Episode: Encore Episode: The Ultimate Calendar Management Solution
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Michael Hyatt: In the summer of 1914, Europe was on the brink of war. After the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the major powers mobilized millions of soldiers and tons of materiel in preparation for the conflict we know as World War I. In those days, the world ran on steam power. It would be steam locomotives that delivered armies and ammunition to the front lines.
At the start of the war, some 90 trains a day arrived at Southampton, England, loaded with men and supplies bound for the continent. On August 18 alone, 20,000 men, 1,200 horses, 210 bicycles, 20 cars, and 600 other vehicles were unloaded there, all on their way to the front. Over the next four years, Britain would feed two and a half million men into the war effort, all transported by rail.
Megan Hyatt Miller: But there was a problem with a steam locomotive: smoke. Plumes of white exhaust from the coal-fired engines were visible for miles, making any train near the front an easy target for enemy guns. What could be done? The gasoline engine was being used to power cars, but it lacked the horsepower to directly drive the massive weight of a train. Electricity was also coming of age, and electric trains were in use in some cities, but they depended on having power lines strung above the tracks, and no lines were in place near the fighting.
So the Allies faced a dilemma. Would they risk lives by relying only on steam trains or would they attempt to quickly build more automobiles and better roads? Or could they perhaps string electric cables to the battlefront? Or was there another option, a way to combine the best existing system with these newer technologies?
Michael: In 1903, the Russians had launched a tanker ship powered by a new hybrid technology, the diesel electric engine. The diesel engine powered a generator, which fed the electric motor. The electric motor acted like a transmission, instantly delivering full power. This revolutionary approach combined the portability of a petroleum-fired engine with the smooth, reliable power of an electric motor. Could it work for trains too?
Megan: By the war’s end, some 300 petrol-electric locomotives were in use, running supplies to the front lines. These hybrid vehicles combined the massive capacity of the railroad, the lower emissions of gasoline engines, and the steady dependability of electric power. This same hybrid continues to drive any number of vehicles, including trains, ships, and yes, cars.
Michael: When it comes to technology, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Sometimes you can have the best of both worlds.
Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.
Megan: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.
Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence. In this episode, we’ll show you our own hybrid technology, a calendar system and a task management system that’ll enable you to get control of your schedule and your task list once and for all.
Megan: As leaders, we all have a multitude of commitments, appointments, and deadlines. Some days it seems as if all we do is run from one deadline to the next. Calendar notifications and reminders seem to have taken control of our lives. We’re always one step behind. But today, we’ll show you the three basic tools that will enable you to manage your day. Plus we’ll have a visit from our own director of operations, Suzie Barbour, who will give us some practical tips on coordinating your calendar with an executive assistant.
When we’re done, you’ll be able to live each day with the confidence that you’re fully focused on the things that matter most. Before we dive into today’s content I’d like to ask a favor. If you’re enjoying Lead to Win, would you please leave a review? It’s super simple to do. All you have to do is visit mh.fullfocus.co/reviewit. It’ll only take a couple of minutes. Thanks so much.
Dad, everybody knows you’re an early adopter of technology and you absolutely love digital solutions. I know when we came out with a paper calendar solution last year, the Full Focus Planner, it surprised a lot of people. So let’s start by talking about your thoughts on that process. How did you arrive at using both a digital calendar and a paper planner?
Michael: Okay, let me get to this by telling you a little bit about my story. I’ve always been a planner. I started with a paper planner back in college. At first it was the Seven Star mini diary, and then I evolved into another time management system. I ended up finally with the Covey planner. I carried that thing with me everywhere. But about that time, digital solutions came online, and there were all kinds of them. There was the PalmPilot, and there were things available for your laptop. Then eventually we got to the smartphone.
I went all in on the digital. In fact, I was totally committed to the paperless office. I didn’t want any paper anywhere. All digital. But I started to notice some limitations. It was really easy to fall into the black hole of social media and digital distraction and get completely unfocused and not get anything done. Then I realized there has to be a better way. Digital does have its advantages, for sure. It’s very easy to share your calendar, for example, or to be able to track it on any devices.
If there are changes, you know about them instantly. Your assistant knows about them instantly. So there are definitely advantages to digital solutions, but they have huge drawbacks and mostly distractions. I found that the more I got involved in the digital technology, the less I was actually getting accomplished. Why? Because I was getting distracted too often. So I realized there had to be a different solution.
Now, paper also has advantages and disadvantages. The great thing about paper is that you always have it with you. I’ve tried to come up with so many hacks for how to add a task digitally. I’ve tried everything from speaking it to Siri to trying to type it fast on my smartphone into Evernote, but it’s never as fast as just grabbing a piece of paper and writing it down.
The problem with that, though, is that the pieces of paper get lost and reshuffled and you can never find the piece of paper. So what’s the best solution? In my experience, the best solution is a hybrid solution, and that’s the solution I’ve been using now for a couple of years and the one that has made me, I think, the most productive I’ve ever been in my life.
Megan: Me too. People are probably wondering what task you use each technology for, digital or paper.
