I've been there. As a young management engineering officer in the U.S. Air Force, I found my days fully occupied with solving problems, making decisions, communicating, and so forth. One evening I was reading Peter Drucker’s Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, one of my favorite management books. I realized I was not doing my job. I was not thinking about where I wanted to lead my part of the organization. I was not visioning. My supervisors never noticed. They were too busy putting out their own fires.
The next day when I came to work, I asked my secretary to hold all calls unless from they came from very high in my chain of command. I informed my immediate supervisors that I would be very busy that day and if at all possible, not to disturb me. Fortunately they left me alone. I went into my office and closed the door. I spent the entire day in my office letting the busywork pile up while I drank coffee, Dr. Peppers, and thought about our mission and what my part of the organization was really about. That day I developed a vision, an idea of where I wanted us to go and how we might get there. At the next meeting with my teams, I shared my thoughts, got their thoughts and feedback. We worked together and agreed to a vision, revised our plans, and implemented. Over the next year we focused more on effective, meaningful training. With better skill sets came more success at our primary mission. Together we build an internal Air Force consulting capability that produced real dollar savings for the American taxpayer. Together we made an impact. And with that came promotions and recognition for my teams.
I had not been handling my real priorities, leading and visioning. It was hard to find time at first and only got harder as I climbed the ladder. When it was impossible to take a day during my work week, I made it a Saturday. I would then get my direct reports' ideas and inputs. Having done this, I presented our plan to my boss. I recall once when I was working for a new manager, he was amazed, “How on earth did you find time to do this?” If you understand your priorities, you make time -- at work and in life.
This week a former graduate student visited my MBA class by telephone. The subject was leadership and organization development. Seemingly out of nowhere she asked, "Have you told them about the 17th day?" I said I had not, to which she replied, "Then you must. It has made an enormous difference for me."
For years I have referred to blocking a day for thinking and visioning as "the 17th day." I'm not sure why, but probably because it would be nice to do every 17 working days or so. In actuality it is more like every four to six months. But over the years feedback from alumni has been that "the 17th day" was one of the most useful ideas they learned and it made a difference in their professional lives. I know it did in mine.
Image, "Man in Chair Thinking" Public domain. https://openclipart.org/detail/25947/man-in-chair-thinking
Follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/johnballardphd
On Twitter: @johnballardphd
Decoding the Workplace: 50 Keys to Understanding People in Organizations, coming May 31.
Available for pre-order at leading on-line bookstores such as Amazon.com