Editors note: this post originally appeared on the TowerHill Realty website in July 2017.
Leonardo Da Vinci wrote that “One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.” In every discipline in which he sought greatness, from art to engineering, math, and literature, Da Vinci understood that self-mastery allowed him to use his time effectively, and to produce more content every day of his life.
I am no Da Vinci, but I do know that Da Vinci’s words hold true today: mastery of self is the key to becoming a highly productive businessman. Master the calendar, and you’ve beat the competition out of the gate.
In my many years as a businessman, using my calendar as though it is a highly paid personal coach has helped me increase my own effectiveness exponentially.
What would your calendar look like if, instead of being a simple place holder for appointments, it existed to focus your work hours, defend time set aside for the important things in life, cause personal growth, and form great habits? A coach will charge you thousands for help in these areas. Why not have your calendar do it for free?
As with all coaching relationships, how you show up to the meeting makes all the difference. Here are 5 ways I increase productivity by attacking the relationship with my calendar.
1. Clarify your long term goals, and identify 2-3 specific avenues to meet these goals.
Do you know where you want to go long term? Could you look at yesterday’s calendar and know if you had progressed towards your long term goals? When you don’t have goals baked into your calendar, your calendar simply happens to you. You may feel organized, but high achievement will be elusive. On the other hand, when you know the goal, your calendar coaches you – it reminds you of where you are going and what it takes to win.
Using “S.M.A.R.T.” goal setting, you can sprint toward making your goal setting far more functional than you ever imagined. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound. The busier you get, the more clarity you need in your goals. You may want to win the race, but without SMART goals in your calendar, you are wasting fuel.
After you’ve set your long term goals, you should have 2-3 specific tasks to complete each week. Non multa, sed multum. We don’t have to do everything, but we need to do a few things exceedingly well. Going into the week with a massive checklist may make you feel like Elon Musk, but it is unlikely you will have time to follow through on each item. Assess your goals, and create 2-3 priorities that require will require your concentrated effort. Give your best working hours of the day to these priorities.
2. Plan out the week before it begins
As I discussed above, have a weekly meeting with your calendar. Reflect, and take inventory. How am I working toward my goals? Where do I need to focus my attention most?
During this meeting, account for every hour that you will spend awake in the next week to come. This includes time to relax and recharge; family time, spiritual time, when and where you will work without distraction, time to workout, and even time for checking email and returning calls.
Failure to plan your week, will ensure you will unnecessarily waste time putting out fires.
3. Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize.
In most small businesses, it is easy to allow your work to consume every waking hour. This doesn’t have to be the case. Your work is only as good as the life it provides for you and those who rely on you. Your family and close friends take priority, and you should give them specific time on your calendar before setting your work priorities. When are you sleeping, working out, praying, reflecting on the state of your business and your personal relationships? If these don’t take priority, you’ll hit burn-out fast. Done correctly, baking these habits into your calendar’s priorities will fuel your professional goals.
4. Strip away (and confine) time wasters
I like to have my agents go through the exercise of planning out their ideal work day. They fill their day with time to work on the business without distraction, exercise, spend time with family, pray, and read great books. They don’t prioritize wasting time flipping through social media and watching inane television shows. Somehow, translating this ideal into the self-mastery of a real-world day remains elusive to many professionals.
With smartphones, the opportunity for distraction exists constantly. The best we can do is realize the distraction exists, and work to strip it away. By using the do not disturb function on our phone, major strides can be taken. But what about all of the other opportunities for distraction? Cal Newport’s book Deep Work does an amazing job of discussing strategies for success in a distracted world.
For now, you can do three things: First, make a list of all of the things and people that distract you from your ideal task at hand. Next, decide which of these distractions you need to pay attention to at some point in your day. Finally, block out a small portion of time to address these otherwise distracting things. For me, this ends up looking like about 45 minutes of answering emails, texts and returning calls at the end of my work day. The rest of my day is freed up for the most important work of moving the ball toward the goal.
6. The five minute score check:
At the end of the day, take a quick look at your calendar. You do this for two reasons: First, you need to take stock of what you’ve accomplished. Second, you need to take a look forward to see what you have coming up tomorrow. If you do this, you will be lightyears ahead of your competition.
I have a dedicated agenda-style notebook where I chart out what tomorrow is going to look like. Yes, I am repeating what is in my electronic calendar, but it makes the calendar “stick” to my brain because of the exercise of physically writing it down. And at the end of the day, I’m able to look over the hours spent and check off whether I won or lost. I look at how many hours I spent moving my biggest priorities for work and ensure I did not neglect my responsibilities to myself and my family.
This practice is nothing new. Go to any religious community in the evening and you will find some practice that examines the effectiveness of the day. The great Seneca wrote: “We should every night call ourselves to an account; What infirmity have I mastered today? What passions opposed? What temptation resisted? What virtue acquired? Our vices will abort of themselves if they be brought every day to the shrift.”
These are just a few of the ways I have found treating my calendar as a personal coach has helped me to up my productivity and start a brokerage. And as a calendar coached junkie, you will be in the best of company.