Michael: I still keep my calendar in a digital format. I use Google Calendar. (We’ll look at that in just a little bit.) I keep my calendar there digitally because people in the company have to reference it. Some people outside the company have to reference it. It makes it very easy for us to collaborate and be aware of what everybody in the company is doing at any given time, especially those projects that are mutually shared.
Megan: So if there’s any kind of complex calendar management, whether your own calendar is complex or there’s integration with other calendars with other people or teams, then a paper solution is going to be insufficient.
Michael: That’s right. Then when it comes to task management, currently I’m using Todoist. In the past I’ve used Nozbe and still love that. I’m not really fully settled on Todoist. My point is it doesn’t really matter what tool you use as long as you use one that’s working for you. I think those are two great tools.
Today’s tasks are going to go on my paper planner. Again, I’ll illustrate this in a minute. Anything that needs to be put on the back burner or needs to be put in a place where I can get to it later is going to go into my digital task management system, but for staying focused in the moment throughout the day I’m going to use the paper planner that has my current agenda and also my current list of tasks, the ones I’m going to do today.
Megan: That’s one of the challenges of using an all-digital solution. It can easily become invisible to you. You can sort of lose focus. Not only can you become distracted when you’re using it but you can lose focus in the first place because it’s not front and center, so on a daily basis you kind of forget where you’re supposed to be. For example, your next meeting or whatever it is. You forget whatever you were trying to write down. It gets lost on your way to speak it into Siri or Evernote. The great thing about using an analog tool is that it’s front and center all day long, which is helpful.
Michael: It’s true. I think there’s something powerful about actually writing it down. When I’m writing down my tasks, it’s an opportunity for me to slow down and review what I’m committing to for the day. The same thing with my calendar appointments.
Some of the calendar appointments I have for today (or any day) are things that were committed to weeks or sometimes months ago, and maybe I’ve forgotten why I was committed to that or what I need to do to prepare for that or just to get in the right mindset to really maximize that time with somebody else. Writing it down gives me an opportunity to reengage and actually say yes to that appointment again. I like the value of doing that on a daily basis.
Megan: If I’m a leader and I’m only using a digital calendar, besides that benefit of recommitting, what else am I missing out on by having no paper analog representation of what I’m doing on a daily basis?
Michael: For one thing… I like to take all of my notes in a paper planner too. Believe me, I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried just typing into Evernote. I’ve taken that into meetings. I’ve tried typing on it. The problem with that is when you’re typing on a laptop in a meeting everybody thinks you’re doing email and not paying attention.
Megan: And sometimes that’s true.
Michael: So then I tried an iPad, and I tried typing into that. Well, that was the same problem. Then I tried using the Apple Pencil. Well, that’s more trouble than it’s worth, honestly. Believe me, I’ve tried every application on the iPad trying to take real-time meeting notes, and I end up futzing with the technology, whether it’s figuring out what line width I’m going to select on the pencil to what color to how I’m going to organize it. It’s just maddening to try to get a workflow, and it’s not intuitive. I don’t care how much they make it like paper. If they’re going to make it like paper, why not use paper?
Megan: Right. If paper is so great, let’s just use it.
Michael: If you want to scan it later into Evernote, you can do that. That’s no problem. But the paper is readily available. The battery life is great. You can get right to it and get your note down. So I use paper in the meetings. Then nobody has any question about what you’re doing, and it’s a great way to demonstrate to your team that you’re paying attention and fully engaged in the meeting.
There’s something about (we’ve seen the science on this before) writing the note that reinforces it to your brain and makes it more memorable, and it’s different than just taking a transcript of what’s being said. That’s what happens to people when they take notes in a meeting on a computer. They tend to just take a transcript of what’s being said instead of actually synthesizing and analyzing what’s being said and then writing down their insights. Not just a record of what’s being said but how you’re reacting to what’s being said. That’s a huge, important, high-level brain function.
Megan: A lot of people are probably wondering if they shift to a hybrid model, is it going to take them twice as long to manage their calendar and their tasks?
Michael: Yeah, in a sense it feels like it’s redundant. You’re entering it into a digital calendar. Now you’re going to enter it into an analog calendar? Well, a couple of things to note about that. First of all, I don’t think of it as redundancy as much as review. With a digital solution, you might enter an appointment into a calendar and never think about it again until it comes time to actually go to that meeting or engage in that activity. That’s a problem. It probably needs to be reviewed sometime before that.
The thing I like about writing in my analog planner the big rocks, the big commitments, is it gives me a chance to review those things, to know they’re coming up, and to be adequately prepared for them when they happen. So it’s not redundant; it’s review. That’s how I think of it. And I would say (just to keep the alliteration going) it’s also reinforcement. By actually writing it down again, I’m reinforcing my commitment to that thing I’ve committed to.
Megan: Not only that, but you’re not wasting so much time in distraction, so you’re probably actually making up time rather than spending additional time.
Michael: Totally. For example, with the Full Focus Planner, one of the things our customers have reported to us in the thousands now… People have reported to us that they’ve never been more focused and never been less distracted, because they’re out of that digital environment for managing their day.
