Over the last month, and in particular the past two weeks, we have been in the midst of fall planning. I tend to love this time of year, despite the fact it makes us really busy, because it causes us to step back from our day to day and assess how things are going and where we should go from here. These reflection and assessment times are key elements to helping us propel our organization and our business to the next level.
After a tiring and inspiring two weeks, where I stepped away from my daily whirlwind for a full five days, whether it be for our executive retreat or my team’s leadership planning summit, I wonder out-loud (if that is what writing a blog is?) why I don’t do this more often? There is something ceremonious about the fall planning retreat, but truthfully I felt like we moved the needle on our organization more in the last few weeks that I may have all year. So, why not do this more? Why do we as business leaders see stepping away from the whirlwind as a luxury, or a bi-annual event, versus thinking of stepping back as more of the norm?
To be clear, I am not talking about having more “retreats” or big, off-site events, but instead I am advocating for creating more brain space in our schedules as leaders. Time more regularly to think and reflect, to innovate and be creative. This year, I have been working to create 90 minutes of unscheduled time on my calendar every single day. This is really hard. I have more than 100 people who want regular one-to-one meetings with me, as well as being a part of business reviews and accountability sessions with my team and others in the organization. I am a part of at least two teams (mine and our executive team) whose team meetings alone take 10-12 hours a month out of my schedule, not to mention the working teams that break out of these groups to help to move key initiatives and projects forward. How, amongst all of these pulls on my time, can I create more unscheduled time in my calendar? And, since I am not used to having it, how will I prevent myself from losing it to distraction if it arrives?
With this pursuit, I have definitely improved my time dedication to assessment and reflection, but not near to where I would like it to be. Here are a few things that I have learned that may help in this journey, or at least remind me in the future, as I am sure I will have times I forget.
- Have a plan or a goal. I (and likely many business professionals) work better with a plan or a goal. Whether it be 90 minutes a day of unscheduled time, or simply a bike ride a week, this helped me focus my energy and time effectively.
- Tell people about your goal. Accountability is an amazing thing. The more you socialize what you are doing, the more I have felt accountable to not just myself for this improvement exercise.
- Don’t be down on yourself. Change is hard. I failed more days this year than I have succeeded, but if I get down on myself for this, it defeats the purpose. Being kind and forgivining to myself is hard, in fact, sometimes almost impossible. The more accepting at my own misses, the better I am at improving.
- Get creative on solutions. For me, unscheduled calendar time isn’t the only way to create time for reflection (despite the original goal). Ensuring that I have time dedicated to other activities like riding my bike, working out, outside learning time, reading, community events has helped this journey. During these times, although my mind is far from quiet, I think and reflect. In fact, my best organizational structure idea in the last two years came while on my mountain bike riding “Flying Dog” trail in Park City, Utah.
I guess it would be fitting to close this blog post with a commitment. In a life with a lot of things pulling at me – my adorable children, a desire to have quality time with Jon, my job, business travel on both sides of our family and a desire to stay healthy – it is easy to not keep up with this. My commitment today is that I will keep trying, and not be frustrated with my progress or failures.