At the end of a busy day I look at all I’ve accomplished – multiple coaching sessions, meetings, emails, phone calls – I hardly had a moment to stop! But was I really productive? I got a lot accomplished but what I didn’t get a chance to do was to look ahead and make real progress. Does this sound familiar?

While a full schedule gets immediate items off of our to-do lists, it often leaves us drained and exhausted with little energy left to think and plan. I suspect you, like me, feel it’s critical to take action on items that appear to be urgent. But I think it’s time to consider the impact this is having on our longer term goals – and face the reality of some bad habits we’ve established.

I live by my calendar. In fact I’m not sure what I would do without a schedule. So what’s my bad habit? I fill up my calendar every day. I find little holes and put tasks in them. Sounds like a time management guru would applaud me. But I’ve decided it’s actually a bad habit.

What I’m not scheduling is “down time.” Down time? You say, “What’s down time? Who needs down time?” I say, “We all do!” And I’m not talking about vacation time and time away from work. We all need that too. But we also need “down time” at work. Time to think. Time to look ahead. Time to reflect on goals. Time to plan for the coming months.

I once had a client, Susan, who described herself as being on a hamster wheel – and she was. She just kept running and running but she wasn’t making progress. Reality – she wasn’t scheduling any down time to “get off the wheel” – to reflect and plan so when she got back on the wheel it actually moved. She was living off the adrenaline created by her “urgent and important” work every day. When I challenged Susan about her “habit” she claimed it was all necessary – that there wasn’t anything she could “push out” and do at a later date.

As I dug deeper, reality set in. Susan realized she was doing things herself rather than delegating and training others. (Not an upstanding leadership trait.) And the biggest barrier – Susan didn’t know what she would do if she had 2 or 3 hours of “down time” and had to stop and think. It actually scared her. I remember her shaking her head and saying, “What would I think about?”

Eventually Susan came around. She scheduled a small block of time each week to focus on “higher level thinking” work, and a larger block of time each month to completely give way to conceptual and strategic thinking and planning. I can’t say that she didn’t let some “urgent items” slip in on occasion, but over time, her commitment to her “down time” did increase her productivity – and that of her team.

We all have good and bad habits impacting our productivity – and our progress. How we manage and schedule our time is just one. Are you on a hamster wheel? If so, consider why. Does it feel productive? Maybe it’s actually easier? Maybe our work doesn’t support “thinking time.” I’m challenging myself to schedule more down time to insure I reach my longer term goals. Would you like to join me? Click here to begin slowing down and making some real progress!

Take Action:

  • Re-visit Stephen Covey’s Habit #3: Put First Things First. Focus on the important, not just the urgent.
  • Re-visit your calendar. Is it working? Schedule some amount of down time each week, with larger blocks of down time on a monthly and quarterly basis.
  • Make sure your goals are written down – and accessible. You won’t be left wondering what to do with your down time.
  • Invest in yourself. Consider joining me this fall for the inaugural Leadership Intensive, an opportunity to clearly define and focus on what you want to achieve!