For my 2021 intention setting, I’ve picked this Amelia Earhart quote and two words as my guideposts: Immerse + Commit.
I love variety – a lot of things, options, choices. If I were to describe my life as a buffet line, when I reach the end, my plate would be piled high and about to break under the mountain of food – everything looked so good, so I took just a little bit…and then the little became a LOT.
This lived experience can have me setting too many goals, taking on too many clients and projects, and casting a net too wide because it all looks so delicious!
My “way,” while exciting and filled with variety, often keeps me from having the rich depth of experience I want to have. It also prevents me from truly committing to something and finishing or mastering it, because of the sheer heap of assortment.
So, for 2021 I’m immersing in and committing to a small “salad plate” of:
- Work in equity, inclusion and diversity
- My overall health and wellness
And my shero, Amelia, with her “the most effective way to do it, is to do it” will guide me through!
2021 Planning Guide
Here are a few prompts that support my clients with intention and priority setting. I hope you find them helpful to do your own 2021 reflection.
- Identify up to 3 items that you want as your MAIN areas of focus for the year. For each area, provide a simple heading (written in first person) that states what you want to have achieved by December 31. Underneath each, note one or more measurable outcomes you will see/experience as a result.
- For these areas of focus, what do you anticipate that might hold you back or get in your way? Listing these can help you be prepared for potential barriers and to prevent them before they arise.
- What theme (or themes) encapsulates the above areas of focus?
- Of the theme(s) you’ve listed, what word or two best captures the essence?
- Identify a quote that can serve as a “headline” or “billboard” for you, related to your key words. (Searching quotes based on your key words or themes is helpful.)
It’s a good idea to post your results to this “worksheet’ in a place where you’ll see it every day. I have mine on my office wall and placed as a “bookmark” in my daily writing journal. Cheers!
Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation.
It topped 50 degrees last Sunday…almost enough to give me some early spring fever in January. I decided to curl up in my window seat, enjoy the warm sunshine, and savor a thought provoking read, “The Power of Less” by Leo Babauta. In keeping with his mantra, the book is brief enough to finish in an afternoon. Bonus!
Just three days later, I can’t stop thinking about his core principles. I find them so meaningful and effective that I’d like to highlight a few. I’m especially enjoying the one “simple focus.” What a difference I’m experiencing with only a few days of intentional practice. I hope you’ll give them a try too!
We live in a world where we’re overwhelmed with ‘stuff.’ Our homes are filled with too many things. Our days are packed with an unending string of meetings and tasks. The inbox overflows with dozens of emails. We have too much – clutter, information, tasks, and choices. It simply won’t all fit.
With a ‘less is more’ framework, Babauta encourages a life with limits. “Setting limits simplifies things, focuses our energy, highlights the important, and makes us more effective.” It’s as if time and space expand.
This week, I’m paying more attention to when and where I feel the overload and need for cutting back. I’ve turned off the distracting visual email prompts, assessed meeting invitations with a new lens and declined more than typical, and reduced the number of blogs and listserves to which I subscribe. Already, it feels freeing.
Choose the Essential and Simplify
Choosing the essential is the key to simplifying – you have to choose the essential before you simplify, or you risk eliminating things without keeping the most important. “Simplifying isn’t meant to leave your life empty – it’s meant to leave space for what you really want to do.”
For me, getting to the essential starts with eliminating the non-essential – like the quote from sculptor Michelangelo, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
However you get there, once you know what’s essential, you reduce projects, tasks, commitments, and clutter. In my work with my executive coaching clients, an important part of the process is for a client to know his/her core values, set goals, and confirm what’s most important and brings you the greatest joy.
The “Power of Less” presents focus as the most important and powerful tool – “focus on less to become more effective.” Intellectually, I get it, but practice it is far more difficult. Here’s what helps me most:
- Identify the most important priorities (and tasks).
- Keep these front and center. I do this by creating an annual plan, then breaking that down by quarter, month, week, and day.
- Begin each day by focusing on the most important tasks, executing these one at a time until complete.
