About the Author
Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, is an internationally recognized productivity expert and bestselling author of Leave the Office Earlier. As president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., she gives over 100 seminars and keynote speeches a year on managing time, reducing stress, and getting organized.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Mastering the First Pillar--
Without a plan, life just sort of happens to you. But with a plan, you'll make sure your daily activities support what you want to create next week, next month, next year . . . until, at the end of your days, your activities will have contributed to creating and living a successful life. You don't want to accidentally create your life. Your plans should be purposeful, so your life moves in the direction you desire, based on your ideal vision for yourself.
My father is a veteran, a retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force. I'm proud of my Daddykins (my pet name for him) for all the years of service he gave to our country. Thanks to Dad's success, I'm a veteran, too. Only my war wasn't the Gulf War, Afghanistan, or Iraq--it was the turf war that comes from moving a lot as a kid.
Today, when people ask me about my childhood "home," I think about the pink bedroom in Colorado, the yellow kitchen in Ohio, the whitewashed porch in Texas. I've moved nearly thirty times in all and hated every single one of them. The fact is, moving is a traumatic experience--considered the third-highest stressor behind death and divorce.
So I survived by taking control of what I could. I became a master at packing and organizing. Before the movers had finished unloading the van, I had my room up and running. And I'd already moved my Barbie and Ken into their house. Every stuffed bear, bunny, and unicorn was neatly arranged in precise formation on my bed--exactly as they'd been in the house before--at attention for the Colonel's inspection. My friends used to laugh at my perfectly clean bedroom, my compulsive list making, and my overwhelming urge to organize.
But these experiences helped me with my life plan. The upheaval of my childhood taught me how to create order out of chaos, which laid the foundation for my work today. My background helped me build the systems I use today as The Productivity Pro®, teaching professionals how to spend their time moving closer to their goals in work and life.
You must also have a clear plan for your life's goals and dreams. When you clearly define your priorities and work productively toward them, you'll be able to accomplish your goals sooner. Planning reduces crisis and lowers your stress; buys you a night of rest, without you lying awake, thinking about tomorrow; gives you time to assess whether your schedule for tomorrow is realistic; and allows you to start each day feeling confident and ready. You have your marching orders. All you have to do is--march!
PLANS quiz item 1
1. Have a personal mission statement for my life.
Who Am I? Where Am I?
Unless you're independently wealthy, you must work in some capacity. Some people don't get paid for their work in dollars but still contribute significant value to their families or communities. Some people work because of a calling to be a missionary or social worker and may not receive a lot of money for that work. Other people are paid very highly for their work outside of the home. But your work is just a part of your life. You need money to provide food, clothing, and security so you can do important things with your life. You work to live; you don't live to work. You are so much more than what you do for a living! Be careful not to get caught up in what you do, lest you define yourself by your job. To remind yourself of this truth, first create a personal mission statement that will help you evaluate how to spend your time.
A personal mission statement is an essential written document that helps you make decisions about the way you spend your time and evaluate your choices. It guides you in the right direction when you're faced with many choices. Defining your values helps you describe where you want your life to go based on your ideal vision for yourself and your definitions of success.
To write your mission statement, sit down in front of a computer or grab a journal and pen, and write down the most important values in your life: for example, health, happiness, justice, spirituality, family, truth, love, happiness, and so on. Then write a paragraph about each one to define what that value means and how you would determine if you successfully lived according to that value. Ask, "At the end of my time on this earth, how will I know if I've succeeded in life, not by anyone else's standards, but by my own desires and expectations?"
Here's my personal mission statement as an example:
First, the most important thing to me is my relationship with Christ. My success is first measured by how I serve the Lord with my time, talents, and treasure. I make decisions based on what Jesus would want me to do, not what I feel like doing. Second, I am a faithful, encouraging, supportive wife. I will be a loving, caring, and nurturing mother, sometimes even sacrificing my own needs to ensure my children's are met. I work to live, not live to work. Lastly, I take care of myself physically, so I will have the energy and ability to work for the Lord and my family.
This is who I am. It's what I'm all about. My mission statement governs my life and my decisions around time. I keep copies of my mission statement where I'm sure to see them frequently. It constantly reminds me of what I want to create and helps me make difficult choices when life presents them.
For example, if I state that I will take care of myself physically, my actions aren't supporting my mission if I watch five straight hours of television while devouring an entire pizza by myself . . . even if it's a giant Chicago-style pepperoni pie and I'm watching the Star Wars series twice through. Although they're two fine activities, doing them doesn't support my mission. But perhaps your mission statement includes time to play and relax; for you, these activities might be okay occasionally.
If you choose work that doesn't fit with your values, for example, you doom yourself to approximately forty years of daily activities pursuing false values that actually compete with your happiness. To live a balanced life and experience inner harmony, your values must be the foundation for everything you do and everywhere you spend your time.
Now is the time. Get out a blank piece of paper or get on a computer and write a paragraph about each of your top three values.
PLANS quiz item 2
2. Maintain a list of my life's goals and dreams, and make plans for their accomplishment.
Is "Lose Weight" a Good Goal?
Based on the mission statement you just wrote, ask, "What would have to change about the way I'm spending my time right now in order to obtain the vision I described for myself?" Your answers describe the gap that would need to close to take you from where you are now to where you want to be.
In December 1992, when I was twenty-three years old, I remember sitting down one evening and making a list of all my dreams. I brainstormed everything I wanted to do before I died. I listed forty-three lofty goals I wanted to achieve in the next twenty-five years. It included things such as, "Have speaking engagements in twenty-five states," "Ride in a helicopter," "Learn to water ski," "Visit Laura Ingalls Wilder's home in Missouri," "Travel to the Bahamas," and "Be a successful published author." As of 2005, I've completed thirty-three of them.
