Alerts on my phone, my desktop, in my car. They don't quit. My digital calendar used to be the place I looked for guidance. At the beginning of the day I would zoom into which conversations were happening, what those people likely needed, how I could provide value. But as our highly-collaborative team grew, my calendar would literally change before my eyes as needs pushed and pulled across the organization. Meetings moved like dominos, snaking mazes of dependencies and deadlines shifting endlessly. I had to decide how to respond, so I quit.
Since clarity and focus were no longer available in my digital tools, at least not without a time-intensive overhaul, I took out my planner, pen and paper. I made three columns and named my job's actual priorities—the things that got me out of bed and excited to come in to work every day. Then I took a stand on what needed to get done this month, then this week and less than 10 minutes later I was crystal clear on how to spend my day.
I knew which meetings to graciously opt out of and which emails (if any) needed responses before Noon. I was back into calm control of my creative energy for the day and I was sure I was in the right place at the right time. There were times I was wrong—but a really human thing happened—people pointed it out to me and we worked it out together.
Slowly the culture component of my work day (even within a highly-connected, highly-collaborative team) turned toward the outputs of the work—not the process of getting it done. The results of this change in my self-management were noticed by other leaders in the organization and I was increasingly trusted as an internal expert on getting shit done. I gently counseled colleagues and execs alike in ways they could keep focus—naturally feeding their own creative energy the only way I know how—by doing great work.
What emerged from this effort was a planner framework that focused my work in ways that propelled not only my career but the careers of those around me as well. The principals are simple:
- Name priorities by quarter. In most organizations 90-days is about what it'll take to achieve something big enough for others to notice. Once you're clear about your big targets you'll more naturally navigate down to monthly and weekly details as you bring others on board.
- Manage momentum weekly. Knowing how ideas and effort will build or fatigue across five days should inform your pace. Letting big ideas, requests or deliveries simmer over a weekend can create support where you may have found resistance if you rushed for a Friday afternoon decision.
- Say what must happen tomorrow, today. Write down two things max at the end of each day. This is not a to-do list that expands forever, this is a do-or-die list. If you miss these two things, you're off track. Don't be scared of it, just deal with it.
And sure, I still accept digital invites but my course correction morphed my professional reputation from “highly-engaged” (participates in meetings, jumps right in, spreads self too thin) to “highly-accomplished” (work speaks for itself, strategic, grows colleagues) in just a few months.Those who know me well won't be surprised that I turned this framework into a minimalist designed notebook that I'm obsessive about, the OCO 2019 Planner. I want to know what happens when you put these three concepts into action yourself.