My Teenage Daughter, Migrant Farm Workers, and the Real Power of Personal Productivity

This is a guest post by Bill Zipp. He is a speaker, coach, and consultant. He helps busy leaders do what matters most in business and in life. Bill is also the author of the popular ebook, The Smart Leader’s Guide to Personal Productivity, available FREE to my readers.

There I sat with my thirteen-year-old daughter on a dirt floor eating rice and beans with some of the poorest people on the planet.

Father and teenage daughter outdoors

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/kali9

We traveled over forty hours in a cramped van to the southern half of Baja Mexico to provide humanitarian aid to migrant farm workers laboring there. A trip that would have never happened except for the real power of personal productivity.

I’ve raised three active children. As a dad it was critically important to me that they see how the rest of the world really lives. So my wife and I made sure they traveled internationally as many times as we could afford.

But here was my baby, my third-born daughter, living as an only child in an empty house as the other two moved-on to college. I wanted to take some extra time just to be with her. How could I do that?

Here are two simple habits that helped me answer the question:

Habit One: Weekly Examination

Every Sunday morning I have a scheduled appointment with myself where I review the top priorities of my life and make my plans for the upcoming week. This habit’s become a central part of my life, and, frankly, I can’t imagine living without it.

During that time I reflect on my answers to these four questions:

  • What I kind of person will I be?
  • What kind of relationships will I have?
  • What kind of work will I do?
  • How am I going to give back?

I then review my goals for the year in each of these areas and set plans for the week that move me closer to fulfilling those goals.

And that’s how I ended up in Baja Mexico.

I asked myself what kind of relationship I wanted with my thirteen-year-old-daughter and how I was going to show her how to give back to a needy world.

A mere few minutes later, as we went to church as a family, the opportunity to go on a mission trip to serve migrant farmer workers was announced, and we immediately signed up.

I believe that Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I would like to modify his words slightly: The unexamined week is not worth living. For our life is made up of the days in our week, and the effectiveness of those days is dependent on their honest examination.

Habit Two: Proactive Scheduling

For a solo consultant, taking two weeks out of the country on a mission trip is not an easy thing to do.

First, there’s the work that would be lost just before the summer slowdown, then there’s the complete disconnection from the outside world, and finally there’s the work that would have to be squeezed in both before and after the trip.

But like the habit of having a weekly appointment with myself, another habit has served me well over the years: proactive scheduling.

If you had an important doctor’s appointment on Friday, how would make sure you got there? You would put it in you calendar, of course. Nothing really magical about that. The fact that a doctor’s appointment is scheduled on Friday allows the other activities in your day, and even your week, to fit around that appointment.

I call this phenomena Bill Zipp’s Law of Scheduling. The law reads like this:

Unscheduled events will conform to scheduled events.

The law of scheduling also applies for planning on a larger scale, as in this trip with my daughter. Almost immediately, once I placed it on my calendar, other commitments in my life began to fit around it.

As my clients heard what I was doing with my daughter, their response was amazing. Each of them applauded my efforts and bent over backwards to accommodate my schedule. One person actually offered to financially support the trip!

Rarely do we need to make either/or choices in life, almost always there’s a both/and solution. We must have the courage to look for it.

Jim Collins refers to this as the “Genius of the AND" in his classic book Built to Last,

Instead of being oppressed by the ‘Tyranny of the OR,’ highly visionary companies liberate themselves with the ‘Genius of the AND’—the ability to embrace both extremes of a number of dimensions at the same time. Instead of choosing between A or B, they figure out a way to have both A and B.

The same could be said about a life that’s built to last.

Eating rice and beans on a dirt floor in Mexico would never be considered an elegant dining experience. But it’s the meal my daughter remembers more than any other meal we’ve had together almost a decade later.

That’s the real power of personal productivity. Not seeing how much stuff you can cram in a day, but arranging the stuff so you can do the things that matter most.

Just ask my daughter.

Question: What would greater productivity make possible for what matters most in your life? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • http://ernestdempsey.net/ Ernest Dempsey

    The part of this post that really speaks to me is the Sunday morning self-examination.  It can be so easy to get locked in on all the different things going on in life.  For me, I sometimes get so focused on getting my next novel done, writing a new article, or pressing on to something else that I forget to do this.  I’m definitely going to incorporate it into my weekly routine.  
    I think the biggest takeaway I get from looking at your list from the self-examination is one word:  balance.  
    We all have to have balance or none of the hard work is worth it.
    Thanks for sharing this.  
    Que tenga buen dia! 

