Need a New Planning System for 2018? Mine Might Inspire You to Create Your Own.

In the past two days, I’ve had two separate requests to share my planning system. So here goes. Warning: This is not for the faint of heart!

I do believe many of us are searching for some “magic” – the one system that provides us focus, keeps us organized and helps us achieve all that we set out to do. And there are more than enough people who will claim they have the system for you. I smile as I think about the Franklin Covey folks who sold very expensive planning systems that were so complicated that it took a full day of training to learn how to use it and one had to purchase $200 worth of binders, paper and accessories.

My system has evolved over time and is a bit non-traditional. Yet, it works for me and it has, over time, enabled me to get and stay focused on the most important things, to track progress and to guide my activities over time. Because of this process, I feel like I continue to lead a richer and more fulfilling life and that the non-essential trivia continues to drop away.

I truly believe that “No One” size fits all. I’ve seen others do really well with other systems that when I tried them, left me uninspired, overwhelmed and doomed to fail.  I’m not suggesting this will work for everyone. But I do suspect that you might do as I did, experiment with one of two of the elements and see if they work for you. If they do, great. If not, it was only an experiment.

A few disclaimers about some of my philosophical underpinnings:

  • The plan is the beginning. Execution is essential. The plan is the path and the work is taking steps, day after day, on that path. After we dream big, we need to take those scary steps forward. Again. And again. And again.
  • Keeping things front and center is critical. Part of execution is a realistic assessment of where you are and how your actions are contributing to the results you get. Mark progress. Reflect on what is working and what is not. Adjust real time.
  • Think big about your life. Why not? Your whole life. Not just work. Think about your life over time. Never doubt that you can do amazing things – but know that you must first dream and then do.

Warning: My planning approach is non-traditional in that it is:

  • Tiered – It starts with big, long range life goals and translates them into day to day actions
  • Visual – Images speak to me in ways that words cannot. This is a system that uses both your right and your left brain.
  • Eclectic – An eclectic combination of techniques I’ve learned here and there that, when combined for me, have enabled me create a vibrant and creative life
  • Integrated – My goal is that my work and my life flow seamlessly together. I strive to look at my life as a whole that includes my professional work, my health and well-being, my relationships, my spirituality, my development, my space and my leisure.

The Process

  1. Annually: Day of Discernment

Once a year I create a day of solitude in nature for myself. I find a place that is “off the grid” so that I’m not tempted to surf the web, text or do email. I find a place in nature – cabins in the woods are my favorite although water front works as well. And for a full 24 hours I relax, reflect, journal, hike, rest and plan in solitude. In this time I make an honest assessment of what is working in my life, what is not and where I am currently. I then dream of what could be; of what I’d like to create in my life. Always key themes emerge – and these are noted and honed over the time away. I then identify core intentions for the coming year. I call these HEART goals.

While I don’t have a rigid schedule on these expeditions, I’ve found that review and reflection tend to fill the first few hours. I’ll then break for a hike or meditation and then come back to finding my key themes. I’ll then break again – and often this is about bed time. After sleeping I’m usually getting more clarity on both themes and goals and I’ll capture them in words with a future visualization (see tools below) and a vision board. Again, I’ll break to enjoy the outdoors and let things settle – and upon my return I’ll create my visual intention book and yearly calendar (see tools below).

My primary focus on days of discernment are to be in flow. As such, there is not a rigid schedule. I’ll have burst of inspiration. I’ll take a nap. I’ll hit a wall and spend more time outside. I trust that I’ll get done what I need to with the time I have. More often than not, I find I accomplish more than I had ever imagined. Yet there have been times where I’ve not gotten to complete clarity – and I merely commit to continuing the work at home.

Ideally, after 24 to 48 hours (OK- sometimes I stay two nights), I walk away with these things (see tools below):

  • Vison board
  • Future visualization
  • Visual yearly calendar
  • Visual intention book
  1. Quarterly: Half day of Assessment

Once a quarter, I set aside a few hours to reflect. I note progress I’ve made, what I’ve learned and any shifts I need to make as things have unfolded. Again I move from higher level intentions to more granular goals. If I’m crisper on my vision for myself, I often create a small vision board for the quarter. I update my white board that lists big projects, outcomes and action steps for each one. I look at financials and also calendar out bigger blocks of time for bigger projects.

