Recently a very smart client wanted to discuss how to nail down a schedule that would capture her long list of to-dos and goals. At first glance this might look like an easy task: write everything down, attach the time that each will take, and plot it out! Well, sure it’s easy if we were all as automatic as our google calendars, but we are all emotionally messy humans. This is where coaching comes into play.
My client eagerly began reciting all that she wanted to fit into her schedule, perhaps expecting that I would follow with suggestions about how she might best manage her time. Instead, I remained thoughtfully silent for a while, and then asked:
- Why do you want to set this schedule now?
- What’s changed? What will it do for you?
- What will it fix?
Only by backing away from the details could we begin to understand the emotional needs she had hoped this new level of organization would satisfy. We could then look critically at what was and was not realistic, what would truly serve her, and what would only prove frustrating. Only by separating the emotional from the practical could we work toward creating a sensible structure.
There is a lovely demonstration video by Stephen Covey about how to set priorities, which I urge you to watch. He points out that life involves truly important tasks (big rocks) that compete for our attention with minor but time-consuming ones (pebbles). In the limited volume ‘space’ we work in (think of a jar), the accumulation of little pebbles can leave too little room for what’s most important. So he urges us to “put the big rocks in the jar first.” This is of practical as well as theoretical importance, and counts when we are plotting out our daily or weekly calendar.
It is sometimes hard, however, to prioritize those big rocks, because they are often full of challenges. Start a creative writing piece or check some email? Get your head into a financial spreadsheet or shop for a better computer monitor? Set up a meeting with an abstract agenda of collaboration or have a difficult conversation with the one challenging person in the group? Our emotions often create resistance to doing what’s most important because the task contains anxiety, to which we are all naturally allergic. And so we stick with pebbles, which are much easier to lift.
Without that deeper understanding, my client would have constructed a schedule but not a plan. Now she is empowered with the knowledge of what her rocks are, and where they belong. Besides clarifying her values, she also knows who can support her when she’s doing ‘heavy lifting’ and what is most likely to distract her.
Some helpful questions to ask yourself when you plan out your day/week/month/quarter/year:
- What is the most important thing I can tackle that would have the greatest impact?
- Where have I gotten derailed in the past?
- How can I minimize the distractions?
- Who can support me or hold me accountable?
- How can I ‘self-check’?
Work on observing yourself. Be mindful of your progress. And keep working at it; it’s not a one-time task.