Creating an Annual Time Block

Stephen Covey tells the story in First Things First of attending a seminar, in which the instructor pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar. He sat it on the table next to some fist-sized rocks.

A Jar of Rocks“How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?” he asked.

The students made various guesses. The instructor then proceeded to fill the jar with the rocks. It looked like it was full. He asked the class, “Is this jar full?” Everyone looked at the jar and agreed that it was indeed full.

He then reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. He then dumped the gravel into the jar. The gravel went in between all the little places left by the big rocks.

Then he grinned and once more asked, “Is the jar full?” By this time, the class was on to him. “Probably not,” several of the students said.

“Good!” he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He poured it into the jar. It went into all the spaces left by the big rocks and the gravel. Again, he asked the class, “Is this jar full?”

“No,” the class shouted.

He said, “Good!” He then grabbed a pitcher of water and poured almost a quart of water into the jar. Then he said, “What’s the point?”

Someone said, “If you really work at it, you can always squeeze more stuff into your life.”

“No,” the instructor responded. “That’s not the point. The point is this: if you hadn’t put these big rocks in first, would you ever have gotten any of them in?”

I would make an additional point. The big rocks are a metaphor for the important stuff. If you don’t make room for the important stuff, it will be overwhelmed by the less important stuff.

With this in mind, I decided last week that I wanted to plan out the next three years. I am not talking about all the little details. My life is too dynamic for that to work. But I wanted to make sure that I scheduled the most important things, so that I wasn’t overwhelmed by the urgent.

I decided I would “put the big rocks” into my calendar for the next three years. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good tool to do this with.

What I really wanted to see was the whole year at a glance. Unfortunately, Entourage for Mac doesn’t offer this kind of view. The most you can see is a one-month view. The same is true of Outlook for Windows.

So, I created an Annual Time Block Tool in Excel. I have included my own calendar as an example with a blank sheet, which you can copy. You can enter the year you want to schedule in cell A5, and the calendar will automatically recalculate. It even takes into account leap years.

I began by scheduling the most non-discretionary things and moving to the most discretionary things. So I scheduled in this order:

  1. Company Holidays
  2. Church Holidays
  3. Industry Events
  4. Vacations
  5. Board Meetings
  6. Business Review Meetings
  7. Special Trips
  8. Time with Friends

Your list may differ. The issue is to grab the dates while you can before someone else does. Frankly, I would rather have other people plan around my priorities than be forced to plan around theirs. Remember: if you don’t have a plan for your life, someone else does.

The key is balance. Make sure you schedule time for the things that are important to you. If you don’t, you will find yourself scrambling to find time for the things that are important. If you are not careful, you will wake up one day and discover that you have spent your life living for other people’s priorities.

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  • http://www.business-sanity.com/business-coaching-services/time-management-coaching/ Susan Martin

    Hi Michael,

    Love the big rock image – I’ve often recommended this type of activity to clients who are overwhelemed by all the things they have to do, and tend to overlook their most important priorities; but never created a tool to help them actualize that -thanks!

    I agree with Maurilio, you have to figure out what your big rocks are first. Looking at your own values is a great place to start sorting that out.

    Thanks again for a great read, useful tool and tapping into a subject that’s so vitally important.

  • http://www.business-sanity.com/business-coaching-services/time-management-coaching/ Susan Martin

    Hi Michael,

    Love the big rock image – I've often recommended this type of activity to clients who are overwhelemed by all the things they have to do, and tend to overlook their most important priorities; but never created a tool to help them actualize that -thanks!

    I agree with Maurilio, you have to figure out what your big rocks are first. Looking at your own values is a great place to start sorting that out.

    Thanks again for a great read, useful tool and tapping into a subject that's so vitally important.

  • http://www.mikezimmer.com Mike Zimmer

    Dear Michael,

    Thank you for the formatted spreadsheet. As a strong adherent of Dr. Charles Hobbs and his Time Power system, I do all my daily, weekly and monthly planning in my Day Timer paper planner. That being said, I never really do any yearly blocking out of time. However, many of my intermediate term goals (the next 2-3) should have blocks of time alloted to them, to ease up potential scheduling overload in the future. I can see how this technique could really empower me to better reach my goals.

    Now I consider myself quite a computer savvy guy. However, I must admit that I never thought about just formatting an excel file to do the job! I plan on transferring my intermediate & long term goals (both with my business and my family/personal life) onto your template this PM, and tonight begin working on 2010 & 2011 with my wife.