  1. Weekly: 20 Minutes of Must Dos

At the beginning of each week, I create a list of “must do’s” for the week. When I do this, I look ahead to the next 3-4 weeks to determine what I need to work on this week to be ready for a future week.  This list is a list of deliverables that I need to complete in the course of the week. It is not a “granular” task list, so things like paying the bills or returning a call would not make this list. It includes things like: Prepare workshop. Submit XYZ proposal. Put together plan for Project X. Each of these items has any number of subtasks under them, which show up in my daily list.

  1. Daily: 2 Minutes of Touch / Work the Plan

Remember that Visual Intention Book? I begin each work day by picking it up and paging through it. If I’ve done something toward that intention, I note it. If I’ve not advanced that intention, I make a mental note that I might need more focus there. Just the simple action of taking 2 to 3 minutes to pick the book up, page through it and make notes is a great focusing action.

Daily I create a work plan. I use a simple note pad that is 4” X 8”. I’ll put my list of appointments at the top and then my list of “to do’s” on the bottom. This is where the granular tasks show up, to make the call, pay the bill, submit the invoice. I like this size, because generally I find that I can accomplish what fits on this size of paper. My goal is to get things done off this list – and not to carry them over from day to day.

Once I have my list of “to do’s” – I’ll prioritize them in order of importance, listing them as 1,2,3, etc. and I tackle them in that order. This enables me to ensure the most important things get done and also eliminates the wasted time wondering what I should do next. I’ll lump together some of the administrative, less than 10 minute tasks, so that several tasks on my list might all be #6 – they are batched for efficiency. One of the last tasks I do every day is to create to “to do” list for the following day, so that I know what is going to happen and in what order.

I’ve included instructions and photos of each of the tools I use below. And I’ll repeat: This works for me. It may not work for you. But I will leave you with the thought that due to the process, I’ve managed to get the things that are most important to me done, with focus and a sense of grace.

The Tools

Future Visualization:

Write a story that takes place one year from now in the present tense. You are writing a story that assumes you have already achieved your vision.

  • For example, you might start with: It is (insert the date a year from now) and I am (insert where you are and what you are doing).
  • Stay in the present tense. Write as if all that you envision is actually occurring.
  • Do not constrain yourself to what you believe is possible, based on today. Write about what you would like to have happen, even though you cannot see today how that might happen.
  • Stay in the realm of possibility and positivity.
  • The goal is to create a future story that is real to you. Spend your time dreaming, describing, and capturing. Spend no time editing or improving your writing – this is for your eyes only.
  • Try to get at least 2 full pages of narrative.

Vision Board:

Detailed instructions can be found here. I’ve done big poster sized ones and ones on 8 ½ X 11 paper. All you need is the base (heavy stock paper), glue, magazines, scissors and some colorful markers.

Visual Yearly Calendar:

Post it makes a great wall sized calendar system. I lay out the upcoming year and block big things like vacations, project deliverables & deadlines, big events and travel. It becomes very easy to spot areas where you are over-booked. It enables you, in advance, to block time for some of the “non-work” things in advance.

Visual Intention Book:

Craft stores and Amazon (of course) sells white blank books for less than $2.00. I use these to identify eight core intentions for the year. I design a cover using glue and magazine images (those more talented might draw). I then list my overarching intentions and devote two pages to each intention. I add images as appropriate but am careful to keep lots of room for writing, as this is the book I touch daily and note the progress I make.

Some examples of intentions I include are Collaborations, Give Back, Health & Happiness, Writing, Speaking, Travel and Growing my Business. This is a book that I touch daily and I mark all progress toward my intention with a very brief note (date and a word or two). This keeps my primary focus areas front and center – and allows me to both celebrate progress and get back on track if I am neglecting one area.

