Yikes! How did it get to be February already?!? I had so many plans for January. I was supposed to wrap up all of my program stats for 2014 and write my annual report. I was going to do a program evaluation and review what worked & what didn’t, what successes and challenges were encountered, and develop some recommendations for 2015. I had also intended to take some time for self-assessment and make some personal and professional goals for the coming year.
In the end, very little of that actually happened. Life intervened. Work intervened. The needs of the day took precedence over bigger picture concerns. The emergencies rose to the top of the to-do list and everything else, including all my grand plans, sunk to the bottom.
I don’t seem to be the only one. At the GRAVA roundtable on February 5, many people in the room seemed to struggle with the same thing. At my table we talked wistfully about the difficulty of making time for “big picture” work and how tough it is to prioritize “think” time. We talked about how easily things seem to get loaded onto our plates versus how hard it is to take things off. We talked about the reality of saying “no” because we really hate to say “no” and anyway, if we don’t say “yes”, who will? And if we can’t get our work done, how can we possibly make time for professional development??
The discussion could’ve stopped there, in a hopeless sort of place, with all of us shrugging our shoulders and giving up on the possibility of actually making time for important priorities. But it didn’t. We started to wonder if making time for things like strategic thinking, program evaluation, self-assessment, and professional growth was just like making time for anything else – going to the gym for instance.
According to research, people are more able to establish a regular habit of engaging in physical activity when they block it out in their calendars and ascribe the same importance to it as any other appointments. And when they make an intentional commitment to adhere to that appointment, a habit develops. And once the habit develops, it gets easier to make time for it. And sure, maybe something else won’t get done as quickly, or maybe it won’t get done at all. But ultimately, the choice comes down to me determining my own priorities or someone else determining them for me.
So try this now: look for three or four holes in your calendar between now and the next GRAVA workshop on March 5. They could last an hour or two hours or even four hours. They could be the same day and time each week or they could vary. Block them out like appointments and label them “strategic planning time” or “think time” or “staring at the clouds time” (which is what they do at Google, I’ve heard). And don’t allow anything or anyone else to get in the way. Then make a list of the things you can work on during these appointments (annual reports, program evaluations, strategic planning, personal assessments, goal-making) and the things you can’t work on (e-mail, phone calls, to-do lists, cleaning your office, Netflix). Finally make a commitment to see it through for a month.
While this may not completely solve our time crisis, it may be just liberating enough to help us break out of our reflexive habitual patterns and be more intentional about how we spend our hours and days. There’s something fundamentally empowering about spending time on things that really matter – me spending my time on things that I decide really matter to me – even if it’s only two hours a week. It’s a gift that we can give ourselves, instead of waiting passively for someone else to hand it to us on a platter. As leaders, we owe it to ourselves, our programs, our organizations, and our professions to make every minute count.
This is not exactly a “big hairy audacious” goal. But it’s a step that I need to take right now to get to that “big hairy audacious” goal. In the meantime, I look forward to “staring at the clouds.” I have a feeling one is going to float by very soon with my name on it….and I don’t want to be staring at my to-do list when that happens!
At Your Service,