Why it pays to plan your day
Zachary Aldwin Milkshake in the Boardroom
Today was an experiment. Depending on your point of view, the experiment was a total success, but only because today went so badly. Confused yet? Allow me to elaborate.
The experiment was to see how my day would go if I didn’t take time to plan it, answered all calls to my phone myself (no secretary answering, no voicemail, no missed calls allowed), and if anyone wanted me I had to deal with them. This was despite having a full diary of appointments to keep, and to top it all it was a Monday.
By midday I had received a dozen calls, been interrupted by staff five times (at least two of which required leaving the room I was in), was mentally in a spin and no longer in control of my day. Due to the increased chaos I found myself degenerating in other areas as well, I checked my emails at least hourly, and replied to them.
Lunch was eaten on the run while two clients sat in my reception.
I had no focus, no direction, and got very little meaningful done at the end of the day. My mania was saved by my gym session at the end of the day, which serves as a buffer that allows me to mindlessly vent any trauma from the day into unfeeling mental and get it out of my system, rather than in- advertently unleashing aggravation in the direction of the beautiful lady in my life.
Perhaps my day sounds normal to you? There was a time when it was normal for me, when I was at the mercy of the flood of life.
Life was simpler once in the pre- cyber days, if you were out the office, no one could reach you.
If they wanted your opinion on something they wrote a letter or made an appointment. People kept appointments on time because you could not phone from your car to say you were running late.
Well, that last point is debatable.
Then the cellphone appeared and email became the norm.
We became connected and the world demanded our attention all the time. We can access mail from home, while on holiday in the Bahamas, and not just at work. Roaming means that we can be contacted anywhere at any time in theory.
I know some people who never switch their phones off; even when asleep they put them on silent so at least they can see your missed calls and texts when they wake up. There is more to distract us from our productivity than ever.
Life went from being a gentle stream to a raging river bursting its banks at every opportunity.
Here is another alternative to my Monday from a parallel universe, where Zach chose not to engage in an experiment just because he needed material for an article.
Zach arrives at his office at 8am, despite having to start the day with a pre-arranged earlier meeting.
The next hour is Zach’s time.
His phone is left with his secretary with a strict no disturb rule as he plans his week. Taking into account the total picture of his life, his current goals for the month, quarter and year, Zach checks where his time and energy can best be spent.
He knows that there is a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday, that it is Avril’s birthday, lunch on Thursday, and that he needs to spend at least one evening this week with the beautiful lady in his life on a “Date Night”.
Juggling all this into his schedule (Zach is a little old fashioned and writes his in a diary rather than a new fandangled iPad thingy) by the end of the hour, Zach knows what is happening this week.
The next hour is spent with his secretary re-arranging any meetings that have to be shifted, seeing what he needs from her this week, replying to weekend emails and returning any calls that have come in.
Rather than simply drifting from crisis to crisis, Zach now has specific goals that he can achieve.
He has a list of the top three priorities for the rest of the week. Now Zach is not stupid, he knows that disasters may occur during the week that could hamstring his best laid plans.
Instead of being rigid, Zach is flexible enough to be able to adapt to curve balls. The only thing that Zach is lacking at this point is an idea, for a really cool article that can inspire others because he chose not to turn his life into an experiment.
Somewhere between being totally unplanned and at the mercy of life’s ebb and flow and, at the other extreme, being so rigid in our regime, that we eventually snap when the pressure is too much, somewhere there is the ability to bend and recover from the unexpected yet still have a structure and system to our life.
There is no perfect system to achieving this but here are a few tips.
Plan your week at the start of it. This planning time is to be uninterrupted and inviolate.
Pick three top priorities for the week that have a degree of specifics to them.
Consider the whole of your life when you are planning.
If you know you have an energy-sapping meeting on Tuesday afternoon then do not plan a romantic dinner with your wife that night.
Group similar smaller tasks together, the energy from one will carry over into the other.
Split up unpleasant tasks with buffers; a coffee break, an email check, small things that allow you to recover your energy. Consider leaving a blank slot to fill with emergencies, you can always drop something else into it later if it is free.
Consider using “cloud based” tools like a Google calendar, that can be accessed by both you and your secretary to help fill in appointments without clashing.
This may also save you having to phone her to tell her about a new, urgent meeting you have just created.
Diaries can still work but need a slightly different dynamic of chunking time that your secretary can play with and not double book you.
You can if you wish still choose not to plan things a bit better.
You can just go with the flow and try surf the waves of life.
Of course, sooner or later one of those waves is going to dump you in the ocean and you will have no say in which beach it spews you up in.
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