Many of us may be wrestling this week over which priorities to concentrate our attention on in 2022. I wonder if our priority lists actually vary much from year to year or will they once again include a vague focus on health goals, family time, time with friends, acquiring new skills, business success, personal financial goals, etc. Perhaps we will get very specific in the form of resolutions about certain things we will do or bad habits we will drop. I would suggest a better use of our time is considering how to improve our self-discipline and embrace intentionality and not about narrowly focusing on which priorities make the list. We likely know what we need/want to do, but may struggle to get it all done. Perhaps one of the best places to start is considering where we spend our time and developing useful routines. Let me give you an example.
For many years, I have been intentional about finding time for creative writing, reading and preparing at the beginning of each day to be at the top of my game for clients, friends and family. I have been an early riser since childhood and my early morning ritual has been consistent for the last few decades. Where some people like to exercise early in the day, I prefer to work out at lunch or late in the afternoon as a form of stress release and use my early morning time for prayer, deep thinking, reading and creative writing. I wake up at 4:45 am every day and enjoy the first of my two cups of coffee. I say a prayer and do some spiritual or business reading, always looking to feed and expand my mind. I have a healthy breakfast, enjoy a second cup of coffee and do some writing, usually on a blog post or a chapter for a future book. I sometimes work on creating new leadership development content for my business. Around 6:15 am, I check on the news of the day, send a few emails, manage administrative aspects of my business and prepare for my first meeting which is typically at 7:00 or 7:30 am M-F. I follow a similar routine on the weekends, without the early meetings of course.
This focused routine prepares me to fully engage with leaders I work with and be an alert and active listener/coach attuned to their needs. I feel sharp, creative and focused and credit this intentional and disciplined approach to starting the day for allowing me to give the best of myself to others. I am grateful that my business has thrived over the years, in part because of this morning ritual and its impact on how I start my day. *NOTE: I followed this same routine pre-Covid, but typically left my home by 6:45 or 7:00 am M-F to drive to my first coffee meeting of the day.
Two of the keys to improving self-discipline, mastering intentionality and developing routines is to practice self-awareness and learn how to say no. For example, I have known most of my life I am naturally sharpest and have the most energy in the morning. As a high-functioning introvert, I also know I will be at my best engaging with others from 7:00 am to around 4:00 pm most days. I am typically scheduled with individual clients or leadership teams the vast majority of the day M-F. Because high-functioning introverts tend to run out of energy for people by mid to late afternoon, I carve out 45 minutes for exercise (usually intense cardio) between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm every day and also take a two-mile walk at the end of the workday (weather permitting) before family dinner. These exercise windows allow me to relieve stress, partially restore my energy for people and contribute significantly to my overall mental health and physical fitness. The end of the day walk is particularly important to me as I turn my phone off, pray a Rosary and use the remaining walking time for deep thinking and reflection. I am then ready to fully engage with my family at dinner and be present for them the rest of the evening.
I am self-aware about my needs, but I have also worked hard for years at learning to effectively say no. The exercise time on my calendar is the time slot I work hardest to protect. It is has been a fixture on my calendar since 2020 and I schedule all of my work around it. There are a few exceptions where I will move the exercise time, but they are rare. When I say no to someone who wants this protected time slot, I offer alternative times and do my best to be helpful and accommodate their request when it will work for both our calendars. Why does all this matter? The leaders I admire and try to emulate wisely practice self-care and are intentional about taking care of their physical, emotional, spiritual and mental needs. They understand (and I completely agree) that you cannot share with others from an empty cup.
One last helpful tip to promote better self-discipline, intentionality and useful routines is to place every important personal and professional goal or to-do on the calendar each week. This may seem obvious, but in my experience most business people only schedule the work-related items and fail to schedule the equally or more important personal stuff. The result is the priorities and important areas of our personal lives only get the scraps of time left over from our hectic workdays. Be more intentional. Schedule everything important in your life (kid’s activities, exercise, doctor visits, thinking time, prayer time, volunteering, anniversaries, birthdays, etc.) to ensure nothing falls through the cracks. In my life, if something is on my calendar it is highly likely to get done.
Working and living in the age of Covid has affected all of us for better or worse. Although I greatly respect the severity of the pandemic and its impact on people’s lives, I also am grateful for the forced positive changes in work habits and routines many of us have experienced. In the old days, I left my home early to meet with clients throughout the day and got home just in time for dinner. Today, I feel very fortunate to run my business with a hybrid approach that allows me to work virtually and meet in-person more selectively which is currently about 4-5 times per week. My business is thriving, I feel healthy and fully engaged, my productivity is vastly improved and my clients are well-served. I believe the hybrid work model is here to stay and I embrace it.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers and I often struggle to do all of this well like most business people I know, but I keep trying to improve. Time is a precious resource and we need to be good stewards of how we spend it. I believe greater intentionality, good routines and better self-discipline are the keys to igniting more success in life and business. If we achieve progress in making this a reality, life and work in 2022 (and beyond) will be richer and more enjoyable because of our efforts.
How will you think differently about work and life in 2022? What best practices around self-discipline, intentionality and your own helpful routines can you share with us?
*Stay tuned for the 6th blog post in the Upon Reflection series next week: Thoughts on How to Add Value