  • http://twitter.com/PastorSBraswell Stephen Braswell

    Great article! You have really challenged me to be more intentional with my scheduling! Thanks Michael!

  • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

    Bill, I love the law of scheduling :) I hear you saying in all of this that productivity is less about how much you get done, and more about exactly what you choose to do – and how you choose to do it (scheduling it) matters.

    • http://www.billzipp.com/ Bill Zipp

      Exactly right, Aaron. The metaphor for this is sculpting, taking away until the right image appears, than adding as much as you possibly can to your life.

      • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

         Bill, I think you just gave me the new metaphor I needed for productivity. Thanks.

  • Tom Bolton

    Right on.  The priorities of our lives reveal us in bright images.  I too like the weekly examination.

  • jovita

    This is a great article. “We should not only plan, but we should proactively evaluate what we have done”.

  • http://www.growing4life.net/ Leslie A

    Intentional Living– so critical to having a productive and, if we are honest, satisfied life. 

    We, too, believe it is so important to get our kids out of this country. In fact, I was in Guatemala with my 17 year old in November. We also had the extraordinary opportunity for all six of us to go to Haiti in 2011. It was such a great eye-opener to the world outside of the USA and it was also a great opportunity for our family to grow closer together. I would highly recommend going as a family, if at all possible :) 

  • http://www.RobTrenckmann.com/ Rob Trenckmann

    Bill–I love the power of the weekly examination, but I’ve lately been in a long season of transition. I find that my schedule is different nearly every week, so I struggle to do my weekly examination weekly.  How do you handle this during seasons of travel, conferences, etc?

    • http://www.billzipp.com/ Bill Zipp

       When I travel, I schedule my weekly planning meeting differently for every week. At the end of your weekly planning meeting for this week, look ahead and decide which day works best for next week depending our your calendar, travel schedule, etc… Put it in you calender, move it around if you need to, but do it without fail.

      • http://www.RobTrenckmann.com/ Rob Trenckmann

        Bill–that’s very helpful–thanks! How much time do you reserve for your weekly examination?

  • http://leadright.wordpress.com/ Brent Dumler

    Love this!  This has been something I’ve been working on throughout 2012.  I’ve also been learning about setting priorities and proactively scheduling my week through the mentoring of Jim Wideman via his Infuse program.  
    I even blogged about my ‘One Word’ for 2013 recently.  
    http://wp.me/p1Et3O-9v 

  • http://www.douglasoakes.com/ Douglas Oakes

    Bill, I applaud what you have done to give your children greater perspective through these international experiences.  Trips like those changed the course of my life forever.  

    Your principle of self-examination is much needed.  It’s one that has been on my mind a lot lately, esp. because things seem to be coming at us so fast.  Having a list of key questions to continually come back to reminds us of our “Why?” and helps keep us centered on that purpose.  I know if I am not intentional about coming back to those questions of purpose and self-examination that I will get busy about my day and unintentionally get off course.

    It’s amazing the opportunities that God throws in our path (like the mission trip to Baja that you mentioned) when we have taken the time to meditate on who we are/what we are about.  That clarity of purpose helps us recognize those opportunities that are before us.  I’m convinced the opportunities are there all the time…its just that our minds are dulled by failing to clarify our purpose and we don’t see when they present themselves.

    Thanks for your post.  It’s challenged me to be very diligent in this arena.

  • http://wkevingilbert.me/ Kevin Gilbert

    Great post. Thanks for the reminder that a life is made up of the days and weeks we often let slide by without intention. I look forward to reading your book.

  • http://JaredLatigo.com/ Jared Latigo

    Great post! Really hits home with some stuff me and my wife were chatting about last night. I know wrote it months ago, but sometimes the timing on these things just baffle me. 

    • http://www.billzipp.com/ Bill Zipp

       Isn’t it funny how God does this, Jared? I heard once that coincidence is God acting anonymously. Follow his lead in the “coincidence” of today’s post, okay?

      • http://JaredLatigo.com/ Jared Latigo

        Certainly will. Thanks Bill!

