Chamber and association executives, particularly those in small organizations, often find their days consumed with putting out fires. Longer term planning, documentation, and creativity get pushed to the back burner in response to daily activities, including the constant pulse of email, phone calls, and those members who drop by “because I was in the area.”
In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about “beginning with the end in mind” and then “putting first things first.” This simply means laying out what you want to accomplish, recognizing which things are most important, then scheduling your life to do the most impactful things first.
I was first exposed to these principles as a fresh-out-of-grad-school chamber executive, and I remember thinking at the time, “How can I ever plan my day when I’m constantly responding to the needs of members?” And I admit, even 30 years later I still sometimes feel that way. But I have found that at least making an effort to block time on my calendar for thinking, planning, and larger projects, even if I sometimes can’t keep those plans, has helped me increase my focus on important, long-term objectives – and stay saner in the process!
At the West County Chamber, we called those blocks “Claire Time:” 2 hour blocks on the calendar twice a week during which I avoided scheduling appointments and meetings. These time blocks allowed me to focus on our organization’s long term goals, write articles, and take on major projects that truly benefited our members’ business success, such as the comprehensive revision of a local master plan that had long stymied development. When it was impossible to avoid scheduling over these blocks, I moved them to another day. I admit, while I was not as respectful of my own scheduling as I should have been, the assistance of a fantastic staff who held me to it was invaluable.
At first I was concerned that members, particularly active volunteers, would be put off by my lack of availability. But I came to learn that they respected my setting boundaries. At one point as the master plan revision (a months-long process) came to completion, I had to block an entire week, but I communicated what I was doing and why, and everyone understood.
The solution isn’t the same for everyone. I had a friend who was the CFO for NASA who blocked Fridays – every Friday – as her day to get things done, and her staff never violated that. Others find that working from home one or two days a week, or a month, gives them the focus they need to accomplish larger goals. But if you don’t plan for it – and get it on your calendar – you’ll find yourself overtaken by events (sometimes literally) and unable to accomplish your goals.