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Planned neglect

How to end up somewhere on purpose.  

No-one gets to the end of the week and realises “I’ve forgotten to eat this week“, or “I’ve forgotten to sleep“. When it comes down to it we can’t manage time, we can only manage priorities. Planning ahead and understanding our priorities will help to keep the main thing, the main thing.

There are seasons when we have time for everything and the only issue is to put them all in the right order. In other seasons there isn’t time for everything and we have to select which tasks make it into our day using our priorities.

“All people end up somewhere in life, but few end up there on purpose.”
~ Craig Groeschel.

In “The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth” John Maxwell encourages us to develop personal systems to help us to end up somewhere on purpose.  I would like to share some of those that I have found to be particularly effective while remaining simple and straightforward. 

One great way of keeping priorities in clear focus is described by Bill Hybels in his book Axiom. In this, he shares a process that he uses personally and with his team which he calls simply Six by Six Execution. Bill is the Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church and he explains that on one occasion he had just 6 weeks to address an overwhelming number of challenges.   The question he asked himself was “What is the greatest contribution I can make to Willow Creek Community Church in the next six weeks?” 

He set about identifying the activities that only he could do that were going to make the greatest contribution to the work of his organisation. The net result was a list of the decisions and initiatives that only he could accomplish, and which, if achieved, would mean he would look back with satisfaction on a productive and effective six weeks.

It worked really well for an initial six weeks, and so he repeated the plan over the next six weeks, and the next, and found it was making a real difference in his productivity.  This principle can be extended by bringing key partners in to discuss and evaluate each other’s six top priorities, and this brings both a challenge and a clarity to a team.  It also brings an increased understanding and ultimately a buy-in to each other’s challenges, pressures and priorities. 

By its very nature, this process introduces another principle that is called “Planned neglect“.   John Maxwell tells a story about a young concert violinist: 

She was asked the secret to her success. She replied, “Planned neglect.” Then she explained, “When I was in music school, there were many things that demanded my time. When I went to my room after breakfast, I made my bed, straightened the room, dusted the floor, and did whatever else came to my attention.  Then I hurried to my violin practice. I found I wasn’t progressing as I thought I should, so I reversed things.  Until my practice period was completed, I deliberately neglected everything else. That program of planned neglect, I believe, accounts for my success.”

So, to succeed we need to focus on our six top priorities every six weeks and neglect everything else?  Well, not quite.  Some things just take time and daily attention.  The Quality Management guru Dr Juran used the phrase: “the vital few and trivial many” to help understand this principle.  He explained that there are the vital few tasks that require a large amount of focussed effort, and also a plethora of “trivial” things that need to be dealt with gradually over time.  In addition, it can be really helpful to use the concept of “elephant steaks”, a metaphor used to illustrate the idea that the best way to tackle a really large task is to break it down into smaller tasks that can be worked on over time.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily.  The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”
~ John Maxwell

So, having focussed on the six things that are top of the list for every six week period, and then planned to neglect everything else, a great way of making sure that the elephant steaks and the trivial many don’t get overlooked is to start a set of daily habits.  For me these habits include things like spending time with key people, exercise objectives, practicing an instrument and learning a new language. 

Although it will depend greatly on your personality type how you deal with priorities, which things come easy and which are more difficult, the true test of any system is how it stands up under pressure.  I find that the systems I use vary with time and with each season of my life, and we will all find some that work and others that don’t work for us. 

Some apps that I find helpful here, that you may also find of use, include Wunderlist for keeping tasks and priorities in order, Habitbull for encouraging daily habits, YouVersion for daily Bible Readings, and Duolingo for learning a new language.  I wish you well in finding and using personal systems that you can use to end up somewhere on purpose. 

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.