- Resist checking email and exploring the internet first thing in the day, otherwise I become occupied by urgent or intriguing distractions.
- Focus on the present instead of the past or future. This is so challenging! I compare it to attempting to quiet my mind during meditation. It helps to practice with the simple things in my day – eating, driving, sleeping – focusing only on that, and enjoying it. When I can do that, it feels like pure flow.
Send your overachiever to time out! Starting small is simply a way to ensure the greatest likelihood of success for all the other changes.
Think of the fail rate with New Year’s resolutions: we start the year excited and rearing to go. Like a Thoroughbred out of the gate, we charge forward – make the first lap and maybe a second, and then start to lose steam or quit altogether. The value of setting realistic, achievable goals is important to have any chance of success.
This reminds me of when I began running. My son was in the 4th grade at the time and asked me to run with him to prepare for his school’s 1-mile event. For a week or two, we practiced together, and he accomplished his goal. Next, we decided to sign up for a local 5K. We completed it, and by then I began to enjoy running.
For the next year, I ran several community 5K events. I decided to step it up and run 10Ks the next year. Then, in year three, I trained for and ran my first half marathon. Now, eight years later, I’ve completed about ten half marathons. Starting small was key to my running success and sustainability.
This principle begins with “A clean desk allows you to focus on the task at hand, which is key to being effective in whatever you’re trying to do.” So today, in honor of this idea, I cleaned up my office and desk. Maybe it’s just in my head, but afterward I swear I was able to think more clearly and accomplish more.
Another way I’ve practiced this principal recently is conducting a home inventory and identifying things we no longer use. We’ve made countless trips to our local Goodwill, learned how to “do eBay,” and have experienced good success in selling many items. It’s inspired us to set new goals geared toward decluttering and downsizing, like:
- Set aside time to clean out.
- Start simple – with one room, a closet, or a drawer
- Handle paperwork only once, taking immediate action (like paying a bill), filing, or tossing it.
- Have a home for everything and keep things in their place.
- For every item you bring into your home, remove something of equal size and significance.
Years ago, I decided to take a sabbatical for a few months. One of the first things I experienced was a much slower pace. I stepped off the frantic work treadmill, engaged in some creative pursuits, and savored the foreign white space on my calendar. My friends worried that the change was so abrupt, I would need therapy. Not the case!
Before this “time out,” my life was jam-packed. I never completed a task list, rushed everywhere I went, and felt behind, late, and exhausted. I had enthusiastically signed up for this career and professional leadership role, but I didn’t want to live my life like this.
As Babauta states in his book, “We were not made to function this way…the stresses of constant overload and a constant hectic pace for every waking moment.” The paradox is to slow down to be happier, more effective, and productive.
During my time off, I consciously slowed down. I ate slower, walked slower, drove slower. Here’s a novel idea: when you eat, just eat. Enjoy it. Savor it. Truly taste it. Try the same for driving: appreciate the complete experience of driving and notice what’s around you. Do you ever arrive at a destination and have no recollection of how you got there? My goal then and still today is to shift away from that and be fully present with whatever I’m doing. I probably fail more than I succeed, but this book is a great reminder to re-focus.
About Jeanie Duncan: Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.
Ok. Seriously. I’m laying in my back yard hammock for a few minutes this morning (yes, it’s a work day…Friday). And, I can’t deny that I’m feeling guilty for doing it. I have a mound of work to complete. But, I’m trying to practice what I preach with my “Do Less. Achieve More.” post last Sunday. So, here’s a brief highlight of my experience this week in practicing those tips!
– Focus on the important tasks first. At the beginning of every day – and sometimes the night before – I spent 30-60 minutes getting my game plan set for the day. I can’t tell you what a huge difference this made. Knowing the top 3 things that MUST get done kept me razor-sharp focused. Most days, I accomplished those priorities before lunch. It helped me: say no to a lot of things, let my phone go to voicemail, and check email later (and far less frequently). Those micro interruptions are tempting, powerful derailers!