    Thanks again!

    Sincerely,

    Mike

  • http://www.mikezimmer.com/ Mike Zimmer

    Dear Michael,

    Thank you for the formatted spreadsheet. As a strong adherent of Dr. Charles Hobbs and his Time Power system, I do all my daily, weekly and monthly planning in my Day Timer paper planner. That being said, I never really do any yearly blocking out of time. However, many of my intermediate term goals (the next 2-3) should have blocks of time alloted to them, to ease up potential scheduling overload in the future. I can see how this technique could really empower me to better reach my goals.

    Now I consider myself quite a computer savvy guy. However, I must admit that I never thought about just formatting an excel file to do the job! I plan on transferring my intermediate & long term goals (both with my business and my family/personal life) onto your template this PM, and tonight begin working on 2010 & 2011 with my wife.

    Thanks again!

    Sincerely,

    Mike

  • http://benkomanapalli.blogspot.com Ben Komanapalli

    Thank you very much for the information. Very useful!

  • Ron

    Hi Mike,
    As always, brilliant and amazing wisdom. Thanks for sharing your valuable life tools with the world. I was a bit surprised to see only one weekend a month dedicated to family or friends. Do you have a standing weekly date or time with your wife?
    I’d love to know how you keep your marriage strong while accomplishing everything else you manage! Thanks for sharing as always.
    Ron

  • http://profile.typekey.com/mhyatt/ Michael Hyatt

    @Ron,

    My one weekend a month dedicated to friends is actually a dinner party at our home. It requires prior planning and is very intentional. However, we get together with friends every weekend and sometimes during the week on an impromptu basis. We have a very rich social life.

    The same is true of my marriage. I have certain things like vacation that must be planned out and coordinated. But, as nearly empty nesters, Gail and I eat dinner together almost every night. Friday is our standard “date night,” but this can fluctuate based on our circumstances. For example, she is going to be out of town this Friday night, so we went out for dinner last night.

    I hope that helps.

    Thanks,

    Mike

  • http://benkomanapalli.blogspot.com/ Ben Komanapalli

    Thank you very much for the information. Very useful!

  • Ron

    Hi Mike,
    As always, brilliant and amazing wisdom. Thanks for sharing your valuable life tools with the world. I was a bit surprised to see only one weekend a month dedicated to family or friends. Do you have a standing weekly date or time with your wife?
    I'd love to know how you keep your marriage strong while accomplishing everything else you manage! Thanks for sharing as always.
    Ron

  • http://profile.typekey.com/mhyatt/ Michael Hyatt

    @Ron,

    My one weekend a month dedicated to friends is actually a dinner party at our home. It requires prior planning and is very intentional. However, we get together with friends every weekend and sometimes during the week on an impromptu basis. We have a very rich social life.

    The same is true of my marriage. I have certain things like vacation that must be planned out and coordinated. But, as nearly empty nesters, Gail and I eat dinner together almost every night. Friday is our standard “date night,” but this can fluctuate based on our circumstances. For example, she is going to be out of town this Friday night, so we went out for dinner last night.

    I hope that helps.

    Thanks,

    Mike

  • http://thinkingtoodeeply.blogspot.com Karin

    Thank you so much for this excellent gift! I’ve used the story of the jar as an object lesson! Very effective and I enjoy it every time. The commenter who wanted a blank copy needs to look again and see your blank template! I nearly missed it too!

  • http://thinkingtoodeeply.blogspot.com/ Karin

    Thank you so much for this excellent gift! I've used the story of the jar as an object lesson! Very effective and I enjoy it every time. The commenter who wanted a blank copy needs to look again and see your blank template! I nearly missed it too!

  • TenTen

    Excellent!
    Thanks so much for the calendar too – I’m sending thisl link out to my friends right now!

  • TenTen

    Excellent!
    Thanks so much for the calendar too – I'm sending thisl link out to my friends right now!

  • http://www.bookschristian.com Patrick Edwards

    My Father took great pride all his life in creating tools and widgets to do a specific job, or to manage various aspects of his life. Not only am I using this for myself, but I am sharing this with him. I thinks it’s great, and I know he he will agree! Thanks!

