Thursday, December 29, 2011

How to Keep Your Resolutions for 2012

About five years ago I found myself in a situation where I organized my day-to-day professional activities with a clipboard-based form, coordinated meetings via Microsoft Outlook’s calendar function, kept personal appointments in a weekly paper calendar, and used a variety of scattered papers as task lists.

As long as I was at my desk, I could quickly identify my availability to meet with others or ensure that when I needed to attend to personal business there were no conflicts.  However, when I was out of the office, I had no way of knowing what was scheduled or even which activities were priorities for the next day or week.

Having four separate systems to keep track of my life was clearly not working!  When I had the opportunity to attend FranklinCovey’s Focus class I seized it.

In the Focus class, which I now teach occasionally, I learned about a strategy of planning that has worked successfully for me since then.  The content of the class is derived largely from First Things First, which is expanded from Habit 3 of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:  Put First Things First.

The first part of the course reviews four quadrants of priority based on urgency and importance.  This is referred to as the “Time Matrix.”

Quadrant I contains activities that must be done because they are urgent and important (a flat tire must be repaired).

Quadrant III is where you will find activities that are not important but urgent.  These may be phone calls (a ringing phone must be answered) or other interruptions.

Quadrant IV is an area of activities that should be avoided because these are not important and not urgent.  Have you ever played Farmville until 1AM?  This would fit in Quadrant IV.  It is fine to play Farmville or any other diversion, provided that you are not neglecting real chores in order to complete virtual chores.

Quadrant II consists of activities that are important but not urgent.  Spending time on prevention, wellness, planning, and true recreation, which renews body, mind, and spirit, fits here.  Quality time with your family and personal time to exercise or pursue a hobby are important to maintain balance in your life.

The second part of the course provides the practical structure to implement the concepts of the Time Matrix.  Based on the idea that you should only engage in activities that help you achieve your long-term plans.  The four elements of the planning process are presented in the form of a pyramid, with each element building on the foundational elements below it.

Identify Values.  The base of the pyramid is “Identify Values.”  What are the values that are important to you?  They may be different that mine, your co-workers, or even family.  Using Benjamin Franklin, as a model, it is suggested that you identify 8-10 values and define what each means for you.

Identify Goals.  Once life-long values have been identified, goals can be determined.  You will continue to set, modify, and evaluate goals continually.

Plan Weekly.  The next step of the pyramid is “Plan Weekly.”  By taking a few minutes at the beginning of each week to layout your integrated schedule of personal and professional commitments, identify the roles that you will have during the week (e.g., parent, teacher, child, supervisor, etc.), and prioritize tasks, you will be more effective.  Planning weekly is probably the most important step in terms of the execution of the Focus/First Things First productivity model.

Plan Daily.  At the top of the pyramid is “Plan Daily.”  At the start of your day, take a few minutes to review your schedule and tasks for the day.

I have found these strategies to be very effective.  Whether you use a paper-based planning system or are fully electronic (something that is now a valid option with smartphones), developing a system is vital to becoming more effective.

If you first identify life-long values, base your goals around those values, and plan your weeks and days accordingly, you will find that you don’t need New Year’s resolutions to propel you forward to success.  Happy New Year!  Don't forget to subscribe to the blog.

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