Megan: All right, Dad. Enough theoretical talk. I want you to show me how you do this in real life. I want to take the show on the road and walk the 10 feet from where we’re sitting right now to your desk and have you show me how you really do all of these things.
Michael: Let’s do it.
Megan: All right. This is our very first field trip on the Lead to Win show. We went all the way across the room to your desk. Here we are. We’re standing at your desk and looking at your calendar, and you’re going to share the three steps you have in this hybrid system and help us not be intimidated by it. Right?
Michael: We’re going to talk about the digital tools, analog tools, and how the two fit together. Step one is to select a digital calendar and a task manager. Let’s start with the calendar. Currently, we use Google Calendar. It’s not just me who uses this. We use this company-wide. One of the things we’ve done is set up different kinds of calendars. So we have a promotional calendar.
By the way, I use Fantastical, which sits on top of the Google Calendar and provides me, using a Mac, with a little cleaner interface and some bells and whistles that you don’t have in straight-up Google Calendar. For example, that’s my private calendar. A handful of people have access to this, people like you, Mom, and a handful of executives.
Megan: Your executive assistant.
Michael: My executive assistant, of course. Then we can layer on top of that our company promotional calendar. This has things like webinars and what promotions we’re doing.
Megan: We probably have about 10 calendars in all, I would say, for the company, if you count our own personal calendars in that. Maybe an important point here is, on a daily basis, how many do you have up when you’re looking at your calendar?
Michael: Honestly, on a daily basis I have one up, and that’s my private calendar. Occasionally when I’m doing planning, like when I’m doing my weekly review, I’ll reference the entire promotional calendar for the company because I want to give context to my individual actions, but that’s a distraction day to day, so I keep it simple.
Megan: Just to be clear, when you say your “private calendar,” you don’t mean it only has personal appointments on it. You mean your individual calendar. It has personal and professional appointments.
Michael: That’s right. But it doesn’t have things that pertain to other people in the company. It’s only the things where it requires my focus. Now this is a cool one. I’ve shown you this one. This is a separate calendar I have set up that’s my ideal week. I’ve set up every appointment as a recurring appointment, so no matter where I am in the year this recurs every week ad infinitum (in other words, into the future for as far as you can go), and it has every single spot blocked on my calendar with what I would like to have there if I had 100 percent control of my time.
Megan: So it’s kind of like a template.
Michael: It’s like a template, and this serves as a template for Jim as he schedules meetings. I have certain time allocated for front-stage activities, so when Jim is scheduling a front-stage activity (recording a podcast would be that kind of thing) he knows the slots that are available for that, and he always tries to do that if he possibly can.
Megan: This is something you set up probably a long time ago. It’s not something you’re needing to maintain in any way. You just have it set up and true it up occasionally.
Michael: Yeah, I’m going to show you that in a minute when we get to the analog planner, because I do revisit it once a quarter, and then it gets trued up here, but this is just kind of an overlay on the calendar that gives us a chance to make sure we’re acting in a way that’s in alignment with that ideal calendar.
Megan: Got it.
Michael: The great thing about a digital solution is that it allows changes to the calendar to be shared instantly across devices, from person to person, and nobody has to make sure that change is replicated on everybody’s individual calendars.
Megan: Which could get crazy.
Michael: That did get crazy back in the world when we only had analog calendars, because if you made a change to your calendar you had to make sure everybody else got that change as well, and that usually involved a phone call or an email or a memo or whatever. There are a few things I really like about Fantastical or Google Calendar. I won’t get into all of these now, but notice this little car up here in front of this appointment? It has travel time.
Megan: So it automatically generates that?
Michael: It doesn’t automatically generate it, but if you know the travel time it’s going to take… Like in this particular case, it takes me 30 minutes to get to church. I have the travel time built in so I leave on time. The same thing with getting to the airport. Most of my meetings I don’t have to go anywhere for. They’re either happening here or in close proximity or virtually so there’s no travel time.
Another thing I like is that I have meeting notes. For example, today we’re looking at podcast recordings. Jim has a link right in the note of the calendar item to all the show prep. Any of the details related to the meeting are right there in the meeting appointment where I can get to it. That’s a great thing as well.
So that’s the calendar. Then we have to look at the task manager. Currently, as I said earlier, I’m using Todoist. I feel a little badly about that because I used Nozbe for years and I still think it’s a great product and I know the guys there, so I feel like I’m a little bit betraying those guys, but I’m not. This is just the tool I’m currently using.
Megan: You just like to experiment all the time.
Michael: I do. I don’t fall too in love with tools, although I tend to have a long trajectory on the tools I like. I’ve been using Todoist for about six months, and I like it because it thinks like I do, which is hierarchically. For example, at the highest level…
Megan: I like all of these colors, by the way. How do you think about the colors?
Michael: I don’t really pay too much attention to the colors. I make sure they’re different colors, but I don’t… You can really get sophisticated with that if you want to, but I don’t.
Megan: One of the things I like about Todoist is that it’s really simple. It’s not overly complex and intimidating if you’re new to digital task management.