  • http://www.bookschristian.com/ Patrick Edwards

    My Father took great pride all his life in creating tools and widgets to do a specific job, or to manage various aspects of his life. Not only am I using this for myself, but I am sharing this with him. I thinks it's great, and I know he he will agree! Thanks!

  • http://jjustj.livejournal.com Jeffrey Holton

    GREAT tool! I *love* Excel. …maybe *too* much.

    Teensy bug though. I fiddled with a couple leap years in A5 and it kept moving the last day of any month after January to the *next* month. (I’m using Excel 2003 in WinXP [SP2] on a MacBook Pro, if it matters.) I wish I knew Excel well enough to fix it myself.

    You are clearly a master of the art, sir. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge AND practical tools for applying it.

  • http://jjustj.livejournal.com/ Jeffrey Holton

    GREAT tool! I *love* Excel. …maybe *too* much.

    Teensy bug though. I fiddled with a couple leap years in A5 and it kept moving the last day of any month after January to the *next* month. (I'm using Excel 2003 in WinXP [SP2] on a MacBook Pro, if it matters.) I wish I knew Excel well enough to fix it myself.

    You are clearly a master of the art, sir. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge AND practical tools for applying it.

  • Venice

    Thanks for the advice Mike.
    Unfortunately I am unable to open the xcel sheet.
    Any advice??

  • Venice

    Thanks for the advice Mike.

    Unfortunately I am unable to open the xcel sheet.

    Any advice??

  • http://www.advocace.com/ Mark Kordic

    I appreciate the article. Can you give directions on how to access the excel tool?

  • http://www.advocace.com/ Mark Kordic

    I appreciate the article. Can you give directions on how to access the excel tool?

  • Kent

    When I click on the link to your "Annual Time Block Tool", I get this message: "Oops! This link appears broken." I'd love to have access to your excel spreadsheet.

  • Kent

    When I click on the link to your "Annual Time Block Tool", I get this message: "Oops! This link appears broken." I'd love to have access to your excel spreadsheet.

  • http://www.whakate.com/ Whakate

    Great post and calendar. Having a long term plan and outlook it essential for making best use of your time.

  • http://www.whakate.com/ Whakate

    Great post and calendar. Having a long term plan and outlook it essential for making best use of your time.

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  • http://www.westernhillsonline.org/ Scott Meyer

    Michael,
    Thanks for sharing this insight and this tool that you created. We (the ministry staff) took the spreadsheet and have now been planning more than 1 year out. Know that your tool is having an impact on one ministry team and a church in Texas.

    Grace & Peace
    Scott

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Scott, this is so encouraging. Thanks for sharing with me.

  • http://www.westernhillsonline.org Scott Meyer

    Michael,
    Thanks for sharing this insight and this tool that you created. We (the ministry staff) took the spreadsheet and have now been planning more than 1 year out. Know that your tool is having an impact on one ministry team and a church in Texas.

    Grace & Peace
    Scott

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Scott, this is so encouraging. Thanks for sharing with me.

  • Brian York

    wow…thanks for this. You just saved my sanity!!!

    "if you don’t have a plan for your life, someone else does." – how true is this!!

  • Brian York

    wow…thanks for this. You just saved my sanity!!!

    "if you don’t have a plan for your life, someone else does." – how true is this!!

  • http://twitter.com/johnataylor @johnataylor

    Mike,

    Thanks for sharing. This came just in time. I'm working through the same process right now, and was just considering creating something in Excel for the same reasons you described.

    You've saved me some much-needed time.

  • http://twitter.com/johnataylor @johnataylor

    Mike,

    Thanks for sharing. This came just in time. I'm working through the same process right now, and was just considering creating something in Excel for the same reasons you described.

    You've saved me some much-needed time.

  • http://www.gracesanantonio.com/ Mike

    Totally just watched Bill Hybels teach and use this illustration (stones and sand) at willowcreek.org in his message "The Forgotten Way" Hmmm.. maybe the Lord is trying to teach me something.

  • http://www.gracesanantonio.com/ Mike

    Totally just watched Bill Hybels teach and use this illustration (stones and sand) at willowcreek.org in his message "The Forgotten Way" Hmmm.. maybe the Lord is trying to teach me something.

  • Mike

    Great tool. I made three modifications to this that others may find useful. First, I aligned the days of the week horizontally (so that all of the Mondays in a quarter show up in the same line). I realize that the dates at the beginning of the month or end of the month end up being in the wrong column (e.g., August 31 may actually show up in the September column), but being able to see the days of the week aligned far outweighs that.

