A Pirates Code for Greater Focus

I just finished one of my favorite weeks all year: my personal prayer and planning retreat. It’s not vacation per se, although it is radically refreshing. It is a focused week where my primary agenda is to meet with the Lord and invite him to speak to me about the patterns, priorities, and plans of my life.

Over the years, I have done a variety of things during this retreat, but a couple fundamental components are non-negotiable. One is that I will read through my journal of the past year in one sitting looking for lessons, patterns, and the longings of my soul. Another is that as I pray over the year ahead, I will identify the primary goals and plans I need to achieve.

This year, I had a breakthrough I hadn’t sought. I recognized the linkage between annual, monthly, and weekly rhythms that are key to maintaining perspective and focus as a leader. Being a “P” and not a “J,” I think I’ll call it “the Pirates’ Code for Greater Leadership Focus.” If I wanted more grandiose phrasing, I might call it, “Keys to Strategic Life Management for a Leader.”

Borrowing from David Allen (GTD fame,) as well as my good friends Tim Cahill and Steve Hudson, I propose the following pattern and practices of self-leadership. Each offers perspective from a different altitude. Each component makes a specific contribution to the ability of a leader to chart their way forward. The point is that a leader needs all four.

50,000 ft  ::  CALLING

Calling is best captured as a guiding document that describes your best understanding to date of your biblical purpose, unique values, and vision for the impact you believe God wants you to make. There are a handful of tools and approaches that can help you with this.

WHEN COMPLETED: as soon as possible, if not done already. It is something to be reviewed annually.

TIME HORIZON: the foreseeable future

25,000 ft  ::  COMPASS

Your compass is an annual strategic plan that articulate goals and/or key objectives for each of your core life and work/ministry roles.

WHEN COMPLETED: annually during personal planning retreat of some kind.

TIME HORIZON: 12-18 months. (Often a major goal can’t be completed within a 12 month time frame. So, think beyond if needed.)

15,000 ft  ::  CALENDAR

Your Calendar is a game plan for the coming month. The point is that every 30 days we need to assess progress and re-align our lives with our compass. The core practice is time-blocking: blocking time to work on the next best action steps essential for progress on your goals and plans.

WHEN COMPLETED: every month during a personal planning day.

[People have variously called this kind of day a personal retreat day; a personal summit; a personal planning day; a day with God; or my own favorite, a “Day on the Mountain.” (Perspective requires altitude, getting above the fray, and mountains are a metaphor for that.)]

TIME HORIZON: the next 60-90 days. (it is not uncommon to find the next 30 days fairly booked. Therefore it often helps to look further out and block time accordingly.)

5,000 ft  ::  CLOCK

The Clock refers to specific plans and action steps for this week. It was Drucker who said, you cannot manage time, you spend it. However, you can manage appointments. One hidden gem: on a week by week basis it is essential to allow buffer time and flex time. If you over-program your schedule, you cannot respond to the unexpected.

WHEN COMPLETED: Typically early in the week. Monday morning, even Sunday night for some. The point is take 30-60 minutes to review and refine the detailed activities and plans of your week.

TIME HORIZON: one to two weeks. (Priority is the current seven days, but sometimes you see needed adjustment another week out.)

It’s a Pirates Code, guidelines not a new legalism. So give yourself room to be human. But don’t dodge the obvious question: at which altitude are you really clear and at which are you a bit fuzzy these days?