I've been doing a fair bit of coaching recently, both with kids and colleagues at interesting intersections of their lives. It's one of my favorite activities, and I hope that I can be helpful at times - my colleagues keep coming back and asking for more, so I believe there is some value to the conversation; my kids, of course, have no choice!
One of the phrases that has been top of the discussion in the past few weeks has been be deliberate. In the act of being deliberate, there is a definitive action that is to be taken, I decision to be made about thought, behavior, action. It is a practice that can differentiate you from the rest, not because of what you do, but the fact that you decide to do it - whatever it is. An example (or two)…..
We recently travelled to Texas and California on the grand tour of college campuses for our youngest, as he is a rising senior in high school this fall. He is looking at top-ranked schools for a competitive program of study, and he has the marks to make it - we recognize we are fortunate and we're all in on the broad search for the right school for him. He is also serious and analytical about the search; he is curious that many kids in his class are not as focused on the next phase. As we prepared for the trip, we emphasized that he needed to be deliberate about his actions, questions, even what he chose to wear in order to make the impression he intended. Mind you, we were going into Texas in late May with temps soaring north of 100F, so long pants were not part of our repertoire! As the trip progressed, this was a theme of discussion - did he see himself at each campus, in each program, with the students he observed, within the big game/ competitive or art-centered culture, as each school perspective unfolded. We were deliberate about our assessment, discussions, and questions/ answers for each school for best comparison. Before you roll your eyes and expect we had a spreadsheet, we did NOT, as we wanted this to be an experience with somewhat consistent discussion after each visit, as best fits our son's style; in this approach, we were also very deliberate (I would have a checklist and spreadsheet, myself; I know, I'm a true geek!). Stay tuned, no preferences as yet - in fact, all 4 schools are still in the running, taking his total application pool to 7. Yikes.
On to more collegial coaching - and the topic of focus, specifically with calendaring behaviors. Yes, with something as trivial as calendar management, one must be deliberate. In managing your own calendar, what are the practices you have adopted? Have these practices been something you’ve decided, or does the calendar populate organically? If you have the benefit of an assistant to help you manage your calendar, what guidance have you provided? And is the guidance used, or do "priority meetings" continue to trump your time? Be Deliberate. How you manage your time is about the only thing you can control in your day - it is your behavior, your attention to focus. There are guidelines to establish - open for a meeting from your boss/ protégé/ direct report? Start time? Exit strategy?
I once had a conversation with an excellent assistant who asked me to describe my perfect day at work - and she'd work very hard to make every day as I described. This conversation was early in my leadership career, and it shaped the conversation I would have with every assistant (and myself) for each job to come. For me, I needed 30 minutes clear in the morning to review the previous night's email, 30 minutes to eat lunch (a pair of my assistants reminded me how disagreeable I became when I missed a meal!), and no meetings past 3pm. Every Friday was held for project work or emergency meetings. Any request for my direct reports to meet with me was granted as soon as we could arrange it (same day, if possible), and never was I to be double booked unless we had a clear strategy to cover both - I didn't like holding a meeting start for someone who falsely accepted, and I was sure not to do it to anyone else. And when I was on vacation, I would not be in contact with work unless someone was bleeding and/or near death. I survived not keeping up with all of my work-based email during vacation, and certainly others could make decisions without me - at least for a week at a time!! I deliberately set the tone for those who reported to me that vacations were times to disconnect - if I could do it, so could they; it gave them permission to relax, refresh, and renew. These were my parameters, and for the most part, we could adhere to the guidelines for long strings of happy days.
My guidelines and deliberate actions are not for everyone - the point is to define the guidelines, commit to practice, and execute. Be deliberate with your time, and see how this helps you approach and manage so much more!