me nearly twenty-five years to ascertain what works best for me. There are times when I can I feel like Tom Hanks’ character at the beginning of the movie, Saving Private Ryan; stuff is blowing up all around me and I am wandering around, feeling dazed, confused and in danger of getting hit.
Quoting Mike Tyson in a Crux will most likely happen only once, but I could not think of a better way to frame the importance of and the challenges to effective planning. When beginning my workdays, it often feels as though I am climbing into a boxing ring. I often feel as though I am fighting an intimidating opponent and that I am armed with limited resources. Each day, I have fewer than one thousand precious, wakeful minutes to apportion effectively and trade for my desired outcomes. If I don’t have a plan to refocus my attention, then certain “blows” or deviations from my original approach will leave me off balance, staggering back to my feet and back to my corner.
Invariably, early in my workday I get hit in the mouth, figuratively speaking. An email, text, phone call or a “drive by” from a colleague tempts to distract me from accomplishing my first things…first thing. As the early morning jab lands square, it tests my resolve. It taunts me and often makes me question whether or not I can stick with my predetermined plan. When I am at home, the tempters challenge me in different ways to see if I can stay on point.
When I deliberately plan my workday, my effectiveness is increased. Even when I merely frame and prioritize the time that I have with my wife and children, then the odds of my staying focused on the things that matter most at home are in my favor too.
Here are a few daily disciplines that are instrumental in developing and adhering to my fight plan each day:
- Beginning and ending each of my days with time outside of the ring. This is my chance to get a little perspective. To look back and to lean forward, plugging into my own internal GPS!
- Keeping my fight plan SIMPLE; whatever I think I can do…I divide in two. Ironically, planning to do less is the surest way to get more accomplished. I trust this approach because I know that it works.
- Maintaining a separate list of larger “To-Do’s” on to which I place items for future consideration and prioritization. This is my “go- to” repository when something competes for my immediate attention. I try to use “let me get back to you” and “I’m not sure if I can” these days to counterbalance my proclivity for saying “yes” to opportunities that are not already on my list.
- Categorizing each of my action items with one of three labels: Must Do, Should Do, Nice To. This helps to focus my attention on the most impactful things on the list of action items.
- Tackling the Must Do’s and Should Do’s in that order. I sprinkle in a Nice To as time or circumstance allows. This keeps me from working on things that matter very little in the divine scheme of things.
- Revisiting the larger list of projects each day in an attempt to identify the items on which to focus over the next twenty-four hour period; those that have the greatest impact and return for my company, for my family and for me. I quickly review my larger list in the evening and I add to my fight plan for the next day all of the associated high-impact tasks and time sensitive activities.
- Making room in my daily plan for Bel Far Niente and Have Fun time too because they are restorative and refuel my efforts. In the end, these are what motivates the planning in the first place.
- Borrowing from the P90X exercise program, I really try to do my best and forget the rest!
Research suggests that very few people actually plan their day. When asked why they don’t plan, most respondents suggest that they are too busy and have no time to plan. That would be equivalent to my saying that I don’t have a personal budget because I have no money. The budget and the plan are both causative, choosing to do them or not to do them will be the difference in achieving what we most desire. Maintaining no personal budget or fiscal discipline leads me to financial ruin and desperation; similarly, having no rigor in the planning of my daily effort results in my hopes being deferred.
A well-conceived daily action plan (my fight plan) clarifies for me those people to whom or things to which I have already said “yes” and contributes to my maintaining legitimate balance and focus.
Thomas “TD” Dierker
Live like you’re dying….cause you are!