45 Minutes on a Sunday Night Can Change Your Life

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Choosing whether or not to effectively plan ahead can be the defining factor in your productivity and success.

Easier said than done, right? I feel you.

What I've learned over the years, from personal experience and from various leaders I've worked with, is that you must have a game plan. The most productive, and successful, people I know have a plan for each and every day. They wake up early, work hard, and end each day feeling fulfilled. You could say they're proactive rather than productive, carpe diem-ing all along the way. Here are some ways you can maximize your day and carpe your own diem.

Define Your Major Objectives

First things first.. Before you even begin to plan ahead, you need to define what you are planning for. Visions, missions, long-term goals –- it's necessary to be clear on all of them. If you don't, you're just working to work. And that sucks!

It may be hard to take the time to do this in your current work situation, so take the time in the evening or on the weekend if you have to. It's worth it in the long run because you'll have a better understanding as to why you're doing what you do each day and it helps you plan along the way.

Determine Your Weekly Goals

Now that you've defined your long-term goals, you can begin to decide what you'll work on that week. What project goals or milestones do you have?

If one of your long-term goals is to increase customer retention, maybe one of your weekly goals is to implement customer feedback surveys, increase proactive customer outreach, or analyze your current customer support department. The weekly goal would be to create the feedback survey, create an action plan for customer outreach, or see how your customers feel about the support they're receiving.

Determine Your Daily Goals

Once you've determined your goals for the week, you can start to lay out what you'll do each day to accomplish that goal.

Maybe the first day is to find the best place to create a feedback survey, followed by creating the questions, having your team review your feedback questions, implementation, and then communicate to your customers soliciting feedback.

Set Boundaries

Set aside time each day for "fires" and for your goals. Create times that you're unavailable to others so you can work on those goals and projects you previously defined. Then set times that you're available for teammates to connect on various issues, questions, or fires. No doubt, both areas are important but by defining times for each, you're setting boundaries while increasing communication and overall productivity.

Establish a Flexible Routine

Work is often busy and chaotic. Don't try to start all this planning first thing on a Monday morning. You need to establish a routine.

I spend Sunday evenings planning my week ahead -- looking at what was or wasn't accomplished the week before, what long-term goals I have, and what types of tasks will get me there. It'll take a bit of time at first, but once you get into a solid routine, you'll only spend 30-45 minutes setting up your week.

Things come up and it's stupid to expect perfection all the time. Be prepared for curveballs and handle them with grace. Make your weekly schedule and goals flexible so you don't create too much stress on yourself and to allow you to remain focused on what your goals are.

Don't Set The Bar Too High

While it's great to try as hard as you can, don't spread yourself too thin. That'll make you look even worse to your boss. If you say you'll be handling 10 projects this week but only get four done, perhaps it's time to adjust your expectations.

Bottom Line

It doesn't matter if you're at a large corporation or a small startup, there are always fires to put out; there's always someone who needs you. But here's the bottom line -- you need you more than they do, and so does your boss. If you spend all your time dealing with other people's problems rather than your own, you'll start slacking while they'll be in the clear. Just remember to stay focused and remain strong in your time allowances, while also staying flexible. Like I said before, your boss needs you more than anyone else. If there's an extremely urgent matter, it's alright to deviate from your schedule.

As you can see, this is a pretty straightforward process, but one that many of us (myself included) sometimes forget. Think of your planning as any traditional management model – from the top-down.

Long-term > Weekly > Daily.

I'd like to give kudos to Brett McKay at the Art of Manliness for inspiring my own planning and for turning me onto Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which covers another wonderful planning resource, the Eisenhower Decision Principle. Brett's article is extremely powerful, for both men and women.

I'll leave you with one of my all time favorite quotes, from a wonderful visionary and one-time Kansas Citian:

Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious... and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

- Walt Disney, as quoted in the ending credits of the movie Meet the Robinsons (2007)

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