Michael: Right. I have one project that’s a top-level project called “Personal,” and then I have a lot of projects underneath that. Then I have a top-level project that’s called “MH Co,” which is Michael Hyatt & Company, and under that I have an “Administration” project that has a bunch of stuff under it. Then I have “Brands,” and I have a subproject under each one of those for each of our major brands, like Best Year Ever, Free to Focus, Full Focus Planner, and so forth. Then I’ll put the actual tasks inside of those buckets.
Then I have one for “Platform.” Again, this is more the high-level stuff. This is still under MH Co. This is for speaking, for social media, for the blog, and so forth. Now, inside of that I will put the tasks. Not for today, but any task where I want to make sure I’m not going to forget about that task, I put it here. I’m getting ready, for example, to speak at Leadercast, and I know I have three tasks. I have them right here. They’re not things I’m going to do today, so I don’t want them on my today list. I don’t want to be distracted by them.
I have “Write new intro and conclusion,” and I’ve actually delegated that to Mandi to do the first draft of it. You can see her name right here. Then I have to approve the slides and rehearse the speech, and that’s all coming up. It’s not something I need to worry about today. So my task management system is a parking lot for non-today tasks.
Michael: Because I want to get out of the digital environment for anything that’s related to today.
Megan: So you’re not in and out of this all day long. You’re reviewing it…what? Once in your morning routine and maybe at the end of your day? Or how does that work for you?
Michael: Yeah. Or if I think of a task that needs to be done but doesn’t need to be done right now, I go ahead and park it in Todoist and don’t think about it. Actually, if it happens during the middle of today, I’m writing it in my planner, and then I’m going to transfer it at two prescribed times, either in my workday startup ritual or my workday shutdown ritual. I’m going to move things in and out of Todoist onto my daily planner.
Let me just give you another example. Here’s my Full Focus Planner project. There I have “Discuss the project road map with Joel.” Then I have to discuss the third edition revisions with Joel (which, by the way, we’re doing tomorrow), make revisions to the third edition, and then print prototypes for the team and our top clients. Those are just tasks I may delegate, but they’re not important to me today, so they’re on the task manager. I don’t want to lose them, though.
Megan: The important thing, I hear you saying, for the hybrid system conversation is this is not your to-do list.
Michael: That’s right.
Megan: You’re not using your task management system as a daily to-do list. This is more like a parking lot or a receptacle for all of the things you’re going to put in there and come back to later. Kind of the same is true for your calendar, for the most part. As you’re going to talk about in a minute when we shift to the Full Focus Planner, the daily view of tasks and calendar are happening in the planner. So why don’t we go ahead and shift gears to that and talk about it?
Michael: The Full Focus Planner is a solution we created. It’s a literal, physical, analog planner, old-school planner, but I think it has a lot of innovations that are really cool, so I’m going to just walk through what I put in this. At the very first are my annual goals. This is one page. Right now I have nine annual goals, and I’ve handwritten them. I write them out completely fresh every quarter. Sometimes they change, sometimes they get revised, but by writing them out it reinforces them into my memory and my consciousness and gives me an opportunity to recommit to them.
Megan: We talked a whole bunch about that in a recent episode, making a case for paper, so if you want to know more about that you can learn all about it in that episode.
Michael: Then we go to the next forms, which are the Goal Details. Here’s where I’m writing out a goal summary, my key motivations, next steps, my reward, streak tracker, and all that stuff for each goal. It sounds more involved than it is. There are just a few pages, one for each of my goals there.
Then we get to something called the “Rolling Quarters.” This kind of functions like a calendar, but this allows me to see my upcoming commitments, but only the big rocks. It’s not every appointment, not every detail on my calendar, but the big commitments. Why? So I have context about what’s coming up. I typically will fill this out at the beginning of the quarter so I get the context for the entire quarter, and then I revisit it from time to time just so I can find my place in the quarter. Does that make sense?
Megan: It does.
Michael: Okay. Then if I flip over past the Rolling Quarters I get to the Ideal Week. You can see I’ve written this out by hand. This sometimes doesn’t change, but more often than not I’m tweaking it. I’m adjusting some things based on my current responsibilities, the season, whatever. I’ll adjust this, but this is my current Ideal Week. By the way, once I did this on the paper planner it got put into that one specific calendar in Google Calendar that was my ideal week so Jim would have reference to it, so you would have reference to it, so we were all working together to stay in sync on what goes where.
Then we flip over, and here are my Daily Rituals. This is where I write out my morning ritual, my workday startup ritual, my workday shutdown ritual, and my evening ritual, including an estimate of how much time it’s going to take. Again, there’s huge value in writing that out. Then we get to the Daily Pages. I’m going to turn to today’s page.
The way this looks is on the left-hand page is my task list and my agenda for the day, and then on the right-hand page is just a place to take notes, so, for meeting notes or brainstorming or ideas that occur to me during the day. It’s so much easier to write them down here rather than whip out your smartphone and try to remember your workflow of how you add something to your task list.
Megan: Or try to not check Instagram while you’re trying to find your Evernote app.
Michael: Yeah, good luck with that. Let me know how that works out.
