Recently I received an email from American Express providing a mid-year summary of my spending. It can be a useful exercise to step back and see longterm patterns and trends we may not be aware of on a day-to-day basis. However, this email spurred me to look at spending differently. We should also step back and review how we are spending our most priceless commodities—our time and energy.
I have mixed feelings about New Year’s Resolutions. Although they seem like a good idea at the time, they can quickly become unworkable and fade from our list of daily priorities. They can set us up for disappointment.
The upside of resolutions has to do with the power of prospective thinking. As we look at a fresh new calendar, we see the upcoming year as a blank slate, a clean canvas. Research in positive psychology has shown that when we set aside time to imagine future possibilities, we are pulled by the future rather than pushed by the past. We are better able to tap into our full potential.
Such an exercise in reflection and imagination is too valuable to be relegated to a yearly ritual. I teach my executive coaching clients the productive habit of regular check-ins to assess their present state as well as their intentions and goals. These check-ins range from daily check-ins to weekly, monthly, quarterly, bi-annual, and annual intervals. Most of us sit down and plan out our weeks, but those daily goals tend to get bogged down in minutia. Quarterly and mid-year assessments free us up to see the big picture.
Reassess business strategies and goals
In the same way that individuals can get lost in the minutia of daily to-do lists, so can entire businesses and organizations. Especially in an economy undergoing constant change and disruption, business leaders can find themselves spending their time managing short-term crises and putting out fires—all at the expense of working on their long-term strategic goals.
Losing sight of the long view changes the way we manage in the present. A McKinsey study found that companies operating with a longterm mindset consistently outperformed the competition. Why? Companies focusing on the big picture are more willing to invest in research and development, and in training and learning opportunities for their employees. They are inclined to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains.
At this mid-point of 2019, take some time to step away from the daily planner. Look at your notes from meetings and discussions with your team about strategic goals. What did you discuss at your last leadership retreat? Is the way you are spending time and company resources aligned with your longterm strategy? What were your hopes and dreams for your organization at the start of the year?
Renew personal intentions and goals
People with clear and compelling long-term goals tend to be better at saving money and investing it in the future. I mention investing because that is the lens through which we should examine how we spend our time and energy. Is that time and energy contributing toward longterm goals and priorities? Are our daily to-do lists consistent with our vision of our future self?
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” observes author Annie Dillard. Revisiting our New Year’s Resolutions is an opportunity to view our days through a different lens—to swap the microscope for a telescope. It is a chance to return to our intentions and core values.
One of the things most easily lost in the shuffle as those resolutions fade in the rearview mirror is our health and wellness goals. Maybe your goal to go to the gym three times a week did not materialize—but that does not mean you cannot renew the intention to take better care of yourself. The longer days and warmer weather of summer are a perfect occasion to get outdoors, exercise, and commune with nature. It is also an opportune time to make sure you take advantage of your vacation days—something Americans often neglect to do.
Rewrite your narrative
Prospective thinking is defined as “the mental representation and evaluation of possible futures.” This kind of thinking involves a combination of planning, prediction, and daydreaming—the last of which is often sadly disregarded. Great thinkers like Einstein were frequent daydreamers.
Dreaming about possible futures frees us from the fatalism of assuming the past determines our fate. According to Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, the ability to contemplate the future is what makes us human. Our brains naturally continue to rewrite the past because doing so allows us to envision a new future. Our narrative is an evolving work-in-progress.
There is no better time than now, at this midpoint of 2019, to examine and reflect on your goals and intentions, personally and professionally. Are you on track with the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the year? Do you need to self-correct, or revise those goals, or both? Is the way you spend your time and energy aligned with your dreams and core values?
Reminding ourselves of the big picture and the long view is a way to inject new perspective and energy into our lives. Let the second half of your year be a time for regular check-ins to ensure you are spending your time and energy the way you want.