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.
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:
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.