Do you ever get the sense that you are drifting, and the day seems to pass with very little getting done?  Do you look back at your day and realize you were spending time on unproductive tasks?  Or maybe you find yourself in fire drills all day reacting to other people’s emergencies?

This is you losing control of you. 

Excessive stress at work or in relationships can fuel our desire to escape to a 1-hour binge in social media.  Failing to think strategically can give you a false sense of what your true priorities should be.  Family members and bosses at work can pull you off course and before you know it, the day is almost over.  In the end you failed to work on your most important projects.

It can be a viscous cycle.  You wake up exhausted, pull yourself together as you rush to work, and then step right back into the chaos.  By the time the day is over you are so drained that you may eat poorly, binge watch Netflix and then go back to bed.  Then it starts up again tomorrow, just like Ground Hog Day.

Are you ready to take back control of your schedule and ultimately control of your life?

I find that reading, listening and watching self-improvement content is very helpful to get back on track.  It’s important fuel to feed yourself on a consistent basis so you remain aware of yourself and your surroundings…  so, you don’t slip back into the trap.  There are so many great podcasts you can listen to while driving.

A great place to start is the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.  I have this book on CD and would listen to it on long drives.  (Do cars have CD players anymore?)  Covey covered this very well in his first 3 habits: Be Proactive, Begin with the End in Mind and Put First Things First.

#1: Be Proactive

Being Proactive is about looking inwardly and accepting that you are responsible for you.  Don’t waste your energy blaming your boss, blaming your parents, blaming circumstances or pointing the finger elsewhere.  You own you, so take ownership.  This frame of mind is crucial.

A bit of a historical tangent, but this is worth mentioning.  This idea of you owning you is encoded in the Preamble of America’s Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.”

Your unalienable right to your life means that you own you.  It means that you are the manager of your life.  You are not the subject of a king or a lord or anyone else.  Your life is yours to live as you see fit. 

Take control.  Take responsibility.  You have the freedom to act, to speak and to choose how to plan your day.

#2: Begin with the End in Mind

Where are you now? Where do you want to be? What is your vision for you? What is your Mission Statement?

Answering these hard questions is necessary so you can properly visualize the end in mind. With this visual, you can create the strategy to get there while firing up your own energy to power you through.

So often people have no plan. They are just in a routine, living a life and going through the motions. They may have some aspirations, but they are mostly a fantasy. This idea of beginning with the end in mind is about taking your imagination seriously and envisioning what you want to be. You have to mentally create it before you can physically create it.

Athletes do this all the time. They visualize their movements. They see themselves in the big game making the big play. They experience it mentally so many times that when they do it physically it becomes natural.

Covey’s key point is that once you have that visual, then you can go about putting together your strategy to make it a reality. You have to create it twice.

Where are you now and where do you want to be?  What is your vision for you?  What is your Mission Statement?  What do you want to do?

Answering these hard questions is necessary so you can properly visualize the end in mind.  With this visual, you can create the strategy to get there and fire up your own energy to power you through.

So often people have no plan.  They are just in a routine, living a life and going through the motions.  They may have some aspirations, but they are mostly a fantasy.  This idea of beginning with the end in mind is about taking your imagination seriously and envisioning what you want to be.  You have to mentally create it before you can physically create it.

Athletes do this all the time.  They visualize their movements.  They see themselves in the big game making the big play.  They experience it mentally so many times that when they do it physically it becomes natural.

Covey’s key point is that once you have that visual, then you can go about putting together your strategy to make it a reality.  You have to create it twice.

Now is the time to do deep reflection and ask yourself:

  • What is the purpose of your life?
  • What is your vision for the next 3-5 years?
  • What are your goals for the next 1-2 years?
  • What are your key areas of responsibility?
  • What are your current projects?
  • What are your current actions?

This is how you begin to build your strategy to take control of your life.  From this flows the taking control of your schedule.

#3: Put First Things First

Covey goes on to Discuss the idea of Putting First Things First.  This can take many forms including time management, life management and prioritization of tasks. With the end in mind, start by planning your day working on the tasks where you have the most control and which are aligned with your strategy.

Covey shares a matrix of addressing the Urgent vs the Important.

  URGENT NOT URGENT
IMPORTANT Q1 Necessity
Crises
Emergency
Meetings
Last-Minute
Deadlines
Pressing Problems
Unforeseen Events
Q2 Effectiveness
Proactive Work
Important Goals
Creative Thinking
Planning and Prevention
Relationship Building
Learning and Renewal
Recreation
NOT IMPORTANT Q3 Distraction
Needless Interruptions
Unnecessary Reports
Irrelevant Meetings
Other People’s Minor Issues
Unimportant email, tasks, phone calls, status posts, etc.
Q4 Waste
Trivial Work
Avoidance Activities
Excessive relaxation, television, gaming, internet
Time Wasters
Gossip

Quadrant 1 are the Fire Drills that need to get done right away.  But often these are the result of poor planning or failure to execute earlier in the project timeline.  So, while Quadrant 1 activities need focus right now, the goal is to not live in this quadrant in the first place.

