It’s Autumn… What’s Your Plan?

Ready for autumn? I love cinnamon donuts, college football, and the beautiful fall colors. But along with the seasonal festivities, there’s also a sense of urgency, an inner voice telling me to make the most out of the final three months of the year.

One of my favorite podcasts is The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. Each week, she brings a 15-minute thought on how to make decisions, and ultimately, make a life. Recently, episode 193 featured a 5-step outline about getting ready for autumn. I couldn’t help but think how similar steps would be helpful to business leaders in the areas of time management and major decision making.

So, with many thanks to Ms. Freeman, here are my own 5 Steps (she calls them “movements”) for autumnal effectiveness…

1. Assess reality.
Tell it like it is. The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. Take time to get an honest understanding of the current situation. Not how things used to be, or how they will be, but how they are right now. Get the right perspective. What’s really happening? What’s not happening, but should be? No judgement, no agenda. No blaming, no bragging. Just naming what is and owning it. Think internally as well: What’s being felt here? What are we thinking about? What baggage are we dragging around? Take a hard look, not just from the front office, but from top to bottom.

2. Create space to discuss and process.
Things happen quickly. Too often, we react instead of respond. (Reacting is making a call in the heat of the moment; responding is taking time to consider long-term consequences.) What if we intentionally made space to plan the response? Note, we’re not responding just yet. We’re simply making space to consider, process, discuss, whiteboard, whatever. This may be a one-off discussion, or a regular rhythm of planning and processing. Whatever it is, be intentional about creating it. Reacting is emotional adrenalin; responding is emotional intelligence.

3. While in this space, identify what needs attention.
Overbooked agendas and cluttered calendars. So many things competing for our time. There are always an overwhelming number of things that CAN be done, but the real question is what NEEDS to be done. Oftentimes, I’ll lead a team through this by saying, “Tell me everything that needs to be done or needs to change.” We quickly fill a whiteboard with 15 to 20 items. Then I’ll ask, “Okay, we can only pick one thing to focus on — which one is it?” It’s amazing how quickly they can prioritize and narrow it down to the truly important.

4. Determine what needs to be eliminated.
What can we skip? As important as it is to determine what needs to be done, it’s equally as important to identify what needs to be dumped. This isn’t about shirking responsibility. It’s about being honest regarding the dozens of time wasters we all indulge in daily. What habits, routines, meetings, and processes are obsolete, unnecessary, or irrelevant? Which work activities are life giving and which are life draining? One question to apply here is, “Is this tool/process/policy serving us, or are we serving it?” If it’s the latter, it may be time to move on.

5. Finally, identify the plan.
Map it out, document it, then execute it. Without a solid plan, even the best goal is just wishful thinking. A dream written down becomes a goal. A goal organized into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed up by action becomes reality. Start by identifying “how much of what by when.” This basic organizational planning will give you a sense of direction and a basis for teamwork. Create the game plan as a team, assign due dates, responsible parties, and status meetings. Steps one through four are all well and good, but without step five (implementation), it’s all just a waste of time.

Ready, set, hike.
Every fall, many of in my area of the country spend hours watching Big Ten football. This year, I challenge you to also spend some quality time with my “Big Five.” And if I can help you work through any of the five steps, please feel free to reach out to me.

I promise to set down my Fighting Irish mug and get back to you.