This is Part VI of the “168-Hour” series addressing how leaders spend their available 168 hours per week to grow and develop. You can begin this series with Part I, here.
By Thomas “Doug” Meyer, author of The Company Leader
Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes – if you were able to read that without singing, you haven’t seen RENT. We have 525,600 minutes in a year, each of them equal in seconds, but varying in value. We define the importance of these minutes by how we use them. Tailoring this to a week, we have 168 hours to accomplish that to which we invest our hearts and minds. Josh gave us a great perspective in terms of structured time (See Josh Bowen’s post HERE). But, what if this framework doesn’t work for you? In this post, we will review 3 guidelines to maintain consistent development in an inconsistent schedule.
Schedule Your Priorities
“The key is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” –Stephen R. Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
What does it mean to prioritize your schedule? Chances are you do it more often than you realize. It’s waking up and immediately checking your email, your Outlook calendar, or your list of tasks for the day. No day goes according to plan, so prioritizing your schedule also includes triaging the pop-up tasks. At the end of the day, we look up at the clock wondering where the time went. We realize we didn’t accomplish the things we actually care about most.
“Our workdays often are governed not by priorities or desires but by what’s screaming loudest and closest in our faces.” – Jane Porter, Entrepreneur Magazine
Dial in on your priorities instead of focusing on your schedule. What are the most important things to you? What do you value most? Instead of prioritizing the daily things on your schedule, schedule those priorities first. Do the things you value most during the times you are most effective. My most effective times during the week are my commute, the hour before and after PT, and after I put the kids to bed.
-Do that which only you can do!-
You won’t be able to avoid battling the daily schedule or grind completely. There are times you are subject to your schedule or the priorities of others. Nevertheless, defining our priorities enables us to put first things first. For everything else, focus on the things only YOU can do for your organization. As a Company Commander, I had a list of four things that I knew only I could do. Every time a task hit my desk, I balanced it against those four things. If it didn’t make the list, I assigned it to the right person. I then ensured they had the training, tools, and time to accomplish the task. For more on this, check out Ken Blanchard and William Oncken’s book, The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey.
Michael Hyatt says that the key to “work-life balance” is getting crystal clear on your priorities. So what are your priorities? Where do you want to grow yourself and grow your team the most? Once you answer that, figure out what the most available, productive, and consistent time is in your schedule. Plug and play.
Do Routine Things Routinely
There is a lot of psychology and cognitive neuroscience behind the power of building habits, mental habits, and repetition. Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit), Daniel McGinn (Psyched Up), and Malcolm Gladwell (Blink and Outliers) are just a few of the leading authors and books championing the topic. Define what habits you want to cultivate to meet your priorities and development. Here are a few of mine:
My spiritual connection and life center me as a leader. I use prayer as a time of reflection. Building a habit of prayer and reflection helps me stay on course. When I wake up, I roll out of bed to my knees and say the same prayer. (It also applies nicely to those of all faiths or secular beliefs.)
“Today is the beginning of a new day. You’ve given us this day to do as we will. What we do with it is important; we would exchange any day of our lives for it. Tomorrow will come and today will be gone forever, leaving in its place something we’ve trained for. We want it to be gain not loss, good not evil, and success not failure. Nor will we forget the price we paid for it. The future holds all things now.” -Paul “Bear” Bryant
This is repetitive, but it gets my mind right for the day. Once I get to work, I devote about fifteen to thirty minutes to scripture, prayer, and reflection. At night, my family and I start dinner with a reading from scripture. This gives me the opportunity to pour into my family. Finally, before bed I try to pray with my wife. Whatever your spiritual connection is – faith based or not – find what rejuvenates and focuses you. Dedicate time to that and involve your family.
The science behind fitness and cognitive function is stunning. It not only prepares you for the physical rigors of combat, but also benefits you mentally and emotionally. The Army prioritizes it with a consistent block in the schedule. PT (Physical Training) is, for most units, from 0630 to 0730/0800 daily. This is a sacred time in my day. PT is for me and it is free. Don’t let the tyranny of time and other external forces persuade you to forego PT. You will benefit more from working out than from the work you accomplish in that hour. Do PT – it sets the example for your team and it will pay dividends. As a leader, I can also use this time to accomplish the next priority – engage.
Leader development doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it occurs through relationship. Even “self” development requires engagement between people. We grow through discussion, debate, and the sharing of ideas. Fill every day with interpersonal relationship. Engage with your family, team, peers, and friends. When you develop yourself in a bubble, you rob yourself and your team of the opportunity to grow together. Don’t let these brief moments of vast opportunity pass. Remain vigilant, always on the lookout for an opportunity to pause the urgent-unimportant and engage with someone. You never know when a conversation will change a life, maybe even your own.
President Harry S. Truman said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers”. One of the constants among highly effective leaders in all fields is the veracity with which they read. Instead of opening up Facebook for a break (don’t lie – we all do it), find an article to read. I usually read articles during the day and then read books at night. Click HERE for 15 books I think are critically important to any Tactical Leader at the company-level. Moreover, if you use audio resources, you can make the most of time you didn’t know you had.
Your day has multiple moments, sometimes hours at a time, of monotony. These are the times where you are operating on reflex and muscle memory takes over. How many times have you driven to work and when you get there, you don’t even remember the drive? Your brain checks out and you are on autopilot. What better time to schedule activities for leader or self-development. Here are just a few of the things I schedule during this time.
- Podcasts. These prerecorded and regularly released conversations are nuggets of knowledge and development gold. You can easily consume them from your phone, tablet, or computer in just 25 minutes to an hour. (Click HERE for my recommended Podcasts)
- Audible. This great app, offered through Amazon in iOS and Android, has changed the game for me. I have more than doubled my book consumption since starting with Audible. If you are feeling really froggy, crank it up to 1.5x or 2x speed to get through even faster. Listen at whatever speed you are able to effectively consume and internalize the content.
- Conversations. Call a friend, mentor, family member, or team member and get better through engaging. Iron sharpens iron, and I find this time rejuvenates me. I share a close relationship with my father, despite not living in the same zip code since 2005. Part of this is due to near-daily conversations. Similar to the discussion above on engagements, these conversations help me grow. Our talks develop me through reflection and the free flow of ideas.
Schedules don’t seem to work for me – and checklists only work to a point. My checklist of tasks becomes a tyranny of its own if I don’t apply priorities. I believe in systems, but they have their place. The enemy (outside forces and time) gets a vote. When I try to stick to a schedule, I usually end up off track. I cut self-development to please the priorities of others. To avoid this, schedule your priorities, build habits through routine things done routinely, and maximize monotony. Practicing those 3 steps helps me maintain consistent self-development even in seasons of inconsistency.
Captain Thomas “Doug” Meyer is an Army Officer with nearly a decade of Active Duty service. He has experience, as a Commander and Staff Officer, deployed and in garrison. He has operated in the CENTCOM and PACOM AORs, and has served at the Tactical and Operational levels. He is the author and curator of a leader development platform, The Company Leader. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government, to include – but not limited to – the United States Army and Department of Defense.
If you find this post helpful, subscribe to receive weekly email notifications of new content!