I just had the most productive week ever. I am a bit of a time-management geek. I’ve met and interviewed some amazing entrepreneurs, CEOs, and politicians. They all have one thing in common: They achieve more in less time than the rest of us. They each follow their own system, and I’ve tried some version of every one.
But two weeks ago I tried something new. And with the early results in, it’s the clear winner. If you want to rip out of the gates in 2012 on fire, give this method a shot. It will take just 10 minutes a day.
First, let me tell you what it’s not. This is not a visioning method. In other words, this method does not imply that by envisioning an outcome—a new job, a successful fundraising meeting, winning a sale—you will realize the outcome. My first roommate, and first officemate when I joined McKinsey, was the coach of the U.S. National Rugby Team in a prior life. He shared with me that he, and many elite athletes, envision a game in minute detail before they get on the field. But just envisioning victory is not enough. You have to get on the field. This simple process stimulates both—the vision and turf, the dream and the action.
This also is not a checklist. I tried detailed checklists for a while. I brainstormed what I had to do to achieve my outcome, wrote down all the to-dos, scheduled them into my calendar, and then knocked them off one by one: work out, read the newspaper, write my dissertation. While such rigid processes can keep you on track, they also reduce your flexibility to pounce on unexpected opportunities as they appear.
And you simply cannot predict these unexpected opportunities. It reminds me of the joke that perhaps only the economists among us will laugh at. An economics professor and student are walking through campus discussing the "efficient market hypothesis." They see a $100 bill lying on the floor. The student bends down to pick it up but the professor says, "Don’t bother. If that were a real bill it wouldn’t be there." Along our paths we will come across unexpected opportunities, things we could never have planned for.
So what we need is both: the vision and the action. Here is my discovery. I put it together after a coaching session, reading a book on goal setting, and having 15 hours on a plane to think it through. It worked for me; perhaps it will work for you.
1. Take out a sheet of paper.
2. Split it into six columns.
3. Title those columns "Initiatives," "Q1," "Q2," "Q3," "Q4," and "Dec. 31, 2012" ("Q" stands for quarter, or a three-month period).
4. Under the "Initiatives" column, list the 3 to 7 initiatives or areas you will focus on next year. I wrote "Speaking," "Consulting," "Training," "Fund," "Media," and "PhD." These are the six areas of my career.
5. Starting with the last column, "Dec. 31, 2012," fill in 1 to 3 outcomes you want to achieve for each initiative by the end of the year. Ask yourself, "What do I want to be true?" For example, for "Speaking," I wrote my target keynote speaking fee and the number of speeches I want to give in 2012. For "Media," I wrote that I want to launch my own TV show.
6. Fill in the matrix. Work backward from your year-end desired outcomes and fill in what must be true in each prior quarter. For example, if I want my speaking fee to be X, I need it to be at 80% of that the quarter before.
7. Every morning invest 10 minutes envisioning. Pull out your matrix and imagine quarter by quarter realizing your goals and see how that builds up to realizing your year-end vision. Think about what it would look and feel like to have achieved or exceeded your goals across each row. Thomas Edison supposedly did something similar, thinking about what it would feel like to have found a solution. Being attached to the feeling of victory makes you want it; wanting it makes you take the action and see the opportunities to realize it.
I created a simple strategy tracking tool, which you can find on the tools page of my website (kaihan.net).
I did this for two weeks and amazing things started happening. Because I was investing my time in the most strategically important things and ignoring the rest, I had my most productive week ever. My PhD thesis was accepted by my advisors, a key partnership to license my IP is now close to being signed, I booked two national TV appearances, the documentation for my new fund was completed and, on the personal side, I repaired our basement heating, replaced missing light bulbs, and brought my kids in for their dental checkups.
Even more important were the advances that were not on my to-do list. For example, a huge new potential partner I never contemplated appeared. And because I could recognize how this opportunity fit into my overall strategy, I could jump on it even though it was not on my "to do" list.
The daily "meditation" clears your mind, pulls you above the trees, and reconnects you with what you are building (your long-term vision). Now, imagine if you did that every day in 2012. Imagine if every week were your best week ever.
[Image: Flickr user padraic woods]