What Will You Do With Your Extra Day?
Time is funny. We all have 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year. Yet most of us complain about how little time we have and how there are too few hours in a day. This year is a Leap Year so we all have an extra day. This is also the start of a new year and many make resolutions, so this year I will make a resolution about time and my extra day. I resolve to remember I have an extra day and to use it to reflect on (and correct) the trajectory of my year. In fact, I will officially declare it as Extra Day - a day to limit work, take a breath and reflect on the direction the year is taking. I’ll do it on February 29th since that is where the calendar places our extra day. But, to do that, I’ll need a plan.
day-to-day time management
Successful time management requires some structure and planning. Without planning, the time is unstructured and the focus will fall to top-of-mind items. For instance, if I get up in the morning and don’t have a task planned that I can start thinking about and acting on, I am likely to have two cups of coffee rather than one and get caught up in email and web browsing for a few hours. If I have a set of tasks in mind, I can let those tasks drive how I start my day. I naturally wake about 5:00 AM (naturally being with the help of my cat that wants to be fed) and if I have planned to go to the gym, I’ll throw on my workout clothes, feed the cat and head to the gym. At the gym, I’ve got plenty of time to think about next steps. Since I work during the week and have meetings scheduled throughout, I keep a list of my meetings and look at the next day’s lineup when I go to bed. If I know what meetings I have, then while I am on the cardio unit-of-torture I can think about how my day will flow and what I can reasonably get done between meetings. I can work on creating bigger blocks of time that are one-hour plus and assign a task to that time slot. Since meetings change and priorities shift, I find having a list of tasks that I need to complete and an estimate of how long each will take can help me fill gaps when time slots open up.
The “work back” schedule
Having a list of tasks is great for day-to-day time management, but it does nothing to help me with my extra day. For that, I’ll need to pull out the big planning guns and create a work back schedule. A "work back" schedule starts with the end or outcome in mind and works backward to determine what can and needs to be done when. Typically, you will start a work back exercise by thinking about what result you want to deliver to a customer and when you complete them by. In this case, I am the customer for my year and my extra day. Since I want to use my extra day to reflect on my customer’s (me) progress towards goals for the year, what I really need to know is what the proposed outcomes are for the year.
To come up with my goals for the year, I need to sit in a quiet place for a while. I consider where I currently am, what things are going well, and what is frustrating me most (my biggest pain points). I then think about the end of the year and imagine myself free from all the things that are frustrating or causing me pain. Once I have a pretty clear vision for what that state looks like, I write it down. It’s not a novel or multipage document--it’s only a paragraph or two that I can look at regularly to help me redraw the outcome in my mind. If I were a runner, it may be me crossing the finish line of a half-marathon or marathon. A golf goal may be me pulling my golf ball out of the hole on the 18th green with a score under 90. For a work goal, it may be me at our company holiday event with all of the employees and us toasting on and reflecting back on a successful year.
With the outcome clearly in mind, I can create my “work back” schedule by thinking about the milestone closest to the outcome and then think through each milestone working back to the first milestone I will need to accomplish. Or, I can start at the halfway point and think about what milestones will need to be in place, then work out towards the beginning and end. For the marathon example, if I start with the last milestone it would be finishing a few 20-mile runs prior to the marathon. If I wanted to start in the middle, it might be running a half marathon in the summer. For the business example, the last milestone may be a line of product in place we can sell and have enough adoption by our customer base to reach our revenue goals, while hiring people to make, sell, deliver, and support the product. The middle milestone may be having the people hired to build the products, the product partially completed, and us looking to hire people to help sell and support the product. For either approach, I will have a good gage I can use to identify the other milestones that I need. As I work through the milestones, I can start with bigger milestones and hone those milestones into smaller chunks until I have specific actions I can take to complete a milestone. I’ll know I have enough detail in my plan when I can add actions or tasks to my daily list that I can use to fill my one or two hour blocks of time during the day.
For me to use my extra day effectively, I’ll need to know where I want to be at the end of the year and have a plan for monthly milestones so I can check and correct my trajectory. I’ll need to have the monthly milestones down to actions I need to accomplish (in each month) to hit the milestone. I’ll need to check my progress against goals and continually course-correct during the month. Then, on February 29th I can take my time reflecting and look at the year overall and what I have done with the first two months. Some key things to consider:
Do create a very concise vision of a future state you want to achieve and read it several times a week.
Do set rough monthly milestones for mapping out the goals you want to achieve by the end of the year.
Do create a list of tasks and actions needed to hit the first milestone.
Do add the first few action items to your daily task list so you can work them into your daily routine.
Do set and review the tasks you need to complete during the week to hit your monthly milestone.
Do not figure out all of the tasks and actions for the entire year. Focus on the tasks and actions to achieve the first month’s milestones only. Use what you learn completing tasks for the first milestone to identify tasks and actions for the next milestone.
I know this sounds like a lot to do, and a lot of time to spend just planning, but it will pay off. The daily stress and effort needed will drop dramatically because your workdays will be focused on doing and not worrying about what to do. You’ll sleep better, enjoy the tasks more, and find you have more free time to spend with friends, reading, or binge-watching your favorite show.