  • http://twitter.com/JMZeiger Jennifer M Zeiger

    The Law of Scheduling…I will have to keep this in mind. It’s so true and yet, so over looked. 

  • http://www.billzipp.com/ Bill Zipp

     Productivity is a great servant but a terrible master. You got the point, Dan, which is to use the servant of productivity to do that which matters most.

  • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

    I couldn’t agree  with you more Bill. I have Mondays and Wednesdays
    locked as writing days with my writing partner. When someone wants
    something from you (i.e. time, energy, resources), it’s amazing how
    flexible they are when your tell them you have a previous commitment.

    Scheduling priorities is a strong bulwark to leading a purpose-filled life and not getting swayed by lesser things.

    Steve Jobs once said, “We will do more by doing less.” Thanks for your great questions and thoughtful post.

    (And mission trips with my daughters are some of our greatest memories!)

  • http://www.strategic-concepts.us/ Eric Langley

    Bill”s example of self examination is an excellent process to go through weekly. I started doing a similar method last year based on an interesting conversation with a long time friend about goal setting in which he referenced the Harvard Study on goals setting and success. 

    Have you heard about or quoted the Harvard study? You might want to read this:http://community.abeo.us/2012/12/09/eric-langley-goals-2012-review-and-2013-planning/

  • Don Jensen

    Michael,
    Thank you for sharing.  I’m just transitioning in my life and found your blog.  Appreciate the work you are doing.
    Blessings,
    Don

  • http://www.johnstonsearch.com/ Bkjrecruiter

    Greater productivity would provide more TIME and RESOURCES to think/plan long-term, and ensure future success, as well as short/mid term success. GREAT POST!

  • Lanceworth Powell

    This was a great article. Better scheduling would lead to greater productivity in all area of my life and would really allow me concentrate on those areas such as my family that are of great value to me.

    Thank you.

  • Daniel Daugherty

    Wow!!!
    What a great article and at a really needed time in my life!

    Bill, thank you for sharing this story, and Michael, thank you for sharing with us.
    I am a 22- year military Special Operations Sergeant retiree who now suffers from effects of PTSD resulting from some of the horrendous experiences I have had. Along with the loss of business, home and the unexpected divorce from my 30-year wife, I pretty much quit life.Unfortunately, even the VA tries to forget about you after your service and I have lost the zeal I once had in life. This article reminded me once again about the choices of how we experience life are within ourselves and HOW we choose to experience those situations. I had lost sight of that fact and your article has once again inspired me to choose my experiences, thank you!
    I think doing this activity with your daughter is highly commendable. I will begin my weekly review and planning sessions this week, and re-creating my future. You have made a life impact with me and I thank you for your insights and inspiration.

    • http://www.billzipp.com/ Bill Zipp

      Thank you for your service, Daniel.

      The weekly meetings I have with myself help me overcome the challenges of life instead of reacting to them, big challenges (like the ones you face right now) and small. The secret is to keep  moving forward every day of every week, step by step by step.

      • Daniel Daugherty

        Thank you Bill. Your one article has done more for me to take back my life than the last 5 years trying to work within the VA system. You have a fan for life!

        Daniel

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Awesome story, Daniel. You absolutely can re-create your life.

  • mrianmac

    Thanks for such a stimulating post! The hardest part is to keep the Sunday date. If that becomes top priority the rest is easier. Great kick up my bum, thanks again Michael!

  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    I can totally relate. This year I spoke at a conference in Nairobi, Kenya. I was overwhelmed by absolute poverty everywhere I went. 

    This year I have my first published book being released and I’m coordinating a book tour along with my speaking schedule. Being more productive is something I really need to get all the craziness in line! Great post

  • KevinIvey

    The challenge for myself at this point is in seeing the big picture/not seeing the forest for the trees. We have gone thru a Co failure and are in the midst of of digging our way out of a hole. ‘This too shall pass’ and as a person of Faith, I have to believe for the best.  I say all of that to say this: here on the verge of my 50th BD, having been married for 29yrs to my HS sweetheart, I have BEGUN to understand certain things about myself-that my apparent ADD has been a roadblock when it comes to planning and the fact that, up until now-I never felt I needed to do much planning-we did ok w me flying by the seat of my pants most of the time.  Michael, I am SO thankful that I ‘found’ your blog and the wisdom that you and others share. Thank you.

