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The most important hour you'll spend today

(MoneyWatch) Think back to high school. If your school had six periods a day, chances are your teachers taught somewhere around five courses apiece. The extra hour of the day? Contractually, it might have been a planning period -- a time the teacher could figure out lesson plans apart from her "on" hours in front of students. If doesn't always work, but the goal of a planning period is to create regular space for thinking of things before you do them.

So here's a question: When's the last time you gave yourself a planning period?

If you're like many people, the answer isn't this morning. Whenever I give speeches and ask people what they want to do more of with their time, planning and thinking come up near the top of the list. People would like to think more about why they're doing what they're doing, and whether they should be doing it at all, but they lament that they just don't have time.

This always strikes me as a bit backward. It wouldn't make much sense to start cooking dinner without knowing what you're serving. You hope whoever built your office building had thought it through. You'd be a bit surprised if the builder announced that he was far too busy digging holes and putting up walls to actually spend time planning the structure. Yet we seem to think that's a valid excuse in business contexts.

You can try to protect an hour a day to serve as a planning period. The beginning or end of the day work well. You might try taking a lunch break solo a few days a week and use that time to think. If you commute via public transportation, you might be able to sit and plan during that time. Or you can just choose some time outside your normal work hours to plan.

I find that spending a chunk of time on Sunday planning my week, and then a few minutes each night planning the next day, helps me feel like I'm going where I intended. Sure, that's time I could be watching TV, but if a little planning makes me more efficient and effective with my time, I figure eventually I might be able to buy that time back.

Do you give yourself a planning period?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user liquene
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