Other dreams, such as "Be married twenty-five years," "See a kangaroo in Australia," and "Publish an article in the Wall Street Journal," are yet to be realized. But goals are simply dreams with a deadline. I know I will accomplish them; the only question is when. Your goals are specific guideposts that keep you moving forward toward your ideal life. In the end, your goals will help you make sure your life has been worthwhile.
One thing I know for sure: You won't accomplish your goals and dreams if you don't plan for them. I suggest that you take each dream and phrase it in the form of an objective statement, using the following format:
I will (verb) (measurement) by (date) because (motivation). I will evaluate my progress by (date). I will reward myself through ( ).
For example, a poor objective would be "Get a new job." A better objective is "I will get a more challenging and satisfying job as an engineer in a different industry and realize an increase of $7,500 per year by June 2007. I will buy myself that new truck when I land this job!"
Create three goals that describe the changes that would have to take place to get you from where you are now to where you want to be.
PLANS quiz item 3
3. Try to gain flexibility at work.
Which Half of the Job Do You Want?
An important component of planning is determining how the business of life and the game of work are going to fit together. Strive to create a lifestyle that is flexible, in which your personal life works with your job and your job works with your life. Wherever you work, whatever you do, find a way to make your job fit into the rest of your life.
As better technology explodes on the scene and people can work from anywhere, the blurring of your work life and home life is inevitable. Dual career couples, each feeling equally passionate about their jobs and families, want to participate more fully in each, regardless of gender. In more and more situations, sacrificing one for the other is no longer required. Managers have become increasingly aware of the need for flexibility, recognizing that a worker who leaves in the middle of the afternoon to visit an ailing parent will log into the intranet on the home computer later that night anyway.
Flexibility could come through telecommuting, an off-site work arrangement that permits employees to work in their homes for all or part of the workweek. Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a Chicago-based international outplacement firm, conducted a survey with two hundred HR professionals in different industries throughout the country. The survey noted that 43 percent of those polled believe workers will become increasingly mobile with far more telecommuting.
However, flexibility doesn't only mean telecommuting, which may not be as desirable to some people as other solutions. Indeed, the definition of "flexibility" is morphing. It might mean seasonal hours, such as different hours during the school year and summer. It might be rotating jobs part time so one or the other spouse is always home when a child arrives home from school. It might mean "desk share," allowing workers to share a job in the office and take turns working remotely, or "compressed workweek," in which you do a full-time job in fewer than five days and have a long weekend. Sometimes workers come in early and leave to beat horrendous traffic patterns. In summary, managers in a truly flexible workplace don't care when or where the work gets done as long as it gets done with great results. It hinges on giving workers more authority and responsibility.
How can you add flexibility to your life? Check with your human resources department to find out what alternative schedules are available. If your child gets out of school at four o'clock and no after-school program is available, ask about arriving at work extra early on some days and leaving early to pick up your kids and your neighbor's kids on other days. Perhaps your neighbor can work the opposite schedule. Or possibly you could do your job from home, which would allow you to take short breaks for drop-off and pick-up runs.
If you want flexible work hours but believe that your boss wouldn't dream of it, get brave! The trend to add flexibility is gathering steam. Even if an official policy isn't on your company's books, you may be able to create your own program. People often avoid pursuing a telecommuting arrangement for fear of their bosses' reactions. Usually, however, the concern of most supervisors comes down to this: "How can I manage an employee I can't see? How do I know if that employee is working or not?" This trend demands that managers learn to focus on results and achievements instead of attendance. An employee who is "present and accounted for" is not necessarily productive.
Is Your Job Right for Telecommuting?
Even if you think you have a "telecommuting personality," your job has to fit the situation. If you want to approach your employer to discuss a telecommuting arrangement, use this list to spur some introspection before proceeding. HR professionals actually use this list as a conversation document to assess the viability of this arrangement with interested employees. It notes the following characteristics of good "work at home" jobs:
* Jobs that require frequent use of the telephone
* Jobs that don't rely on person-to-person contact
* Jobs in which most of the work is done on computers
* Jobs that deal with a series of projects that have definite beginnings and endings
* Jobs that can be done in small, possibly confined areas
* Jobs that don't rely on constant feedback from coworkers
* Jobs requiring tasks that can be done by one employee or combined with the work of other employees at a later date
Once you make sure you're suited to working from home and have a job that supports it, be proactive in securing the necessary approvals to make it happen.
Whatever solution you choose, you must be proactive in gaining flexibility at work; it's rare that others will do it for you. Plan to actively pursue work that fits your life, rather than trying to squeegee your life into your job.
PLANS quiz item 4
4. Keep effective to-do lists so things don't slip through the cracks.
I Know There Was Something I Was Supposed to Do Today!
One important planning consideration is what you're going to accomplish each day. In his role as the dean of creativity for the Walt Disney Companies, Mike Vance had a strategy he called Do-Doing-Done. The idea is to start a task in the Do column, move it to Doing quickly, and then move it to Done as quickly as possible. That's a fine idea, but it doesn't really matter how you format your list. What does matter is that you have a list. In fact, you need several lists. Without them, your brain forgets many of the things you have to do as well as the cool ideas you come up with. Having lists will enable you to plan your day most effectively and will relieve that nagging sense of "what did I need to get done . . ." Chapter 6, Paper, also contains information on tools for planning.