You’re pursuing a vision. You’ve got a long to-do list, and every day you’re making progress toward that picture of your future. However, how do you make sure you’re on track and advancing as quickly as possible?
Do you know this conundrum? I do. CoachNet (the company I run) is chasing a big goal: deploying coaching skills to empower leaders to develop the people around them. This kind of leadership development happens in one of two environments: inside an organization or as the startup of a new small business.
CoachNet is committed to four key ideas in coaching:
- High-quality coaching skills,
- Movement dynamics (leaders who make more leaders, so coaching has to be contagious),
- Neuro-friendly thinking coaching behaviors (you know, things like brain science/positive psychology and a deep commitment to exploring limiting beliefs), and
- Helpful use of data (leveraging data science and analytics in the coaching process and for the conversion of qualified leads).
I have a personal vision as well: I design devoted relationships/communities to unlock potential and launch lasting impact. Everything good happens in a relationship…and coaching directs the connection toward meaningful impact. I’m Christian, so following Jesus matters to me. My character has to develop, and I try to do that in relationships.
(There’s a whole team of folks who invest in me so I can stay on track…I have a pastor, an accountability partner, a counselor, a group of guys that are about the same things that I’m about, and a couple of different coaches. That’s what I have learned I need to keep it together. Being a husband, father, entrepreneur, and citizen requires a lot of effort!)
So, figuring out how to move toward the vision I have takes significant effort.
The tools you’ll need are a legal pad, your calendar, and a journal. My ritual revolves around a guideline I heard a few years ago: Divert daily, withdraw weekly, escape quarterly, abandon annually. I’m going to look at each of these sections.
My days are broken into three sections: The MUST Dos, the It-Would-Be-Nice-Ifs, and the Stuff that Comes Up.
The MUST Dos: Every night, I commit to three things I MUST do the next day. I write them down as the last thing I do before shutting down for the night. I put my Big Three (which is what I call it) into my To Do List under the heading of Big Three.
The Big Three might be content development for my blog, new training materials or products, designing sales funnels, billing questions and sales opportunities, or other mission-critical activities. These activities force me to work on my business/vision, not work in the business.
Here’s the key: no quitting for the day without completing all three!
The Big Three gets two hours per day, without interruptions, every day. (No phones, no internet, and no distractions.) I force myself to work on the Big Three whether I’m home or on the road. Sometimes it means getting up two hours early so that I can finish the crucial items. First thing in the morning is ideal, but sometimes I go back to the computer after dinner (which is when I’m writing this post even though it won’t post until 11 am Eastern time).
The Pomodoro Technique frames the structure of these two hours. Pomodoro is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Learn more
Stuff That Comes Up are all my scheduled appointments (either coaching or training sessions) and the things that need my attention that only I can handle. Initial contacts with potential clients or student issues are two examples. The critical distinction is that these are things that I can’t pass off to someone on my team, or the things that I’ve been contracted to deliver. The day can get away from me if there are too many things coming up on a day-to-day basis.
The final section of my day is the It-Would-Be-Nice-Ifs. I work on this list when, and only when, I finish the Big Three. All the email in my inbox falls into this category. Other items like long-term planning might also land here. Operational challenges that aren’t mission critical make up the majority of the It-Would-Be-Nices.
Most days are a combination of all three categories, and I evaluate the success of each day by finishing the Big Three. This mindset forces me to depend on my team, and to do the things that I uniquely can do. That’s the secret to building something that lasts.
Once a week, usually on Monday mornings, I take out my written vision. I did it by hand, on a legal pad. Handwriting lists taps into the neurological benefits of writing stuff down by hand. (See this episode of Daniel Pink’s Pinkcast for reasons why: https://www.danpink.com/pinkcast/pinkcast-2-2-why-you-should-take-notes-by-hand/)
When I have it in my hand, I spend 30 minutes (never more) confirming the progress I’ve made since the last time I checked in on the vision. Some weeks there’s much distance traveled. Other times I’m where I was the previous week. Then I set a couple of priorities for the upcoming week.
The second step is what’s called the Painted Picture. A second 30-minute block focuses on what life will look like 5-6 years down the road. The key is to visualize the future in as much detail as possible. I pay attention to what I see in the visualization and write down the details in my journal. The final step is to evaluate whether what I saw fits my values and the vision I’m pursuing. When the details match, I add them to the picture I’m painting. When they don’t, I look for why. Sometimes adjusting the mental movie to be values-centric is simple. Other times the exercise points out flaws toward which I’m working. In that case, revisiting the vision document is the next step.
The last piece of Withdraw Weekly is ensuring that there is at least one-half day with nothing scheduled and no objectives to accomplish. My brain recalibrates during this Sabbath of sorts. Sundays are the typical target, usually starting with going to church with my family. The fastest way for me to get off track is to miss this sabbath time away.
Four times a year, getting away from it all is the target. Vacations, silent retreats, or weekends away with my wife and daughter typify escapes. We love the beach and a few days at a resort are ideal, but the key is to put work out of my mind as far as possible.
Escapes become more critical as I get older. No matter how hard I try, I can’t burn the candle at both ends like I could when I was younger. My energy level links directly to how long since my last escape. My effectiveness and the customer satisfaction that CoachNet clients see grows out of the rejuvenation these breaks offer.
Once a year, a strategic evaluation becomes my focus. I visit the goals I’ve set, celebrate the completed ones, and choose what will get my focus for the next 12 months.
When a goal no longer fits the overall vision, I let it go. That’s the second abandon in Abandon Annually. Not punishing myself for giving up on a goal has been challenging, but releasing what isn’t moving me toward my vision frees up the energy to make progress on the things that will.
Learning to abandon what isn’t working is the secret sauce for building a business that lasts.
So that’s what gets it done for me. What’s your productivity plan? It may read like there’s a lot to the method, and there is, but discipline means choosing what you will do as well as what you won’t.
Give it a try. You can build a business that lasts, make an impact, and live a great life. Let me know how it goes for you!
Also published on Medium.