Quarterly White Board:
This is more traditional approach. I have a large white board in line of sight with my desk that lists major projects and what needs to happen in this quarter for each of them. Every quarter I assess, wipe it clean and start again! 

Weekly List:

At the beginning of every week, I create a list of the key outcomes for the week. These are not detailed tasks – but deliverables. A presentation, a proposal, a workshop delivered. Typically I’ll have no more than 5 of these “bigger” weekly outcomes.

Daily Priorities:

A simple list of appointments and tasks. I list appointments at the top and list tasks as they pop into my head. At the beginning of the day, I review the list and order them, beginning with the most important. I then tackle them in that order.


Which of these different processes and tools will you try to use for 2018? 

A Simple Daily Practice That Can Change Your Life

In this week of Thanksgiving, I want to share a practice that I began long ago that has dramatically improved my mood, my well-being and my life. It takes less than 10 minutes a day and requires less than $10 in materials. The most challenging part of the practice is that it requires practice. You must work and have discipline to do it day in and day out, regardless of your state of mind, your fatigue or your busyness.

The practice is that of a Gratitude Journal. A daily practice of pausing to reflect on your day and your life and noting 3 to 5 things that you are grateful for. Don’t let the word “journal” dissuade you. This is not writing an essay. This is not crafting eloquent prose. This is reviewing your current situation and jotting down just a few things you are grateful for. This is a bullet list. This is merely paying attention.

I must admit, when I starting my Gratitude Journal practice seventeen years ago, I had a tough time identifying anything I was grateful for. My job sucked. I was so busy I ended the day in exhaustion. I had a well-honed eye to spot the flaws in everything, and I do mean everything.

Yet I stayed with it. Day after day. Noting what I could. That I made it through the day. That the meeting wasn’t as bad as I expected. That the weather was sunny.

After about a week, I realized that if I was going to be serious about this, I was going to need a different tactic. And so, I resolved to actively pay attention, all day long, for things that I could note in my journal. As they say, what you seek you shall find. And I did.

I would make mental notes all day. About the flowers in my garden. My children’s hugs. A problem well solved at work. Lunch with a friend. Good food. A warm house.

Over time I began to see things through a different lens. I began to see all the abundance around me. All the things I’d taken for granted. Housing. Work. Family. Friends. Books. Music. Love. Laughter. The things that really mattered.

I also began to see patterns. I noted that things that brought me the most joy were the simple things. Flowers on my table. A family meal. A good book. Once I saw the patterns, I was able to focus on doing more of the things that I was grateful for. And my days became richer. More content. More blessed.

Cultivating Gratitude

There are scientists who study gratitude. Up until the 1990’s research about mental health and human psychology began to shift from studying dysfunction to understanding optimal mental health and high performance. This is called positive psychology. Multiple academic studies show us that gratitude can be learned and cultivated. And those that have a grateful mindset and express appreciation to others experience:

  • Increased levels of well-being and life satisfaction
  • More happiness
  • Better energy
  • More optimism
  • Less depression
  • Improved health, specifically lower blood pressure
  • Higher levels of control of their environment
  • More personal growth
  • Higher sense of purpose
  • Better ability to deal with difficulties
  • Fewer negative coping strategies (think drugs, alcohol, and other harmful habits)
  • Better sleep
  • Increased longevity

There are so many reasons that a gratitude journal is a practice worth establishing. Here are some that resonate with me:

When I practice gratitude, I am more keenly aware of what I value. The more I know and the more I notice, the more stability and balance I have in tough times.

Gratitude enables you to create a more balanced worldview. Our lives are filled with a mix of good and bad, sadness and joy. This path is not one of being Pollyanna – nor is it one of being an Eeyore….it is one of balance.

Innovation, creativity and envisioning are more likely to happen or to occur more easily in the higher emotional states that accompany gratitude.

And so, I encourage each of you to begin a practice of gratitude. It is a practice, but with practice comes proficiency and with proficiency a cascade of benefits.

Self-Care or Self-Obsession? How to know when you’ve stepped over the line.