    Secondly, I formatted the cells to "wrap text". Just a simple way to give myself more room on a line if I need it (without having to add in another row).

    Finally, because of the wrap text feature, I decided to put each quarter on a seperate Excel tab. That way, if I have a row whose height is 4 lines tall (for example), it only affects that row in that quarter and not all the rows in other quarters. This might not make sense unless you you are more than a novice at Excel.

    Overall, great help. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mike

    Great tool. I made three modifications to this that others may find useful. First, I aligned the days of the week horizontally (so that all of the Mondays in a quarter show up in the same line). I realize that the dates at the beginning of the month or end of the month end up being in the wrong column (e.g., August 31 may actually show up in the September column), but being able to see the days of the week aligned far outweighs that.

    Secondly, I formatted the cells to "wrap text". Just a simple way to give myself more room on a line if I need it (without having to add in another row).

    Finally, because of the wrap text feature, I decided to put each quarter on a seperate Excel tab. That way, if I have a row whose height is 4 lines tall (for example), it only affects that row in that quarter and not all the rows in other quarters. This might not make sense unless you you are more than a novice at Excel.

    Overall, great help. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jeremy McGarity

    Great post-How long did it take to get this mapped out? a day? or two?
    thanks for the help.

  • Jeremy McGarity

    Great post-How long did it take to get this mapped out? a day? or two?
    thanks for the help.

  • Pingback: Planning for a New Year: Tools I’m Using for 2010

  • http://www.danieltardy.me Daniel Tardy

    I use this all the time now and I LOVE it! Great tool! Especially if you travel a lot.
    My recent post No one cares about your snow.

  • http://www.danieltardy.me/ Daniel Tardy

    I use this all the time now and I LOVE it! Great tool! Especially if you travel a lot.
    My recent post No one cares about your snow.

  • http://twitter.com/realestatebecca @realestatebecca

    Great perspective! My version for the less tech savvy or those using paper day planners… Flag that page usually found in the back for future year plan and put your "big rocks" there. ____This has been so helpful to me and this year marks the first I've attended a couple of annual events that I always really wanted to go to and somehow they always just slipped by due to lack of planning and/or overcommitting. Whenever I missed such an event last year or did something that I definitely wanted to repeat again, I posted it into the future year calendar immediately and it is working!! Thanks Michael!

  • http://Bridgescovenant.com Mark Andrews

    Thanks again for another great post. I will be printing this out and using it for our young church and my family. People already thought we were cutting edge for planning preaching out a year in advance, this will be quite interesting. After 15 years of marriage my wife and I are adopting two brothers from the Phillipines, and this will be an interesting tool to use.
    In case anyone is wondering, I’ll be planning for the family first, then the church. I know what my biggest rocks are.

    Again, thanks a ton!

    • http://lazarspinalcare.com Jonathan Lazar

      Michael,

      Perhaps a bit of irony, but in my attempt to be efficient, I have tried using your spreadsheet, but am unable to successfully change the date in cell A5. Is there a simple solution to this?

  • http://lazarspinalcare.com Jonathan Lazar

    Michael,

    Perhaps a bit of irony, but in my attempt to be efficient, I have tried using your spreadsheet, but am unable to successfully change the date in cell A5. Is there a simple solution to this?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, it is set up for manual recalculation. You can change this in the preferences or you can recalc the spreadsheet. Hope this helps.

      • http://lazarspinalcare.com Jonathan Lazar

        Perfect. Thank you!

        • Anonymous

          This thread saved me. I was struggling with the same thing. Thanks Jonathan and Michael!

  • http://www.embracepositivepassion.com Georgiana

    Wow ~ love the rock – gravel – sand -water illustration! This is definitely a great reminder on how important it is to create balance in life and place our most vital plans and priorities first in our schedules. By not being overwhelmed but pacing our tasks out in a flexible way, we live more peacefully and in harmony.

  • David

    Michael. This is a great tool. I will experiment with it in 2011.

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  • Jenni Hypes

    Hi Michael!  Your annual time block planning tool sounds great.  I’m trying to download it on my mac, but when I try to open it, it’s telling me that it’s a read-only file?  Any suggestions?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You have to be using the most recent version of Excel.