Most of us have, at some point, made a promise to a child. You are probably familiar with these harmless exchanges. They are the promises to take him or her to the library, go to the store to pick up a new set of crayons, or take him to the park. What is the first thing the child asks you? “When?” “What day?” You may reply, “Soon, really soon.” The child will say, “How about tomorrow?” and then go on to ask, “…and when tomorrow?”
While these humorous interchanges are harmless, they are also extremely successful. By the time the child leaves the room he or she has pinned down exactly how and when you will be taking them to the library, store, or park. Believe it or not, they also offer an important lesson for the rest of us for how to manage our calendar to improve professional presence and effectiveness.
This may or may not seem fair, but your ability to follow through on obligations and accomplish the goals you set out for yourself, your clients, and colleagues determines the level of professionalism that you are branded with. At times when everyone is busy, many of us are working harder than ever before, and make great strides each day, as a result of focus and productivity that has been honed throughout the years.
Still, to maintain and improve your professional presence, you must have consistent deliverables and keep to your word. That all starts with your to-do list, right? We all have to-do lists, and many of us swear by their effectiveness. If you take another look, you may find that your to-do list has gradually turned into a ‘to-feel-guilty-about’ list, as many of the items get consistently moved to the bottom of the list, and are never accomplished.
Let’s revisit those exchanges you have had with a child in your life. What makes childrens’ tactics so effective? It’s the power of when and where. The problem with typical to-do lists is that we use them as our primary tool to guide our daily accomplishments, and we need to start thinking of them as a collection tool that leads us right to our calendar. Research shows that you are more than twice as likely to accomplish your goals if you set a clear time and place for each item on your list.
Here is a great example of the power of when and where. In a recent study, a group of women agreed to do a breast self-exam. One group was told simply to do it sometime in the next thirty days. The other group was asked to decide when and where in the next thirty days they were going to do it. Only 53 percent of the first group did the breast self-exam. But all of the women who said when and where they were going to do it -100 percent- completed the exam. Amazing results, right?
Let’s take the lessons from this research and the tactics learned from the children in our lives and put them to work to improve your professional presence.
- Look at your to-do list or write the one down that is already ruminating in your head.
- Take out a calendar, open one on your desktop, or use whatever calendar tool you prefer, and start slotting in each item on your list.
- Are there items that just don’t fit anyplace? This is a (sometimes painful) indication that they probably don’t even belong on your list at all. You are carrying them along, and having them on your list means that you have been telling people you are going to accomplish them, and when you don’t, your professional presence takes a hit every time.
So get honest with yourself. Plug the calendar and see what is left on the list. Either add it in and get it done, or take it off entirely. You will become more productive because you will no longer spend energy making excuses for the things you don’t do, and your professional presence will improve, because you will start to build a track record of accomplishing everything that you set out to do.