This exercise is perhaps one of the greatest ROI (Return On Investment) activities I have come across and that’s due to the simplicity of the process and the power of the output, assuming, of course, that you put it into practice.
You’ll need paper and a pen, and access to your calendar for the past year. Ideally, your calendar will reflect where you have spent your time including topics and people over a 12-month period.
Here are the steps:
- Label two pieces of paper (or an open 2-page spread in a journal) with the headings ‘Positive’ and ‘Negative’ respectively.
- Open your calendar to week 1 (I would encourage you to take a weekly view rather than daily if possible to speed the process) of your previous 12-month period.
- Scan what’s in your diary reflecting on where you were, who you were with, what you were doing, recall how you were feeling (do you feel it now as you reflect on the time). As you scan, take notes on any reflections you have, positive and negative. They may relate to specific people, specific activities, what was happening in your life more broadly. Note anything that comes to mind under the headings ‘positive’ and ‘negative’.
- Repeat this process for every week across your 12-month period.
- On a clean page make a small note at the top, “What 20% produced the most reliable or powerful peaks?” (in the spirit of the Pareto principle), and under it divide your page in 2, with the headings ‘Positive’ and ‘Negative’.
- Scan everything you noted on your ‘positive’ page (or pages if you required them) searching for themes by asking yourself “what are the common patterns in my positive reflections?”, “what are the 20% of activities produced the most reliable or powerful positive peaks in my experience?”. Make note of these under the ‘Positive’ heading created in step 5.
- Repeat this process for the negative.
- Now to begin the process of turning these insights into action: for the positive, get them into your calendar. If it was time with particular people, find a reason to connect more and establish a rhythm. Maybe it’s a monthly gathering or a quarterly weekend away. If it’s activities like learning, block time to decide what you want to learn this month or this year, if you don’t already know, then commit to a process that will keep you accountable to it. If it’s certain work activities that aren’t a part of your normal function, consider how you could create more opportunity by expanding or changing your role, set up a conversation with your boss if that’s what’s needed, if your current workplace is not the ideal environment consider volunteering or creating a side project. The key to this entire step is to understand what inspires you in life and to commit to doing more of it, creating a rhythm in your forward-looking calendar can be a very effective enabler of this.
- Now, the negative, let’s create a Not-To-Do List. Make a list of the people, activities, situations that, in an ideal world, you will avoid. If you see some of these as necessary activities plan time to truly reflect on why they are necessary and if they remain in your life, consider how you could approach them differently to achieve a different and better result, for yourself and others involved. Once you have your Not-To-Do List, consider how you will catch yourself when these creep back into your life, how will you know and what will you do?
- To establish these new habits no doubt you will find it helpful to keep your one-page close, either in the front of your diary, as a desktop image or wherever else works for you.
I would love to hear what comes from this activity for you – please do get in touch when you’ve completed it to let me know, Nic.