– Single-tasking. This was one of my greatest areas of practice this week. And what a difference it made! One exercise I tried was walking away from my computer and other distractions while on the phone with clients, friends, and family. I intently focused on my “subject” and our conversation. The outcome? I really ‘heard’ what they had to say. Imagine that! I was focused, engaged, and the call was often shorter because of it. And more meaningful. I’ll bet they noticed too.
– Eliminate non-essential commitments. I’m a natural-born networker and relationship builder. I both love it and hate it. I am attracted to invitations to lunch, coffee, wine, etc. like a mosquito to one of those bug lanterns. Before I know it, I can meet with people all day long and have nothing to show for it at five o’clock except great conversation and a small stack of business cards. This week, I found myself more mindful and purposeful as I said yes – and no – to such invitations. Dare I say, I was far more “strategic.” For me, it’s absolutely critical to be discriminating in choosing whether or not to commit to these engagements. By doing so, I focus my time and energy on what’s most important and matters most to my goal achievement.
– Step away and take a break. See? I’m doing that right now! Even if only for a few minutes – relaxing in a hammock, shooting a few hoops with my son, walking around the block, or going for a quick noon-time run – the brief respite gives me volumes of energy and joy in exercising my choice (remember that?) to just breathe and enjoy a few moments of “me” time. I return to my work and can perform it better, faster, and with a fresh perspective and ideas I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Try it! Seriously. (And stop making up the story you tell yourself: “I don’t have time.” Because you do.)
I’ve had fun with this “Do Less. Achieve More.” theme this week. Talk about immediate gratification! A little practice went a long way in delivering some powerful results. What’s working for you?
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Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for TransitionGuides, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.
There is a great myth that most of us will fall prey to at some point: if you do more, you will get more. Not always true. I don’t know about you, but I often get caught in the trap of pressing harder, faster, and with greater intensity to try and accomplish a task or achieve a particular goal or deadline. I somehow trick myself into thinking that working harder and doing more is what’s needed to get the job done. Intellectually, I can rationalize the truth in this. But, at a deeper level, I realize that intense effort and pace often depletes my energy, can adversely impact my output, and removes the joy from my work. To help combat this tendency, I have adopted some practices I find beneficial and that have helped me most: Spend the first hour of the day setting priorities and getting organized. It’s easy to launch into the day reacting to the urgent – the rain of emails, interruptions from co-workers, and the barrage of phone calls – rather than advancing the important. I like to get an early start to the day and establish priorities. I begin with the question: “What are the three most important things I need to accomplish today to advance my key goals?” Everything else is a “nice to have.” These three daily priorities all roll up to support my weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals. Focus on the important tasks first. Once I frame my day in the first hour, I immediately set out to accomplish the top three priorities before distractions have a chance to pull me away. If I can’t take care of them all, I’ll make an appointment on my calendar to return to it later in the day. Single-Task. When I’m doing too much, I’m constantly switching from one task to another, experiencing multiple interruptions and distractions. Despite our culture’s demand to multi-task, resist the temptation, clear away distractions, and give attention to the single matter that is most important. Eliminate non-essential commitments. Examine your day or week and ask yourself: “What can I eliminate or delegate? Is that task, meeting, or luncheon something that I absolutely must do? How does it advance my strategic goals?” I try and say no to any request that distracts me from focusing on what’s most important. I think of it as focusing on my highest and best use. Step away and take a break. We all have those occasions when work calls for added effort. But more often than not, simply stepping away and taking a break – like going for a run or having lunch in a park – can infuse new energy, bring fresh perspective and new ideas, and actually enhance productivity. Ask key questions. Another tactic I find helpful is pausing to ask a few critical questions to help me determine priorities or my approach as I begin a particular project or task. It’s an important skill for anyone focused on improving performance, and it can help filter through all the distractions and get to the one thing that will deliver the result. For example:
- What do I want?
- How will I know when I achieve it?
- What can I do to achieve that outcome?
- What can I learn from others who have gone before me?
- What do I bring from prior experiences that can help inform my present situation?
Challenge yourself this week to do less, focus on what’s most important, and discover greater meaning and success in your work. Notice what happens!
“Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” – John Wooden
Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for TransitionGuides, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership.