As Rebecca Fabiano and I continue to work on launching the Leadership Lab, I've been doing a lot of thinking about how I have some bad habits that get in the way of how I lead in my life and work. One of these is how I plan and organize things.
As I reflected on 2015 over the holiday break, it became clear to me that I've fallen into the trap of being too reactive about things. Most months, I was focused on just getting through all the tasks on my "To Do" list, many of which were probably not even things I needed to do. I've been caught up in doing things right, rather than in making sure that I'm really doing the right things.
There are a lot of problems with this approach--the biggest one being that I always feel frazzled and all over the place, which means I'm not really doing my best work. I also find that other people's priorities tend to dominate when I'm in this reactive mode. And I'm less reflective and focused on learning. None of these are good for me personally or professionally.
I know I'm not alone in this--it's how many of us approach our work--so I thought it might be helpful if I shared some of the thought process and approach I'm trying out as I move into January 2016.
Getting the Right Planner
Although I love using digital strategies for a lot of my work, when it comes to planning and reflecting, I still love pen and paper.
I've experimented with using composition books and sketch books for capturing ideas, notes, plans, etc. but the biggest problem I have with this strategy is that things aren't very well organized. Notes related to a particular project or idea session can be scattered throughout my books and using post-its to mark different sections quickly gets out of hand.
I decided to experiment this year with using the Staples Arc series of notebooks because I like how easily I can add, remove and re-arrange pages.
I can also add in calendar pages, task lists, pocket dividers, and zippered pockets. I invested in the hole punch as well so that I can add just about anything I want to my book, including note cards, drawings, unlined paper (which I love), customized covers and sections, etc.
My verbal explanation may not give you the best picture of why I chose this particular notebook. This video is part of what convinced me to try it out:
This year I'm trying out the plastic covers. If I like the system, I may invest in the leather bound versions next year.
Customizing the Planner
This is how I set up the planner:
- Calendar Pages--I got the Arc Calendar planner and put the January pages at the front of my book. They include a month-at-glance, two pages for Planning (I'll say more about that in a second), and then daily pages for each week.
- Sections for Each of My Major Projects--Following the calendar pages, I then set up sections for each of the major projects I have going on right now. Each section has relevant notes, timelines, resources and ideas and I'm using the colored sticky notes to mark each project in my notebook.
- Ideas/Inspiration Section--This is where I'll keep track of the random ideas/inspiration that occur all the time. Right now, I'm not exactly sure how I want to use this, but I knew I needed a sort of "catch-all" place for the stuff that comes up.
- Task Lists--I'm also using a pad of the Arc Task Lists. I'll explain more about that below.
This is most definitely a work in progress. It's possible that as I continue to use the planner, I'll see that I need new sections and that other sections aren't working as well for me. But for now, this is where I'm starting.
Setting January 2016 Goals
I used the 2-page January Planning Spread to set my goals for this month. I have been experimenting with doing more 30-day plans and overall I think the process works better in helping me maintain both a short-term focus on getting things done, but then also looking for bigger themes and experimenting with new ideas.
This is how it looks:
I started out by listing the major projects I have going on right now in the left column. I color-coded some of them with flags so I can easily find those sections in my notebook.
Then I moved into setting some loose goals for myself. Right now, I'm not doing "SMART" goals (that may come). I'm more interested in looking at where I want to put my time and energy, so that's how I approached it.
One thing I noticed in looking at my month ahead is that I'm starting work with several new clients and/or beginning new projects for some current clients. The theme of "Beginnings" really stood out for me, so one of my goals is to really focus on "how to begin well." I made some notes on how I wanted to do that and some of the things I wanted to refer to.
I'm also continuing my commitment to doing more "working out loud," so that's on the list too. (This blog post is going to help me meet that goal!)
And I set a couple of goals around beginning and ending my days well. These are habits I need to cultivate to build my organizational/planning muscles, which have gotten a little weak in the past several months. In particular, I need to find ways to keep up with learning and expanding my skills and with staying focused on doing the right things. I'm experimenting with how I can see improvements when I'm more mindful of how I start and end my days.
Working Week by Week
In setting up the calendar section of my planner, I intend to use the weekly sections to reflect on each day as part of my commitment to ending my days well. This is where I want to write about what I've learned, questions, going on, small wins, etc.
I'm planning to use the Task List inserts to identify my big "To Do's"--the major priorities for that particular week.
Daily "To Do's" will be created on individual note-cards that I can hole punch and include in my planner.
I will continue to use my beloved Google calendar to keep track of all my appointments--I see this calendar as a way for me to be more "big picture" focused and as a place to capture reflections.
So that's how I'm planning for January. What systems do you use and what plans have you set for yourself?
The Lab is for people who want to explore new ways of leading in the world and who want to develop their own personal capacity to lead in their lives, their careers and their communities.
And join us tomorrow, January 5th or on January 14th online where we'll be talking about Leadership resolutions, goals and resources for 2016. More info and the signup are here.