The foundation of my leadership mental model is the Leader themself. Why? Well from my perspective, if the leader is not strong and solid, then the remaining two dimensions of Vision and People will be weak.
As a bare minimum, for a leader to be effective they must:
Be well organized
Lead by example
Over the next few posts, we’ll discuss each of these aspects in some detail.
Lets start with “Be well organized” ,what that means and what it takes for a leader to be well organized.
The demands on a leader can be overwhelming. If a leader is not well organized both professionally and personally, they cannot be effective. Problems will start to occur as something will become neglected or overlooked. Once that happens, things can spiral out of control very quickly.
A leader needs a personal planning routine. I strongly believe that each leader needs to determine what works best for them and that one size does not fit all. However, each personal planning routine should have some common key points. These are as follows:
1. Have a regular routine in which you do your weekly planning.
For me it is every Sunday afternoon typically around 4 or 5pm. It usually takes me between 20-30 min each time. Consistency is important to develop the habit of planning. On the occasion, when I miss my weekly planning time at my usual time, it feels very uncomfortable!
2. Review and plan both your professional and personal items and set all priorities for the week.
We are only one person, so why plan your professional items separate from your personal? They overlap and at times create conflicts, so it is critical that they are planned simultaneously and in conjunction. It also helps to set reasonable actions for the week. For example, if you know you have an important presentation to prepare at work that will require extra time to complete, you may scale back some of the personal items for that week thereby setting the priorities appropriately for what is most important at that time. This also reduces your stress levels as you have planned for this in your week.
3. Keep everything in one place!
Keep all your “to-do’s”, actions, follow-ups, errands, important milestones, etc in one place. Don’t have a list at home, one at work, another in your phone, and yet another in OneNote on your computer. This becomes confusing and unmanageable. By all means, use technology to your advantage to remind you of important items such as sending yourself an email or reminder to add a new item to your to-do list.
Use a system that works best for you. Experiment to determine what that is or change and revise as you go. My system has been built over many years of trial and error. You may want to do everything electronically or the old fashioned way with file folders. Whatever works for you.
I use an Excel spreadsheet with multiple tabs for different topics that covers off professional and personal aspects of my life. Professional files include projects, leader standardized work, follow-up and to-dos of various priority among others. My personal files include but aren’t limited to my family, friends, relationship with my wife, hobbies, errands and household repairs.
4. Determine your weekly priorities.
As you go through your various files, determine what the priorities are for the week. What things must you accomplish or follow-up on? What things would you like to get done. Plan those personal items that are important to you that you want to ensure you achieve or don’t forget. It’s ok to be aggressive and identify more items than you think you can achieve so that if the opportunity presents itself, you can get them done as well. Often having a planned list, you can move through it faster than if you don’t have one at all as it acts as a motivator as well as focuses you on those things most important.
5. Break projects or items down to the individual tasks.
I know this sounds crazy, but as you add an item and/or do your planning breakdown larger items to the task level and plan those. Procrastination often comes from not knowing where to start. So rather than focusing on the big task that is going to take many weeks to complete, just start for the next week and take it from there.
I’ll use a simple personal item of painting the front door to demonstrate what I mean. Let’s say you want to paint the front door. Maybe you don’t actually have time to paint it this week due to other priorities. However, even if you got the chance you couldn’t because you don’t have paint or brushes. By reviewing your complete list during your personal planning session, you identified that painting the front door is on your household to do list. During the week you are going to Home Depot anyway for some other reason and can easily pick-up paint and brushes while you are there. If you only had “paint the front door” on your list and not also “pick-up front door paint/brushes” on your “Errands” list you likely would have forgotten about it and had to make another trip to the store another week.
6. Consolidate your weekly priorities on one sheet.
Once you have identified your top priorities for the week, consolidate them on one personal planner sheet. Remember, these would include both professional and personal items.
My personal planning sheet has evolved a lot over the years and contains a great deal of information that is important to me and helps me stay focused and organized. Not all items are the same priority so I have a system of identifying the top priorities from the lower or maintenance type items. I record all the prioritized items for the next week and print off my weekly personal planner. As I complete items, I simply check them off. As new items come up throughout the week I hand write them down on my sheet. If they are completed by the end of the week, I don’t do anything more with them. If they are not completed by the end of the week, I then add them to my planning files. I also write down new items throughout the week that are not a priority for that week, but that I want to add them to my files during my next personal planning session.
These are some of the things I swear by when it comes to personal planning and being organized. These have helped me stay on top of things at work and in my personal life. It’s not to say things don’t slip through the cracks, but when they do, I know they did and I can quickly course correct or make better informed decisions on priorities and changing priorities.
Try it! Experiment and try different things, but don’t give up! It has taken me many years to get to the level of personal planning I now embrace. It didn’t happen overnight.
In my next post, we’ll focus on managing your schedule and how that helps you be a more effective leader.
For the last post in this series, see What is Leadership?