Vail Daily column: When stuff hits the fan
A few years ago, I was working with Marcy, a talented, hard-charging senior executive at a large, Fortune 50 firm. Marcy was a serial overachiever; she was motivated, intelligent and an excellent communicator with a strong work ethic. Yet, challenging all of those exceptional qualities was a constant feeling of being stressed out and a consistent pattern of running behind. Days were spent moving from one meeting to the next leaving little, if any, time to prepare or follow-up on her commitments. Direct reports spent minimal time with her unless they happened to be in the same meeting together. Recognizing she had many demands on her time, during one of our regular conversations I asked how she managed her calendar. “My assistant handles that,” she remarked.
Like many successful people, Marcy thought the best way to manage her time was to delegate the task. By relinquishing calendar control to her assistant, Marcy unknowingly had become a slave to a schedule that was dictated and prioritized by someone else. Not surprising, the schedule controlled her instead of her thoughtfully managing how her time was spent. Marcy assumed that her well-intentioned assistant was equipped to make appropriate decisions about how to prioritize and allocate her time. Unfortunately, Marcy’s assumption was wrong and her heightened stress level, lack of preparedness and excessive tardiness were reflections of her hands-off approach to time management.
Not all of us have assistants to effectively, or ineffectively, manage our time. Instead, we give it our best shot but all too frequently end up the victim of the poorly managed schedule we have created for ourselves. Most often, the resulting frustrations can be chalked up to us not taking the responsibility to decide and set boundaries on what is allowed on our calendar.
In previous columns, I’ve written about the power of identifying our key activities as they relate to achieving our goals. As a refresher, key activities are the things “we must do” to realize the goals we’ve set. Successful goal achievement depends on knowing our key activities and how much of them we must do every week to achieve our business, personal and family goals. As the person ultimately responsible for the direction of my life and achieving my goals, it’s essential that I own the responsibility for making sure those key activities are included in my calendar each and every week. Basically, my key activities are the big rocks that are the most critical tasks for the week and, without exception, should be the first to get scheduled into my calendar. After the big rocks, everything else is secondary.
Before the start of each week, we must assume the role of employer and decide how our time is allotted. If we don’t accept the employer responsibility of directing, then we essentially turn ourselves over to everyone else’s last minute emergencies and poor planning. In the end, we suffer for not clearly prioritizing our schedule.
Planning your week really doesn’t take much time, but it does take a fair amount of discipline. All told, once you’re in the habit of focusing on the days ahead, it only takes about 30 minutes to plan for the appointments, meetings, phone calls and “to dos” for the week.
A common misconception about meticulously planning our week is that it is too restrictive and doesn’t allow us to respond to people that need us or emergencies that may arise. First, it’s important to realize there are very few real emergencies. Second, in reality, having a week planned in advance actually provides more flexibility, not less. As the employer of our time, with a little bit of forethought, we actually become more nimble and effective at managing things because we know what’s there to juggle and where we can pivot. When we’ve done the employer work and moved to the role of employee of our time, when something unplanned demands our attention, we can decide what part of our schedule needs to bend and can identify rescheduling options with greater ease. Consequently, less falls through the cracks and we’re better able to manage our stress, stay connected to people and ahead of our meetings and activities. Bottom line: We are better equipped to perform more efficiently and effectively.
Chuck Wachendorfer is a partner and the chief operating officer at Think2Perform, a business and sports performance firm that improves bottom-line results for executives, athletes and organizations such as American Express, Ameriprise Financial, Comerica Bank, Boston Scientific, United Health Group, the FBI, 3M, the Minnesota Twins and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He resides in Edwards with his wife Lori and their three children. Think2Perform is a partner of the Vail Chamber & Business Association. They offer a series of Breakthrough for Business workshops throughout the year, helping local businesses achieve their best practices. To learn more, visit http://www.vailchamber.org or http://www.think2perform.com.