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Does your 2014 planning really reflect your priorities?

Meredith Low provided this guest post.  She is a management consultant, focusing on helping organizations and companies understand how, when, and where to grow in the context of fast-changing environments. Her work with associations includes leading strategic and tactical planning, performing assessments to position conferences and meetings for growth and durability, and assessing the needs of members and other stakeholders.

“Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” - US Vice President Joe Biden

“Don’t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are.” - James W. Frick

Quotes like this are easy to find online and they’re absolutely correct. But only partially.

Budgets do indeed tell us a lot, but they aren’t the whole picture when it comes to planning.

Everyone has examples of fine-sounding strategies, priorities that seemed impressive but fell apart because nobody had the resources to get them done. But not just financial resources – to really make things happen, we also need to devote our time, attention, and ability to dedicate themselves to what was needed to really make things happen.

Time is arguably a more precious resource than money. To really understand our priorities, our schedules and our to-do lists can be just as illuminating as our budgets – and can show us earlier whether we’re on track or not.

So how can we make sure we’re spending time as well as money on the things that really matter for our success?

Book it. Are the big, immoveable objects already booked into the schedule? A critical board meeting, a vacation, a publication date, a conference, a family wedding… Anything that involves non-refundable deposits tends to stick, so those are things which – for better or for worse – are probably going to happen.

Lock it in.  Once you’ve signed a contract (or written a check), you’re more likely to look at something as a sunk cost, and not back out. I recently spent a few months contemplating how to tackle a particular project in my own business – but lo and behold, once I signed a contract with someone who could focus on the task, it actually got done.

Plant the flag. Can you go public with a specific commitment? Even if it’s just within a smaller group of people – your management team, your board, or your spouse, you might get a lot of value by saying (more than once) exactly what commitments you’re making, or how you want to spend your time. And this may benefit everyone in terms of focus.

Find some company.  Plenty of people find that having a running buddy helps them actually get up at o’dark thirty to get on the road. Do your colleagues also find it a challenge to carve out the time for your real priorities? Can you help each other?

Make it a habit. Look at everything through the lens of your priorities. An agenda should spend more of its time on the key priorities. Look at what the real estate on a communication is devoted to.

Make it visible. Reporting results does tend to galvanize action. It’s like insurance against our future selves, who may be less industrious, brave, or quick-acting than we might have hoped. So we can use some kind of reporting of progress to keep us focused and make sure we are using our time the way we were hoping we would when we planned out our week, our month, our year. This can be as sophisticated as a time-tracking system that’s shared across the whole organization, or as simple as a weekly stock-taking that’s jotted down.

What is 2014 going to be like for you?  Is that what you want it to be?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /