More than just the most sustainable Planner…

Safia Minney REAL Planner - sustainable planner diary

A lot of people have asked why I’ve designed and published a hardback book planner to help you work towards solving the climate, ecological and social crises.

Who uses planners these days? And surely there are bigger solutions we need to focus on?

My answer lies in the expertise I’ve learned from executive coaching over the years working with senior leaders across a variety of companies as well as my own experience as a social entrepreneur and global CEO.

Whenever we are faced with a challenge that feels too big, too overwhelming with too many tasks on the “to-do” list it is easy to become ineffective in our actions and behaviours.

Classic responses are to be paralysed by procrastination; to focus on the detail or to start so many projects with unrealistic deadlines that not only you, but the team around you, become burnt out, exhausted and their motivation and enthusiasm disappears.

The only way to meet an overwhelming challenge is to be methodical. Define your goals and then break them down into the tasks that require doing alongside a realistic estimation of the time required for each. Building team consensus for bold and innovative action and communicating this purpose to your stakeholders are all key steps that build into your – and their – action plans. This is not news – most senior leaders would not be in the position they are without knowing this and doing this.

Classic responses are to be paralysed by procrastination; to focus on the detail or to start so many projects with unrealistic deadlines that not only you, but the team around you, become burnt out, exhausted and their motivation and enthusiasm disappears.

The only way to meet an overwhelming challenge is to be methodical. Define your goals and then break them down into the tasks that require doing alongside a realistic estimation of the time required for each. Building team consensus for bold and innovative action and communicating this purpose to your stakeholders are all key steps that build into your – and their – action plans. This is not news – most senior leaders would not be in the position they are without knowing this and doing this.

But the trick is how to maintain that focus, that drive and momentum every single day. It’s about taking time to reflect on what’s been achieved, on what might be unrealistic goals; it’s about when to adapt and reprioritise, when to speak up and when to listen.

Over the years I’ve tried a number of different approaches, methods and routines to achieve this and I keep coming back to a physical planner that I carry around with me. Recently, one challenge has been working at home. Yes it’s a bit heavy if you’re travelling to work or between meetings and yes it can feel repetitive with electronic calendars but the purpose of a planner is not to remind you of your meetings and appointments, it’s to remind you of how effective you are being and keeping you on track with meeting your personal and professional goals. This is all the more important at this fast-changing time and when action is critical to transforming our economy and society.

When we feel overwhelmed, anxiety is a real and pressing problem. The sheer number of targets and deadlines causes our brains to switch into those ‘readiness of action’ or ‘fight or flight’ responses our ancestors honed when predators were near. The problem is this heightens our ‘emotional’ response but decreases our ‘thinking’ response to problems. It also eats away at other parts of our brain such as memory.

Research shows that keeping our brains in this heightened state of anxiety is the basis of a range of mental health problems such as depression and even dementia. The brain is not designed to be in this heightened state for long periods of time. Periods of intense stress must be followed by periods of relaxation and relief for good mental health.

Scientists have shown that a range of methods can be used to calm the brain – meditation and breathing techniques are classic ways to tell the brain that the danger has passed. But writing down a list of what we need to do and by when can also do it.

The REAL Planner is designed to help with all of this. It guides you through the coaching path that I would lead my coaching clients on – the definition of goals at the start. Always remember that these goals must have definite metrics of success attached to them – ‘be more sustainable’ might be a goal but what would that look like at the end of the year ie: how will you measure carbon emissions and how far will you take this down your supply chain, or how you’ll switch to a plant-based diet, etc. You may have 3-4 personal and professional goals working alongside each other.

These yearly goals should be broken down by quarter and then month – preferably with targets attached to them. Then they must be broken down by week – that’s why our planner has a weekly reflection page – one to look at what you’ve achieved this week and the other to plan the week ahead.

  

Then each day must be planned. We are all guilty of thinking we can squeeze more into a day then is physically possible – we forget the time taken up by random conversations, by meetings that overrun and by unexpected events at home and at work. So that’s why each day in the REAL Planner forces you to list the top three priorities that must be achieved by the end of the day. Then you can list what else is needed or break it down by key meetings depending on what works for you. Creative people will hate being held to a rigid schedule while others depend upon it. But both will need to have a target of what to achieve with each day – this should include personal and work targets and it’s important to include these here.

The problem with an electronic calendar is it will keep a list of your meetings but it’s much harder to ensure that each meeting is effective or assess whether it is required at all – particularly when you often have other people putting meetings into your diary. The REAL Planner lets you assess if that meeting is going to help you achieve your set priorities – if not then can you shift it?

The REAL Planner also keeps those yearly and monthly goals with you every time you look at your day – great for keeping you on track.

And finally, everyone needs inspiration that their goals are achievable and that is why each day of the planner includes a quote from people who are inspired and inspiring about saving our planet and building social justice.  If they can do it then so can you!

The REAL Planner will not be the answer for everyone, but the approach is, I believe, necessary for effective change to be started within our homes, our lives, our workplaces.

Achieving net zero by 2030 or shortly after, is possible but change is hard, processes and mindsets learned over decades need to shift radically. We should not underestimate the scale of the challenge but we should also not shy away from it.

Be the change you want to see. The REAL Planner is just my first step in creating a suite of tools that will help businesses and individuals do just that.

Don’t agonise – organise.

 

By Safia Minney