A couple of weeks ago, I introduced the R.E.A.D.Y goal-setting strategy, which assists you in getting clear on your goals and priorities and ensures that you achieve your goals in the most efficient and effective way possible. You wrote your R.E.A.D.Y. goals; now it is time to align your time spend to your goals.
Aiming is nothing more than a way to organize time on your calendar to advance your goals. To Aim accurately, match your time spend to your goals. Think carefully about each task or project and why you are going to allocate time on your calendar for it. Ask yourself, “How does this task or project move me a step closer towards achieving my goal?”
When my client, Rachel looked at her calendar, she realized that the way she was actually spending her time was unrelated to her goals—in fact, in some instances, it actually opposed her goals. Rachel’s calendar was out of alignment—which explains why, when she Fired (or executed), Rachel never hit her intended target: she was aiming at a different target.
To aim effectively, it is essential to work with your Productivity Style rather than against it. For example, the Planner in me loves the idea of getting organized and blocking time on my calendar to move forward on my goals. However, my Visualizer colleagues are probably feeling a little restricted and stifled right now by the idea of blocking time on the calendar to complete work. What works beautifully for me may not work for them—or for you.
Here are a number of concrete suggestions about how to organize your calendar in a way that will take the best possible advantage of the natural inclinations reflected in your personal Productivity Style. Read through them all—you may well find an approach described under a style that is not your own that you nonetheless find intriguing and useful. You may pick up an idea or two that will work for you!
If You’re a Prioritizer
Block your time in small, precise increments, an approach that appeals to your analytical thinking style. For example, schedule twenty minutes at 10:00 a.m. to check and respond to email, ten minutes to prep for your 10:30 a.m. marketing meeting, and fifteen minutes of drive time to your lunch meeting.
If You’re a Planner
Consider blocking your time in relatively large increments – an hour at a time, or by segment: morning, mid-morning, lunch, early afternoon, afternoon, and close of business. This will allow you to construct your calendar more like an organized project plan, which appeals to you, rather than creating a more tactical, linear calendar listing tasks in the style favored by the Prioritizer.
If You’re an Arranger OR a Visualizer
Review your goals, then aim your time spend to your goals by creating theme days–days organized around a theme, category, or type of work. For example, some typical themes are administration, team development, writing, external prospecting, creation, rejuvenation, and play. To determine your theme days, review your goals, your to-do list, and the core accountabilities of your work and life. Notice the different types of tasks and projects that you do, and your themes will naturally emerge. Once you have identified your themes, select a theme or themes for each day of the week. Indicate the theme for that day on your calendar, and complete tasks and projects aligned to that theme on that day. Theme days will give you the freedom and flexibility that you need and crave while ensuring that you are hitting your targets.
Arrangers and Visualizers differ slightly in how they use theme days. Arrangers should consider theme segments rather than theme days. For example, Thursday morning’s theme might be administration and Thursday afternoon’s theme might be team development. Theme segments will provide more variety, aid in reducing boredom during the day, and provide a little more structure to the workday. Visualizers generally prefer theme days or even theme weeks, which provide the room to innovate and create without imposing rigid time frames.
Rachel has a primary preference as a Visualizer, so she re-imagined her time spend using theme days. Because she works for a Fortune 500 company, she does not have the same level of control and freedom that someone who is self-employed or runs her own small company might have. This meant that her designated theme days would not be pristine; a given day would inevitably include some work that was really aligned to another day’s theme. Nonetheless, Rachel embraced the theme day concept in order to get the variety she needed to keep her work life engaging and interesting.
Rachel’s calendar today is constructed around five themes – client relationship building, analysis and review, risk management, administration, and team – each theme directly aligned to one or more of her goals. Each week, the specific day assigned to a theme may shift; for example, one week, administration may fall on Monday, while in the following week it falls on Friday. However, Rachel ensures that each theme is captured on her calendar each week and that to the best of her ability the meetings, calls, and projects for each day are properly aligned to its theme.
