“Either run the day or the day runs you.”Jim Rohn
Life comes at you fast as a leader. It can feel that our role many days is to be the company firefighter, constantly running around trying to put out fires that others started. We hit the ground running as soon as we walk into the office and by the time 5pm arrives, we’re exhausted from a nonstop today. We look at our current priority list and realize that despite not even sitting down for lunch, we accomplished absolutely nothing that was on our priority list.
I felt like a spinning top for the first part of my career. I was constantly busy, working on this project or that project, but I wasn’t achieving the bigger projects I needed to in order to advance my business. During a business mastermind some years later, I realized I wasn’t alone either.
One of the biggest traps leaders face is the busy trap. We’re constantly busy working on projects, helping our team, and going going going, but we rarely are calling a timeout to make sure that what we’re busy with is helping make the company or team better.
We must exercise better control of our day in order to effectively compete for the goals we want to reach. Besides, who wants to always be busy spinning your tires in place when you could be racing that nice car around the track?
Here are a few things I’ve used to take control of my day to better champion the work that needs to be accomplished:
1. Bookend My Days
My friend Marcus taught me about the importance of bookending your day. Marcus spends the first 30-60 minutes and the last 30-60 minutes of every workday making sales calls. It’s no wonder that he’s one of the highest producers in every company he’s been part of. When I started my first book, I made sure to start every morning writing 500+ words. The habit helped strengthen my “writing muscle,” and made sure that I got my most important work for the day finished before I dove into my to-do list.
These days, I start my mornings by writing a short blog post or Daily Competitor email before starting the day. As my day starts to end, I budget the last half-hour for prospect research that I can use the following day for outreach. My day starts with writing to build the relationship with my audience and ends with work to find more audience members.
How can you bookend your days? What is the 1-2 most important action steps you can do in your work to set you up for success? Client outreach? Sales calls? Identify it and use it to bookend the rest of your day.
2. Set Meetings with Myself
My calendar app in my iPhone is like gold for me. If an activity is not in my calendar, it’s likely not going to happen. I schedule meetings, podcast interviews, and sales calls…. and I also schedule time to workout, read, and create. Early in my career I’d create content “when I had time,” which as you know, is never the case. We never “have” extra time just lying around – we must make the time for the activities we need to complete.
Each Sunday, I schedule time in my upcoming week to create content, to make sales calls, and to learn. I treat the calendar appointment just like I would an interview with a guest for the podcast – I don’t forget it, change it or break it. Seeing the block on my calendar also helps me align the rest of my day around the key activities that drive business growth.
3. Create Necessary Space to “Watch Tape”
I would spend Saturday mornings during high school football season watching film from last night’s game with my offensive coordinator and teammates. We’d go through each play, scoring ourselves on our footwork, decision making, pass accuracy, and performance. We’d then discuss areas of improvement, walking through specific instances in the film to see how we can play better next week.
Watching tape is a crucial part of every athlete’s development. It’s also key for our professional development.
We need to create space in our calendar each month to review and think. Most of us are “too busy” to carve out time in our schedule for creative thinking & review, but how can we expect to improve how we operate without it? Block out one hour this month to:
- Review all of the “priority” items on your to-do list and ask yourself, “are these really priorities that advance us toward the goal?”
- Think through creative solutions to new growth opportunities, ways to invest in your team, or how to improve a situation at work. Use this thinking time to give yourself the space to not be inundated with emails, meetings, & work to make sure you & your team are working as efficiently as possible on the right activities
- Write down your own challenges from the past month – a) Where in your week do you seem to get “tripped up?” b) What current projects are taking longer than they should have (and why?), c) What areas of improvement can you identify and then what steps can you take this week to start the improvement process?
Unless you take time to review & learn from what was, it will be challenging to maximize what could be.
4. Track Your Priorities Every Day
My ADHD can keep my attention running from one thing to another. Combine that with our innate tendency to be “shiny object syndrome” oriented as an entrepreneur, and focusing on the small repeatable actions can get lost in the daily shuffle. I started using a few tools to help me constantly make progress on the important tasks:
- Everyday App – simple iPhone app that allows me to input the daily habits I want to develop or keep (ex: working out, writing 250 words, reading 15 minutes, one social media post, etc) and score myself by seeing it visually.
- Todoist – I use this iOS app for categorizing activities, setting deadlines, and being able to review my day’s priorities before my day begins. I also review this app every week to make sure the work I have this upcoming week aligns with my true priorities.
- GPS – I’m a big fan of The ONE Thing’s GPS tool for aligning my annual goals with monthly/weekly/daily tasks. I create the GPS, and then take it a step further in Google Docs by creating additional steps for each strategy that I break down into monthly targets. 1 goal –> 3 priorities to reach it –> 5 strategies per –> 5 action steps to achieve the strategy.
I spend Friday afternoon or Sunday evening planning the week ahead and using each of these tools to ensure what I’m working on isn’t just keeping me busy, but making my business better. Our time is too valuable to waste it with busy work.
5. Call Up Some Accountability
Teammates can help make your dream work. One of the last pieces to ensuring that you’re controlling your day is by calling in outside help. This can be a mastermind, coworker, or friend – but utilizing accountability helps make sure you see through what you need to accomplish.
It’s like going to the gym at 6am. It’s hard to drag your butt out of bed some mornings, especially if you’re headed to workout by yourself. But what if you’re meeting someone there at 6am? You’ll be there on time because they are expecting you and you don’t want to let them down – someone willing to get out of bed before the sun for you. Treat your work the same way.
Here are a few ways I’ve embraced accountability relationships over the years:
- Set up a Slack channel with 3-4 friends working on projects. Every Monday we check-in with the 3 tasks to achieve that week. Every Friday we share what we achieved or didn’t. No excuses, only solutions for how to avoid any missteps the following week.
- Set up a 1-2x per month coffee. My friend James & I did this for all of 2019. Each session we’d discuss what we were working on, what challenges we currently had, and then made commitments to achieve 3-5 things before we met for coffee the following time. The conversations and accountability kept my work consistent toward the right targets.
- Hire a business coach. This is honestly one of the biggest things I do as a coach for my clients – hold them accountable to do the work they know they need to do. We discuss strategy, habit building, and attacking our work effectively, but at the end of the day, most of the work is in accountability. If you’ve never worked with a coach or mastermind group, I’d highly recommend it. Just like hiring a personal trainer versus having an open gym membership – when you’ve got more invested in something, you’re more likely to do the necessary work to fully utilize it.
We’re all busy.
Every single one of us have a busy schedule – but we must train ourselves to control that schedule intentionally in order for us to be our most effective in our endeavors. We don’t have spare time to waste. Using the above steps helped me control what was a “busy but ineffective” schedule early in my career to now create large amounts of content, speak all over the country to organizations, and still oversee our merchandise company.
So can you.