I often write on practical frameworks and concepts that can be applied to multiple areas of life or management. In this post I make the “rubber meet the road” by focusing these elements on a unique opportunity that occurs during this time of year. Read on…
For many of us, summers are legendary. Not necessarily because they’re less busy (ours wasn’t) but there’s definitely a change of pace and routine. Now that it’s “back to school, end of summer, or back to work” (…or whatever fits for you), it’s time for “the routine” to set back in.
But wait! What’s a routine anyway? It’s nothing more, and nothing less than a “string of habits that constitute a schedule.” That means that we have an amazing opportunity to re-evaluate and define the habits we want, versus the ones we’ve inherited. Don’t waste this chance. No need to wait for New Year’s resolutions. The iron’s hot…it’s time to lead now. Here are some practical steps to take control:
Clarify your goals. I’ve written a lot on this topic in other posts but, at minimum, think of what you want your life to look like over the next 3-6 months in the following areas – personal, family, professional. Try to be as specific as possible. If you’re thinking on a longer time horizon, try to bring it back to a shorter time period to be sure it’s tangible. Don’t get paralyzed on this step, but remember that without goals you’ll be turning in circles on the next steps.
Take an inventory of all the things that belong to your regular schedule and make a list. Then take time to put each item in one of the following four categories: 1) what things are non-negotiable i.e. already decided for you (ex. kids school schedule, job mandates, etc.; sometimes these can actually be a relief, as they can be considered “given”), 2) what do you want to stay the same, 3) what do you want to add, 4) what do you want to stop. Always answer these questions in light of your goals.
Now try to make all the puzzle pieces fit. How do you add new things? How do you discontinue others? Add it up from a money perspective…does it work inside your budget? Add it up from a time perspective…does it work inside your schedule? What changes will you have to make (ex. if you want to start working out in the morning before work, you may have to go to bed earlier to get up earlier). It’s like an algebra problem. Keep iterating until you can find a way to “solve the problem” within the constraints you have. You’ll have to make tough choices, and it will likely force you to clarify or re-evaluate your goals. But remember, if it doesn’t work out on paper, you have no chance for it to work in practice.
This step is about creating conditions for success by creating support structures to increase chances for success. Do you need to join a group to get the guidance you need (ex. gym, running-buddy, community group, car-pool, etc.)? Do you need to track your progress to make sure you’re moving forward (ex. get a log book, create a spreadsheet, download an app, buy an alarm clock)? Do you need to create a separate financial category to track your progress (ex. separate savings account)? In essence, it’s putting in place the enabling elements and “secondary support habits” that are needed to realize the primary habit/routine we want to activate.
This step is often overlooked but is one of the most powerful predictors of success. First, tell someone about the new habit you want to form (or even the ones you want to stop) and give them permission to ask you the “hard questions” concerning your follow-through. If possible, identify people that are part of your “resource group” i.e. those that are already “doing it” or have committed to “do it” with you. They understand the challenge and know what it takes.
Second, be accountable to your plan (after, all you didn’t spend all that time planning for nothing). Go back to it regularly and compare how you’re doing versus where you wanted to be. Re-calibrate, re-group, revise (if needed), and resolve to make the adjustments to realize it.
It’s back to school or work…or whatever. Don’t let that mean “back to old habits.” Seize the opportunity to make it mean: “back to progressing to the next level.”