Consistent self-reviews should be a part of any time management plan, since they’re easy to perform and help you maintain course with minimal effort. Yet many leaders avoid them because (ironically) they “can’t afford the time.” On the contrary, you can’t afford not to review your progress on a regular basis. If you don’t look up and adjust your heading once in a while, you’re going to end up way off course…if you ever do anything more than just spin your wheels.
Some people avoid reviews, because they think it looks like they’re goofing off. But let’s get real here: just because you’ve settled down to review your progress doesn’t mean you’re doing nothing. If you want to be a strategic enabler of business, you have to find the time to be strategic! As the old story goes, a woodsman who sits under a tree sharpening his ax is doing more than resting; every swipe of the whetstone makes his task just a bit easier. Ultimately, he saves time and effort, although he might not seem like he’s working very hard at first glance.
The time you invest sharpening your “productivity ax” represents a proactive approach to accomplishing your objectives, because it allows you to hack through the task forest with fewer blows. Everything you do to maximize your productivity leaves you a few more minutes to spend on other tasks or on the rest of your life. Otherwise, you waste time being reactive, tackling tasks as they occur, whether or not they get you closer to your goals.
When you have no clear plan for your day, you rarely accomplish anything significant, no matter how many brushfires you contain. Just staying busy has no place in modern business. This holds especially true for a leader, because if you just “stay busy,” you and your team will soon slip out of alignment with the rest of the organization—which as a result may grind painfully (and expensively) to a halt. Then where will you be?
Put your foot down and do your self-reviews. Get your head together so you can focus on the critical few activities that really matter to your job, lest trivial items push them entirely off your calendar—or leave you so overwhelmed with minutia you find yourself in danger of a breakdown.
Weekly and Monthly Reviews
At the end of each week and month, sit down to conduct two brief, but thorough, reviews:
1. Forward thinking. Look ahead to the tasks scheduled for the upcoming week or month (whichever applies) and decide how to approach and complete them. Do you have deadlines looming, or new projects to start on? Check your master task list and see what’s ready to activate. Who will you assign to the various aspects of larger projects? How about meetings and travel arrangements; are you still in line with earlier preparations? Have you put time on your calendar for friends, family, and personal time?
2. Reverse thinking. Look back at how you handled the previous week or month’s tasks. What did you fail to complete? Why? How can you remedy those failures? Review each task to determine the last time you checked in on the person in charge of it. Don’t micromanage, but do oversee, and let them know you remain available for consultation. Check for phone calls and emails that have gone unanswered. Did someone cancel a meeting or appointment covering a topic you still need to address? Did you? As for completed tasks, have you arranged follow-up for those that need it—even if only a thank-you card to a client? Remember: while it’s crucial to be a self-starter, the best performers are self-finishers, too.
The Yearly Planning Process
Even if you’ve faithfully conducted weekly and monthly reviews of your performance, you haven’t done enough unless you cap them off with a yearly review. Needless to say, this requires more time and research than your smaller periodic reviews, but it’s worth the effort because it helps you identify larger themes you need to work on. Whether you just want to lose some weight, power your way to a more profitable year, market more consistently, or expand your network, you’ll need a plan of action to carry it out, or you’ll soon lose motivation.
This is why New Year’s Resolutions, while high-minded and ambitious, tend to fail miserably. Do more than just verbalize your desire to make something happen; take action to make sure it does. Make your goal a priority, setting aside time for it and developing a plan of action to get you started and keep you in line.
Here’s what to do:
1. Schedule an annual review in January. Start by looking back over your accomplishments the previous year. You might find more there to cherish and learn from than you initially expected. Then examine your personal mission statement to see how faithful you’ve been to it. If you’ve disconnected, ask yourself why. Are you just off course? Or have changes in your work environment, the economy, or you made your old mission statement less valid than it was? If so, tweak it to bring it in line with your current core values.
2. Consider what you didn’t do that you intended to accomplish. Arrange to finish, delegate, or abandon any projects or tasks still distracting you. You can’t let them keep weighing you down.
3. Chose 2-3 significant things you want to change completely or accomplish by the end of this year. For example, you may decide to stop smoking, get a new job, implement a new strategy, lose 30 pounds, or start coming to work earlier. Even if the item seems purely personal, accomplishing it will most likely affect your work productivity as well. Document your goals in detail, wording them carefully but boldly. And be realistic: don’t decide to lose 100 pounds in a year or go from being a classic couch potato to running a marathon by July.
4. Break down your goals into weekly and monthly chunks. Transfer any deadlines onto your to-do lists along with pertinent mileposts. Split them further into daily efforts. Remember: your needs matter at least as much as anyone else’s, if not more! If you decide to go to the gym or take a new class three times a week, enter those dates into your calendar as mandatory appointments. Going consistently will make that behavior a habit, and you’ll eventually accomplish what you’ve set out to.
5. Post reminders all over the place to keep you on track. Bathroom mirrors make especially good places for them. If they don’t work, ask your family to remind you. There’s nothing like your ten-year-old nagging you about getting to class on time to make you open your eyes and pay attention!
Whereas weekly and monthly reviews take relatively little time, you may want to spend a whole day or more on your yearly review, or even check into a hotel as I do to get away for some thinking time. In any case, once you’ve reset your course, just take an easy step toward your goals every day. You can use weekly and monthly reviews to adjust your course as necessary. It won’t take you long to feel the positive effects of change—and once you’ve gotten that shot in the arm, your resolutions for the year will last well beyond January.