There are a lot of choices you make in the course of your day.
Paper or plastic.
Doughnuts or vegetables.
Car or bus.
Honesty or fudging.
Tweeting or keeping your thoughts to yourself.
So many choices.
There’s one big, unspoken choice many of us feel like we have no choice about at all: whether to be prepared or to simply react.
When I’m called into an underfunctioning organization with underfunctioning leaders, know what I see most often? Folks in back-to-back meetings from 8:15am until 6:30pm (or later), every single day with no time to prepare for any of these meetings let alone prepare for tomorrow’s meetings. They just sit in their chair at the table in the conference room and do their best to wing it based on what they know in the moment.
What’s the problem with that, you ask? Doesn’t that just mean that the work they’re doing is critically important? That they are a fast-paced, high-stakes, high-pressure, cool kids sort of organization?
Let me get back to that and tell you a story first.
I was an advanceman at the White House, and in a bunch of campaigns. The job of the advanceman is to go ahead of the principal and set everything up in advance (get it?) so the events flow easily and go off without a hitch.
For multi-day meetings with other foreign leaders, we might have five to six weeks of preparation and would get our schedule down to a minute-by-minute timeline.
This was all about being prepared.
Which really paid off when the event was underway and something unexpected happened. Like, meetings ran too long. Or news broke elsewhere. Or the button popped off the President’s suit coat (really happened. It was sewn back on by the traveling nurse with suture since no one had a sewing kit).
Through all my years of this kind of work, I discovered that the more prepared I was, the better I was able to react. Preparation had given me a container to work within, and even if something happened I hadn’t planned for I was able to get back on track quickly – because I was prepared to execute successfully.
Today’s workplace has lost the ability to prepare, it seems to me. We’re all about reacting.
And there is a certain adrenaline rush to being fully in reactive mode. It’s like being on the back of a bucking bronco, holding on for dear life. That frisson of energy: Can I pull it off?
Plus, there’s a lot of drama involved with living in a reactive mode which is entirely intoxicating to many, many people in the average office.
Finally, when you’re simply reacting with no preparation, it’s super easy to say, “Well, that went badly. Too bad we didn’t have time to think it through! We’ll get ’em next time!” and folks escape all responsibility for a less than ideal outcome.
Some folks like this. A lot.
So they spend more than 95% of their time reacting and, if they’re lucky, less than 5% prepping.
I’d like to propose a new approach to our days. What do you think would be different in your life if you spent 60% of your time preparing and 40% reacting? What could you achieve?
What if, rather than back-to-back meetings, you had back-to-back planning time?
What if every meeting you did attend was focused on preparation? What if every meeting drove toward decision-making, backed up by prep done in advance of the meeting?
What could you accomplish if you actually had time to think during the day?
The current paradigm of “You know you’re important if you have no time to actually get anything done” has got to go. People who are too busy to perform – don’t answer email, can’t take phone calls, winging meetings, on the road and unavailable all the time – are not cool.
They’re actually holding everyone else back.
I challenge you – especially if you lead a group of people and are intent upon reaching certain goals and even if you’re a full-time parent or retiree – to flip your paradigm away from willy-nilly reaction to purposeful preparation.
The promise is that you’ll get what you want more quickly, easier, with a greater ability to flow with anything unexpected which might come your way.
And that is how the real cool kids roll.