It’s taken me an entire lifetime to internalize and act on the notion that taking care of myself was not as selfish at it appeared on the surface. I’ve had to experience, both personally and vicariously, the detrimental effect of self-neglect – when energy was sapped, spirit was wounded, and health was jeopardized.

Keep reading to learn about why self-care is so important and how I differentiate self-care from self-obsession.

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Creative Organizations Do These 3 Things Well

Creativity does not just “happen” in innovative organizations. Creative organizations have a very different culture than their less creative peers. In these organizations, creative teams focus on different things than their non-creative counterparts. And on those teams, creative people cultivate and practice the skill of innovation and creativity.

Creative organizations are a culmination of the right actions at these three levels:

– A creativity nurturing culture
– Leaders who encourage creativity
– Individuals with the skill and the will to create.

In today’s post, I’m going to share some actions you can take at all three levels to encourage, support and reap the rewards of creativity in their organizations.

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The Creative Process in Organizations

The creative process is truly a process. Whether creating a symphony, a piece of art, a new product or service or an organizational initiative; both the artist, the entrepreneur and the corporate leader take the same steps. That path from idea to implementation is a long and arduous one. A journey worth taking, but one that Is not for the faint of heart.

I’ve articulated six steps in the creative process – and this process is the same if you are creating art or creating a new business. In this post, I’ll articulate those steps followed by a simple explanation. A very simple explanation! The goal today is to provide an overview of the process – in later posts we’ll do deeper dives.

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Leaders as Creators

In this series on creativity within organizations, I am reposting this blog post from 2015. In it, I describe the role of leaders as creators.

An artist looks at their work in a totally different frame of mind than a mechanic does. The artist sees infinite possibility. The mechanic sees a problem to be solved.

As a leader, you are often in the “mechanic mode”. People bring to you problems to be solved, work to be done, decisions to be made, dilemmas to be fixed, and that is a valuable and ever-present part of the role you play.

But how often do you play the role of creator? Of someone who can envision a better future and then find a way to make that vision a reality?

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Five Mistaken Assumptions Business People Have about Creativity and Innovation

Continuing on with my exploration of innovation and creativity in the “workplace”, let me share some common myths I encounter as I talk about creativity in the business world and the role of leaders as creators. The notion clearly is dissonant to many who hold the prevailing belief that work is work and creativity is play or at best only for the arts. As I peel back what underlies this notion that creativity and business are integrated rather than disparate.

Here are some of the common beliefs that block creativity from business that are well worth a critical examination.

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Why Innovation Matters to Organizations

I often quip that back in 2006 the makers of flashlights were highly unlikely to be discussing their response to the competitive threat that the phone company was to their business. Who would have thought that in a few years just about everyone would have a flashlight with them almost every moment of every day? […]

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Congrats to the 2017 Evergreen Leadership Community Builders

Annually Evergreen Leadership seeks out 15 leaders across the state of Indiana who are taking active leadership roles in their community. In addition to formally recognizing them for their leadership, they are invited to attend an Evergreen Leadership Retreat at Wooded Glen.

Here they connect and learn how to create as a leader. Each person leaves the retreat with affirmation, support and a vision of something they can create as a leader. Those creations vary by individual, with some being very personal, others work focused and others community focused.

Today I’d like to share with you our 2017 honorees.

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Big News! Introducing LEAP: Leverage Your Experience. Achieve Prosperity.

I have something very exciting to share with you!  It’s based on this:

Without doubt, the best decision I’ve made in my professional career was to leave corporate to do independent consulting.

Recently, I realized this: I am uniquely positioned to help others launch their business. I’ve had very large clients and very small clients across industries. I’ve taught a consulting course at Purdue for 5 years. And, helping others make positive change is the hallmark of my work.  I can give others an experienced guide, process and tools to help move from working for someone else to working for yourself.

So I’ve partnered up with Katie Workman (social media expert / graphic artist), and I have created LEAP – a 3 step process that helps professionals with marketable skills make the leap from corporate to consulting.

Learn more about LEAP in this exciting announcement!>/p>

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