Quadrant 2 is “The Zone”.  This is where you are at your best.  Your productivity is high, and you are focusing on putting First Things First.  In fact, right now as I write this blog post I am clearly in Quadrant #2 and feeling great about it.

Quadrant #3 is the Tail Wagging the Dog.  This is a total loss of control of you while responding to the trivial or self-aggrandizing needs of others.  This Quadrant should be smashed into oblivion, but we all realize that it will always exist.  The key is to minimize it, sidestep it and ideally avoid it all together.

Quadrant #4 is the Escape Room.  We’ve all been there, and it is generally a complete waste of our time and energy.  Like Quadrant #3, we know it exists and we must diligently work to minimize or eliminate it.

#4: Embrace the Word “No”

You have to say no to the demands of others so you can clear space to say “Yes” to fulfilling your own needs.  Obviously, this doesn’t mean saying no to valuable customers or loved ones in need.  What it means is saying yes to true win-win opportunities where satisfying their needs is aligned with your own.  At the same time, this also means politely declining other demands that are not in your best interest, so you have time available to focus on you: your health, your passion projects, your business.

None of this easy.  Life throws so many things your way.  You have to bob and weave like a boxer to avoid getting hit with punches as you strive for your ultimate goal.  It’s a constant struggle for me as I work on Being Proactive and Putting First Things First.

#5: The Battle Board

Brandon Burchard is a terrific Influencer that speaks to many of these issues as well.  He is an author, public speaker, and a podcaster.  Plus he is a dynamo of energy putting forward really good information to make your life better.  I strongly encourage you to check him out.

Burchard talks about creating your Battle Board.  This is a large handwritten white board, butcher paper or a large flip chart paper that showcases your plan for the year.  Some call it a Vision Wall or a War Room.  It’s huge visual that you see all the time.  In this Battle Board you plan out your year, month-by-month, showing your key projects and goals for each month.  It’s simple. Hand draw 12 boxes, one for each month, and fill in each month with your plan.  It’s showcases your goals, your target metrics, the steps you will take, and your key activities all in one beautiful Battle Board.

If you are living a life of drifting and reacting to the needs of others, then you won’t have the time or focus for your Battle Board.  The physical creation and in-your-face largesse of it is critical as it is all part of a process of rewiring your brain to focus on what is truly important to you.  It becomes your own stadium jumbotron scoreboard to keeping you on track, focused and accountable.

#6: Block Time Scheduling

What does your daily schedule look like?  An appointment here and a meeting there?  Is it just a collection of a few 1-hour time slots each day and a whole bunch of blank space in between?  If so, this is the danger zone for drifting.

Let’s get super organized by first starting with those big tasks this month on your Battle Board.  When do you plan on working on them?  What’s it going to take to get this done?

Since we know the Battle Board is a great way to slot projects by the month, let’s take the same concept to plan our schedule by the week.  Block out a 2 or a 3-hour window on a target day just to work on a specific task.  This is you scheduling you.  Fill your schedule up accordingly so you are truly putting first things first.

I will block time for specific activities each week in Microsoft Outlook and build them into a recurring schedule.  For example, each Wednesday from 1pm-5pm I have block time to just focus on writing blog content, web content and newsletter content consistent with my strategy and Battle Board.  I find that by setting this time aside just for writing, I am “in the zone” of production and then things start to really flow.  The beauty of prescheduling it in Outlook is that it is officially “booked”.  By putting it into a recurring schedule, this ensures I remain consistent in my production of writing content for my business.  It’s my own way of creating discipline in my schedule.  But we need to go much further to stay rigorously on schedule.

#7: Discipline

Block scheduling sounds great on paper (or in Outlook).  But we know reality is often different from the plan. When the inevitable meeting or appointment request comes up, you have to work with the other person(s) to schedule it in a time slot that is already open on your schedule.  Don’t fall in the trap of canceling your own plans to accommodate the other person.  It is easy to do.

You know that situation.  You are working with someone to book an appointment and you have to say you are unavailable because you have previously scheduled a meeting, family event or some other activity.  This happens all the time as we work with our partner to find a time slot that fits for both of us.  It is a completely natural process.

But it can be difficult when the previously scheduled appointment is “just you scheduling you”.  It can be easy to deprioritize that time slot and book the time with the other person.  This is where you need to use the power of the word “No”.

Those times that are pre-booked for you must be respected by you.  Work around them and find a time slot that fits you both.  Of course, there will be those exceptions that you will need to weave into the plan.  Sometimes you will need to move your time later in the day to accommodate an attractive potential client, a boss’ request or an important family member.  But as long as those are exceptions, then you will be in good shape.  The key is to make sure you that you allocate time for your important tasks that are consistent with the Battle Board you built previously.

This is how you move forward.  This is how you reclaim your life and your schedule.

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