Rachel has found that thinking and working this way improves her efficiency, but more important it fuels her creative, innovative thinking by allowing her to focus on one broad topic while freely roaming around in that topic. This has helped her develop an innovative approach to audit reviews and the redesign of one of her company’s signature risk management programs.
Like Rachel, another client, Dave, has a primary Productivity Style as Visualizer. But unlike Rachel, he owns his own business and has complete control of his calendar. Before we began working together, Dave, like Rachel, was giving away his time. He was always available to meet with a friend of a friend’s first cousin who was interested in his career of event planning; he attended every networking event in his city, and was always available to his team to troubleshoot and problem-solve. He was exhausted, no longer thinking strategically about growing his business, and becoming disconnected from his team.
After drafting his R.E.A.D.Y. goals and reviewing his to-dos, Dave identified five themes – administration, team, networking and marketing, strategy, and Dave day. Here’s how he implemented these themes across his calendar.
Monday’s theme is team. On Mondays, Dave meets with each member of his team individually and then is available throughout the day as needed to work on projects, brainstorm, or problem-solve. Dave’s team knows that he will be in the office on Mondays and as a result is always on hand to help complete projects—a big difference from the “old days,” when his absences often hindered the team’s progress.
Tuesdays and Thursdays are networking and marketing theme days. On these days, Dave may not even come into the office. He has breakfast, lunch, and drinks with clients, prospects, and vendors, and attends networking events.
On Wednesdays, Dave’s themes are administration and strategy.
Dave dreads the administrative aspects of his role, so he completes administrative tasks in the morning and then as a gift and reward for completing what he calls the “drudgery work,” works on strategy in the afternoon. Dave is a night owl and starts to get his second wind later in the day, so thinking strategically and dreaming big in the late afternoon aligns to his body’s natural rhythm.
Friday is Dave day. This is his day to use in any way that excites him and moves the business forward. On some Fridays he writes, on others he reads trade publications and brainstorms. As you can imagine, Dave day is his favorite day of the week.
Rachel and Dave have the same primary preference for Visualizer; however, the realities of their work environment require that they implement their theme days differently.
What if you have a primary preference for two Productivity Styles? Combine strategies and customize. My primary preference is that of a Planner with a very close secondary preference of Arranger. So I have combined both time blocking and theme days to restructure my calendar and make and keep family commitments, thereby enabling me to find the rhythm that feeds my head, heart, and soul. I frequently travel for work and have committed to myself that I will not be away from home more than three consecutive nights. This is blocked on my calendar, so I am visually reminded of this commitment whenever I accept engagements and plan travel.
I have also blocked 5:00 p.m. on my calendar as the end of every workday. Now, does every day end precisely at 5:00 p.m.? (Not really.) Do I sometimes work at night and in the early dawn hours? (Yes, I do.) However, as a general rule, I strongly believe in a hard stop to the workday because of the positive impact this practice has both on your productivity and sanity. If late-night hours and pre-dawn work sessions are becoming the norm for you, it’s highly likely that your effectiveness is suffering—along with your health and your personal life.
Another practice I recommend: including buffer time throughout your calendar rather than scheduling every minute of every day for meetings or other activities. Buffer time is unscheduled time that can be used to address unforeseen projects, tasks, or emergencies. It can also be used for thinking or reflection. A calendar without buffer time is an invitation for emergencies to take over your day and thoroughly disrupt your plans.
My Mondays and Fridays are reserved for administrative work. Early mornings when it is quiet and serene are blocked for writing, developing content, and designing programs. I am a morning person and love this time of day, when my mind is fresh, clear, and at its most creative.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are focused on clients and prospecting. Within each of these days, I block time on my calendar to complete work that is aligned to that day’s theme.
Does my calendar system work perfectly? Of course not—people are too variable and life is too complicated for any system to work perfectly under all circumstances. However, my system does keep me anchored and focused, and I continually make small tweaks and adjustments that help me continue to improve my time investment.
Re-imagine your time spend so that your calendar accurately reflects your goals and priorities. Leverage your Productivity Style to determine how best to Aim and align your time spend to your goals. Make your calendar work for you, not against you. Remember, you cannot ever get time back, so make sure that you are investing your time for the highest return for you.