  • Bay

    Funny, I read a Dave Ramsey post just before reading yours….and, with the same gazelle intensity I have just completed my first Ideal Week Plan. I’ve created similar efforts before, but “being intentional” wasn’t emblazoned on my forehead in the past. 

  • Bay

    I’d like to add that it was your weekly habit that got me thinking, and with a bit of looking I found your ideal weekly plan and decided now is a great time for this…And, I’d like to include my great thanks for your posts, which egg me on in the direction I’d like to go.

  • Jim Martin

    This is such a helpful post!  In particular, I like what you said regarding your Sunday morning self-examination.  Thanks.

  • Carol Hester

    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/kali9??

    Why on earth have a photo of a fake daughter and father?

  • DrewThomas

    This is great. Got alot out of this, seeing my need to really evaluate my my weeks! I also love to see how when we take mission trips to help others, God always blesses us in extreme ways!

  • Chris Arend

    Bill, thank you for the encouragement to be in intentional. I agree Sunday morning seems like a great time to do my weekly planning. I will now incorporate this into my weekly schedule. How long do you schedule on average for this time out of curiosity? Thanks for the real life example of how to apply this too!

    • http://www.billzipp.com/ Bill Zipp

       Chris, I find that a typical weekly planning meeting takes about 30 minutes. I review the vision I have for my life and the goals I have for the year. Then I identify the 6-8 most important steps of action for the next week from this review and schedule them in my upcoming week’s calendar.

      I then reserve another 30 minutes, 5 minutes a day for the remaining 6 days, to adjust the plan as needed as the week progresses. One hour a week is all it takes to ensure that I am always doing what matters most.

  • Dr. Lorraine C. Bailey

    Its interesting that the most memorable moments in our life and in our relationships are the moments of real challenge and struggle. I’ve often said that it is the glue that bonds us together. Making time for those relationships is in the end what we will treasure most. Thanks for your inspiration, Michael.

  • Omar

    Wonderful post!

  • http://www.characterchallengecourse.com/ Travis Guida

    Love thinking and doing intentionally. Just listened to EntreLeadership podcast with John Maxwell. Personal growth and being intentional about EVERYTHING is key to productivity and beyond.

  • Pingback: live intentionally ~ 2 | Passive Aggressive Abuse()

  • http://projecttgm.com/ Brandon Smith

    Michael,

    My first child is due in August, and I appreciate the words of wisdom as I (earnestly try) prepare for fatherhood. I’m excited to see what my child will like to do and how we will one day spend time together!

  • Stan D Nelson

    Thanks for the post!  The regular review is something I definitely need to do, and can only improve my productivity.  The weekly review ever Sunday morning reminds me of the weekly review you recommend in your Life Plan.  Thanks again.
    Stan

  • http://erniearias-socialmedia.blogspot.com/2012/12/love-most-precious-of-all-human-values.html Ernie Arias

    Greater productivity would give me the opportunity to make the choices that matter the most in my life. Love the post. Thanks for sharing!
    Ernie Arias

  • Ibukunajeniya

    Greater productivity will mean more positive energy.

  • Murphy Belding

    Excellent post…I’ve got three daughters myself…we had a family dinner this past weekend and discussed the very thing your talking about.  We each made a few goals, shared the with one another and hopefully we will all be more fruitful believers at the end of 2013.  Keep up the good work my friend.  Love reading your stuff! murphy

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Great post, Bill. I like the part of your post about adding AND instead of OR. That can make many things possible. While I like to plan out a week ahead, I use a daily planner that allows me to set priorities for the day at hand. I like to start the day with it and spend about five minutes doing initial planning. For me, the secret to making it work is to keep it simple. If I start over-thinking it, I end up spending more time planning than actual doing. It takes a while to find a balance, but the secret to productivity is finding a plan that works and sticking with it. Here is what I use… http://goals4u.us/Nh1uBU

    • http://www.billzipp.com/ Bill Zipp

       Thanks, John, for adding to the discussion. You’re exactly right, a daily check-in combined with a weekly plan is the key to staying on track with your top priorities. I love the form you’ve created for it and the reminder to keep it simple!