Megan: This is really where the rubber meets the road in connecting the digital solution to the analog one on a regular and daily basis.
Michael: During my workday startup ritual I’m going to go through my digital task manager. I’m going to look at Todoist and look through it and ask, “Okay, what needs to be done today?” By the way, I’m going to review my goals too. So I’m going to flip back to that first page in the planner and look at my annual goals. I’m going to ask, “Is there anything I could add to my Daily Big 3 that would move me forward in the pursuit of one of my goals?” It could be a goal or it could be an important project. “Is there an important thing that needs to be done today?”
For example, today I have as my Daily Big 3 “Record four podcasts,” “Record podcast ads,” and, “Approve new speech intro and conclusion.” That’s my Big 3. If I got nothing else done today… By the way, that’s all I’ll get done today because podcast recording is taking all day. That’s all I’ll do today, and I’m okay with that. If I get three really important things done every day, three things that either move me toward my goals or are important projects, that’s enough.
Megan: You can build a business or a life on that, as it turns out.
Michael: You can totally do that. And guess what. When I look at this list… I also have a place for other tasks where I can write sort of the trivial tasks. Don Miller told me one time when he looked at this… He said, “So that’s kind of like your junk drawer for tasks.” I said, “Yeah.”
Megan: Just smaller things that are not big projects or goals.
Michael: The smaller things, running errands or whatever. If those things don’t get done they can float to the next day, usually without any big consequence. When I look at this, guess what. I don’t feel overwhelmed, because I only have three things to do today. Now, on the right side of that same page is my agenda, so I do have the podcast recording that’s marked out. I have dinner with Gail tonight because this is date night and it’s her birthday, so I’m super excited about that. Then normally I would keep my notes over here on the right, but I really haven’t done that today because we’ve been recording all day.
Megan: One of the things I’ve found to be very helpful about using the agenda and writing out what my daily schedule is there is that as I have gotten more and more meetings on my schedule in particular… Because of the way our calendar works within the company and our company ideal week, Mondays and Tuesdays are very meeting heavy for me, and I was finding that I would sometimes forget what was coming up next or I’d run a little over on a meeting. It was just difficult for me to keep it all straight when I had six or seven meetings in a day.
What’s really helpful is part of my morning ritual, when I fill out my planner for the day, it helps me to get clear again in a way that if I were relying only on my digital calendar… It’s much harder to have the context and sense of proportion about it when you’re looking at it from a passive perspective, but that puts me in a more active relationship with the things I have in my schedule and helps me to stay on track throughout the day. I really enjoy that.
Michael: That’s excellent. Honestly, if I just looked at my digital calendar it feels overwhelming, because I have all of these lists. They’re all categorized. There’s organization and structure, but it feels overwhelming, like there’s too much to do. But again, not everything has to be done today. Only three things have to be done today. When I look at that, it looks manageable.
I promise you when I get to the end of this day (I already have two of these items done just about, as soon as we finish this episode) I’m not going to feel overwhelmed. I’m going to feel satisfied, like I’ve finished my list. I know I accomplished the most important things. I can go to dinner with Gail and be fully present with her, not distracted by an endless, never-ending to-do list.
Megan: All right. So the first step is to select a digital calendar and task manager, and the second is to integrate your digital tools with a paper planner, like the Full Focus Planner. To talk about the third step, we’re going to go back and sit down and talk with Suzie Barbour about how to leverage an executive assistant to help you manage it all.
Michael: Before we go on, we’re doing a flash sale for one of our most popular products, the Full Focus Planner. Until Thursday, April 26, you can get the Full Focus Planner for 15 percent off a single planner and 25 percent off an annual subscription. We rarely do deals like this, so this is something very special. For those of you listening who don’t know anything about the planner, the Full Focus Planner is a physical planner…yes, a physical planner…to help you distill your big annual goals into daily actions. We have over 100,000 customers around the world who are enjoying greater productivity and success using this planner.
The planner follows a 90-day quarter, so if you order a single planner you would have to order a new planner every quarter, but with our annual subscription we deliver a planner to your doorstep at the beginning of every quarter so you don’t have to worry about breaking your progress. If you’re already in the middle of a subscription, this is the perfect time to gift the planner to someone else. This is also the perfect time to upgrade to the annual subscription, but as I said before, it only lasts until April 26. Go to fullfocusplanner.com for all of the details.
Megan: All right. So we’ve heard how a hybrid system works in real life and why to use it. The second step is to combine your paper planner for annual goals, major commitments, daily tasks, meeting notes, and weekly and quarterly reviews after that, but what’s the third step? The third step happens to be enlisting the help of your executive assistant to help manage it all. This is kind of the real secret sauce. Today, I have with us our director of operations, Suzie Barbour, who also leads and coaches our executive support team within Michael Hyatt & Company. She is like a calendar ninja of ninjas. If there was a grand master ninja…
Michael: We need a belt system.
Megan: I’m reverting to Ninjago because my kids are into Ninjago. I’m trying to think of what the most serious ninja is. Whatever it would be, that would be you. I’m so glad you’re here, because I think you have a lot of insight that’ll really help people figure out how to make this work in their own life. Of course, not everybody has an assistant, but many of our listeners do, and if you do we want to help you leverage his or her help in the best way possible.
There are also, by the way, a lot of low-cost outsourcing solutions, if this is something you want to consider, and can really take your productivity to the next level. Suzie, before we get into how to leverage an executive assistant, since not everybody has one but this may be an area they want to invest in, what are some great solutions, from the lowest cost option to the most premium, that we would feel good recommending to our listeners?
Suzie Barbour: That’s a great question. A lot of people think an executive assistant is completely not affordable and not in their budget. If that’s you, I would definitely encourage you to do some research, because there are some really low-cost options. One of our favorite options for that is owned by our friend Chris Ducker, and it’s called Virtual Staff Finder. That’s a wonderful solution. Our favorite solution and one we’ve used ourselves is BELAY Solutions. They are incredible. You can get an executive assistant who’s high level who’s fantastic through them for just 10 hours a week.
Michael: That’s where we found Suzie initially.
Suzie: Back in the day.
Michael: And we’ve continued to use BELAY Solutions. In fact, I was just at dinner with our good friend Ian Cron, and Ian told me his assistant Wendy, who he hired several months ago…
Megan: I think actually now it has been almost two years ago.
Michael: Wow. That long?
Megan: I think so.
Michael: He said to me over dinner… I said, “How is that working out?” He said, “Single best business decision I ever made.”
Megan: Yay. This is not a paid endorsement. We just love them and think they could help you. Okay, assuming now you have an executive assistant onboard, how can you leverage their expertise and help to manage calendar? First of all, what are the biggest mistakes you’ve seen busy leaders make in using executive assistants to manage their calendar or their tasks?
Suzie: First and foremost, the biggest mistake is not using an executive assistant to manage your calendar.
Megan: Preach that.
Suzie: There are a lot of executives who, for a variety of reasons, mainly because they feel like they can do it better and there’s no one else who could ever really grasp how they need to schedule their calendar and they are hesitant to let go of that control, they hold on to it. They think it’s the best use of their time when it’s not. So that’s the biggest mistake, just not trusting or using an executive assistant to do your scheduling and your calendaring. Then once you’ve started using one, the next biggest mistake is not empowering them or trusting them and continuing to take it back, continuing to try to schedule things on your own.
Megan: That’s a big one.
Suzie: It’s huge.
Megan: That’s when back several positions ago, when you were my executive assistant, you broke me up. You had to kind of raise me in this. You basically said, “You can’t schedule anything. If you’re going to turn it over to me, then you have to relinquish full control.” So I now don’t schedule anything, and that keeps me out of so much trouble. Every now and then, like once every three to six months I’ll try, and it has to get rescheduled. I can never successfully do it. I’m completely incompetent in this area.
Michael: Part of what happens there is we lose the context. The thing a good executive assistant has is they know what’s coming before and what’s coming after. They’re monitoring your energy level. There are times when I’ve scheduled something and my assistant Jim says, “Well, you realize you’re giving that major keynote presentation the week after that, right?” and I’m like, “Oh my gosh. What was I thinking?” He has all that in context because he’s a professional. That’s what he does. He manages my calendar. Me? I’m like a freelancer. I’m doing it occasionally, and I almost always screw it up.
Megan: Suzie, what do you think is the real value of having an executive assistant manage your calendar as a leader?
Suzie: First of all, this is going to increase your productivity, because it’s going to get a lot of the time you spend trying to manage your own calendar off of your plate and free you up. People don’t often realize how much time calendar coordination takes, and there are so many details you miss and so much back and forth and rescheduling.
So that piece is a huge win, but I think the biggest benefit is that if you have it set up right and you get going with a good foundation, an executive assistant becomes the guardian of your most important priorities. They really protect your most important work, your most important boundaries better (please hear me on that), way better than you ever will. They say no on your behalf, which is huge.
Megan: I was going to say…that’s a big one.
Suzie: That’s probably the biggest one.
Michael: Here’s the truth. I have a hard time saying no to people, so if I get a request for an appointment, I want to please people. I’m a recovering people pleaser. I’ve admitted that publicly. It’s hard for me to say no. Jim, on the other hand, has no problem with it. He’s not emotionally connected. He may not have the history. He also has the sensitivity, just in case people think, “Well, that could be a problem.” He has the sensitivity to it. He knows the people he needs to say yes to, but he also keeps me from getting into some things I have no business doing.
Suzie: We’ve sent decline emails, both myself and Jim, and we’ll sometimes get responses that say, “Well, I’m really disappointed in this answer, but that is the best ‘no’ I have ever heard.”
Michael: I know. I love that.
Suzie: “And I want to thank you for saying no to me in this way.” So an executive assistant can actually do it better than you can most of the time.
Megan: Suzie, for leaders who want to take their teamwork with their executive assistant to the next level… Maybe this is not going so well right now or they’re just getting started. What are some guidelines for how you can work well with an executive assistant around your calendar and how you can make this a really effective process?
Suzie: That’s a great question. The first thing I would say is if you or your executive assistant is not familiar with our approach to the Ideal Week and using that as a tool, that is probably the best place to start, because you really need to have an Ideal Week as a foundation when someone else is managing your calendar.
That essentially is the criteria your executive assistant will use to craft a week that protects your margin and your most important work. So I would definitely start out with going through an Ideal Week exercise with your executive assistant if you haven’t done that. Then if you have, continually touch base on that Ideal Week to make sure it’s updated, that it’s where you want it to be, and then they can use that as a guiding path to craft a week that works for you.
Megan: Dad, do you want to just briefly explain what the Ideal Week is and where people can learn more about that if they’d like to?
Michael: Let’s just link in the show notes to some of the episodes we’ve done in the past, not only on our current Lead to Win podcast but in the old podcast too, because I’ve talked about it in a lot of places.
Megan: We also teach this in our Free to Focus course as well as in depth in our activation workshops, which is in our group coaching context. Okay, what about the leader who feels overwhelmed? This actually happened to us in the last week. If you’re successful and you’re killing it, you’re going to get overwhelmed from time to time, even if you’re really effective at productivity. You’re going to become a victim of your own success, and you’re going to have to triage and reassess and take your productivity consistently to the next level, almost on a seasonal basis as things change in your business. So how do you help leaders when they get overwhelmed from a calendar standpoint?
Suzie: The first thing I would say is to realize that shame tends to show up right away when you feel overwhelmed, like you should have this together or you’ve been doing this long enough that you shouldn’t be feeling this way or you’re kind of weak-sauce, basically, because you’re struggling with this.
Megan: That’s a technical term.
Suzie: Totally technical. Here’s the thing. Everybody gets to a place where they’re overwhelmed once in a while. We’ve had to do this for you. We’ve had to do this for Michael. People who have been at this for a long time and are productivity gurus occasionally have to stop and say, “Man, I’m really overwhelmed.” When you hit that point, first of all, don’t be ashamed of it. Second of all, enlist help if you can.
If you have an executive assistant, you need to stop this episode as soon as you’re done and call them and tell them you need an hour with them on your calendar because you’re feeling overwhelmed to do what we like to call a calendar triage. You could even do that with your spouse. You could grab lunch real quick tomorrow and get this figured out.
The main thing is you’re not going to stop being overwhelmed if you just put your head down and keep trying to work, which is what most of us intuitively do. You have to push “pause” and figure out what your next steps are to dig out of that. We like to do that with a system we call the calendar triage.
Megan: The reality is if you’re a successful leader and your business is growing rapidly, you are going to get overwhelmed. You are going to find yourself in the weeds no matter how good at productivity you think you are. This is just the natural consequence of success. It happens to us on a fairly regular basis. It happens to the leaders and executives on our team. So what do you say when a leader comes to you and they’re overwhelmed? How do you help them dig out and find a new path?
Suzie: The first thing I always try to encourage people to do is to know right away you don’t have to be ashamed. Shame can come on the scene really quickly when you’re feeling overwhelmed and kind of say, “I should have this together” or “I should know better by now. I’ve been doing this long enough.” What we have joked about is you don’t want to start feeling like you’re weak-sauce, like you can’t handle it just because you’re overwhelmed, when in reality there are people who have been doing this for a long time who are productivity gurus, like Michael Hyatt, who get overwhelmed from time to time.
Michael: True fact.
Suzie: We have to regroup and address priorities and get back together on that. So first, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be ashamed. Then the second thing is to immediately enlist help. I would encourage you, if you’re feeling that way, after you finish listening to this episode, call your executive assistant and say, “Hey, I’m feeling overwhelmed, and I need an hour to triage my calendar.” You could also do that over lunch with your spouse, like tomorrow.
Megan: Take action quickly. That’s what you’re trying to say.
Suzie: My point I’m getting to there is get help and do it quickly, because if you just put your head down and keep trying to move forward and get more done and get more done, you’re never going to stop being overwhelmed. You have to stop immediately and reassess the situation. Then when we talk about reassessing, what we usually do is something we like to call calendar triage.
Megan: I love calendar triage, though the first time you do it can be a little scary. It’s kind of like declaring email bankruptcy.
Michael: Similar concept.
Megan: Yeah, it is a similar concept. You basically look at your calendar with your executive assistant in the driver’s seat, preferably, with fresh eyes and ask, “What has to go to free me up here?” There are no sacred cows. There may be things you have to cancel, back out of. Of course, we recommend you do that with integrity on honoring the people you’ve made the commitment to. We’ve talked about that in other episodes, of course. But how do you approach that? You’re pretty brutal. You kind of have a virtual machete when you go about this process.
Suzie: It’s kind of dark, but we do like to use the term machete, because what we’re talking about essentially is not how we can fit more and more in and keep going and going, but we’re having to make some hard decisions. The more you grow in your leadership, the more those decisions are harder to make, because all of the opportunities are great and all of the things on your plate seem important and significant, but the reality of it is you can’t do it all, so you have to get really clear on what you need to do.
I always suggest people start with our big three in priorities, which we like to say are margin, profit, and people. The very first thing you want to evaluate when you’re doing a triage is how your margin is. If you are sacrificing your nights, your weekends, your mornings, or whatever your time off is supposed to be, your health, your marriage, your family, it’s not worth it, so you have to immediately stop and ask, “What do I have to do to regain that time?”
Megan: And you’re not productive. If you don’t have any rejuvenation, you’re probably getting slower by the minute.
Suzie: And rapidly.
Michael: The reason you feel overwhelmed is because there’s no break. The thing about a break, whether it’s taking off in the evenings or taking off on the weekends or taking a vacation… I can power through and work really hard during the work time as long as I know I have my evening and my weekends free. When you don’t have that, you’re going to feel overwhelmed, so you have to attack margin first.
Suzie: Absolutely. It’s critical for your business and the success of your business. So check your margin, first and foremost, and then from there, what you’re talking about is high-leverage activities with people and profit. So who are the most important people you have to focus your time on? Usually those are internal members of your team, your top clients, things like that. Then your profit. How do you need to protect profit, manage profit, make profit?
Those are usually your high-leverage activities. So what is pulling you away from those activities? Usually we like to say look at a short period of time first. Let’s start with a week. Then let’s look at a month. If you can do up to 90 days, that’ll give you a good amount of relief, because you don’t want to just clean up next week and then feel overwhelmed the following week, so you do need to get out in front of it. But start where you can and start cutting, basically, the things that don’t protect margin, and then meet those high-level requirements in terms of people and profit.
Megan: I love that. So if you’re not using your assistant right now to manage your calendar in this hybrid system, what’s the first step?
Suzie: To start using your assistant.
Michael: Was that a trick question?
Megan: Just do it.
Suzie: Seriously. Don’t be afraid of that. Get set up for success with them from the beginning using things like the Ideal Week and getting clear on the criteria you need them to have for you to be able to trust that they can do it, but really release that, because you’ll find it will increase your productivity.
Michael: I think you actually have to say to yourself as a leader, “I don’t do calendar management.”
Megan: I say that when I go to a dentist appointment, for example.
Michael: Totally. I do the same thing.
Megan: When you go to any kind of medical appointment they always want you to schedule your next thing while you’re there. That’s probably part of their business model, to get you for the next appointment or haircut or whatever. I always just say, “Oh, I actually don’t manage my schedule, but you can call Jamie, and here’s her number,” or “I’ll have Jamie reach out to you on that.” She, of course, always does, but I don’t even touch it.
Michael: The problem is a lot of leaders want to be the person who takes action in the moment and is really responsive, so, “Yeah, let me just check my calendar and do something right now.” You have to get away from that. Your value and significance is not from managing your calendar. Your board of directors or your boss is not paying you to manage your calendar if you’re a senior level executive or a business owner. That’s something somebody else probably has the passion and the proficiency to do well, and it’s probably not something that’s in what we call your desire zone. If it is, you probably need to change careers.
Megan: Well, Suzie, thanks so much for being here with us today. This has been invaluable, I’m sure, for our listeners and hopefully inspires them to either get an executive assistant who can take over their calendar management or take their teamwork with their current executive assistant to the next level. So thanks for joining us today.
Suzie: You’re welcome. It’s always fun. Thanks.
Megan: Today we’ve learned a hybrid calendar system combines the power of digital tools with the increased focus of a paper planner to help you manage your day. As we come in for a landing, I just want to remind you that you have control over your own life. You can take control of your time to gain freedom and focus using the right tools for help. Dad, do you have any final thoughts today?
Michael: Yeah. I think we need to avoid this kind of polarization that often occurs between the people who advocate digital tools only and those who advocate analog tools only. This is a great reminder that usually the third option is the best option. It’s easy to get caught up in this polarized debate online between whether it’s all digital tools or all analog solutions.
Rarely is life either/or. The best solution is often both/and, which enables you to have the power and focus that comes from paper and the retention that comes from writing things down and yet the convenience and shareability of the digital tools. So don’t get pushed into this either/or debate. Make it both/and.
Megan: As we close, I want to thank our sponsor LeaderBox. It provides automated personal development in a box. Check it out at leaderbox.com.
Michael: If you enjoyed today’s episode, you can get the show notes and a full transcript online at leadto.win.
Megan: A special thanks also to Suzie Barbour for taking time out of her day to join us.
Michael: Thank you, Suzie. Thanks again for joining us on Lead to Win. If you like the show, please tell your friends and colleagues about it, and also please leave a review of the show. It’s simple to do. It’ll only take you a few minutes. Just go to mh.fullfocus.co/reviewit.
Megan: This program is copyrighted by Michael Hyatt & Company. All rights reserved. Our producer is Nick Jaworski.
Michael: Our writers are Joel Miller and Lawrence Wilson.
Megan: Our production assistant is Aleshia Curry.
Michael: Our recording engineer is Mike Burns.
Megan: And our intern is Winston.
Michael: We invite you to join us again next week when we’ll talk about the three key ingredients for creating a great team culture. Until then, lead to win.