  • Shannon@nwaMotherlode

    Great reality check for a January.

  • http://www.liveyourwhy.net/ Terry Hadaway

    Since we only have 100 days available each year ( http://goo.gl/8mjII), productivity is crucial. Procrastination is the biggest enemy we face. Once we discover our whys (purposes), we are on the road to a productive life. The longer we wait to get started, the less productive we will be. The key to my productivity is initiation. The longer I do nothing, the more likely I am to keep doing nothing.

  • http://happymonday.biz/ Danilo Vargas

    Thank you for your service to the people of Mexico! And thank you for this great post on productivity principles and leading by example as a parent. All our children need this kind of example and guidance. The world, after all, will soon be theirs! Thanks again!

  • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ JD. Meier

    I like the free prize inside.

    There’s a lot of truth in the idea that if we schedule it, it happens … and if we don’t, it won’t.

    There’s also a lot of truth in the idea that we have to make time for our priorities, which of course means, first figuring out what they are.

    I’m always amazed by just how easy it is to get off track, and that’s why I’m a fan of very simple reviews and checkpoints.   Sometimes all it takes is asking, “So what was that thing that was so important, again?”

    My best approach for flowing value has really boiled down to The Rule of Three and thinking in terms of three wins:
    – Three Wins for the Day
    – Three Wins for the Week
    – Three Wins for the Month
    – Three Wins for the Year

    It’s all about putting a simple focus on value “above the line” versus getting caught up in the minutia of what’s “below the line.”   It’s about driving your day, or your day drives you.

    I love your point on finding the 3rd alternative.  It reminds me of the ad where he hates “Or” because “Or” makes you choose, so he wants “rom-action.”

    At work, we always fight “The Tyranny of Or” by first acknowledging it and then looking for ways to rise above it (when it’s worth it.)

    That of course, it what always keeps us in check … asking that simple question of whether it’s worth it and knowing our “Why.”

  • http://www.ciriongroup.com/ Hunter Hodge

    Incredible post! You are absolutely correct on both accounts. 

    My brother, my friend, and I have struggled with maximizing our productivity as we started our own business right out of college just about a year ago and I cannot wait to try out your principles with them!

    I love your use of Socrates. It’s so true that if we don’t bother to examine our actions, our life, and think about who we want to be and what we want to do in the future then we might as well be robots. I think there is a reason that prayer is so powerful – it’s about reflection, introspection, and planning for the future. Without this time we definitely can’t be the most productive, but I also don’t think we can be as happy. And thank you so much for sharing those questions! They are a wonderful guide and I cannot wait to use them in my own planning time.

    I would be interested to hear what other parts of your life you “can’t imaging living without”?

    I also loved your story about your daughter. Lately I have felt overwhelmed by all the things I need to do and I keep hearing myself say, “I don’t have time for this big important things!” You helped me realize that it’s not my time that’s the problem – that will always be in high demand. I need to prioritize and schedule the things that are important to me. 

    I am looking forward to reading your ebook!

  • http://www.laurasconfessions.com/ Laura Bennet

    Very helpful! We won’t ever look back and wonder about all the tasks we did, we’ll look back and wish we had spent our time in meaningful ways. I love that we can purpose our lives; how our little steps of being willing to plan allow God to open such huge doors for opportunity. Thanks for sharing!

  • Fernando Antón

    Hello Michael,
    It’s a really interesting article. It shows how important is not only to do things but to make that things happen and with one tool: The personal planification and examination.

    From Spain.

  • http://joyfuljudy.blogspot.com/ Judy Carlisi

    THANK YOU!  This is just what I needed to hear.  There is value in what we choose and how we act.  We were created with bodies for a reason.  Some choices are better than others.  Some choices give us greater dignity and others greater dignity.  We are more than just soul but body too.  In a sense we “are” what we choose to “do” or not to “do.”  The two exist at the same time, body and soul for a reason!  I will follow your blog!

  • Suzanne Forte PR

    Such an amazing post. I will definitely use the Sunday planning tip.

  • http://candelierious.blogspot.com Lis

    No answer to your question, but just wanted to thank you for this post.  It was very encouraging even as a part-time worker, full-time wife/mother.  It really hit home what you said about putting an event on the calendar and allowing other things that come up to fit around it.