11/09/2017 by Chris Green
If you haven’t yet encountered Michael Hyatt, you need to let him into your life. To my mind he is the best of all the online productivity gurus (and there are a lot of them about). He was Chairman and CEO at the publishers Thomas Nelson, and when he left, set up a blog and subsequent company, to help people become more focussed at work and at home. I came across him years ago, and used his book Platform to help me start this blog. His one of the very few (very, very few) podcasts I listen to.
Why do I call him ‘the best’? Several reasons. First, he happily owns up to being a Christian. That doesn’t mean that his stuff is sprinkled with bible verses, but it does mean that it is explicitly congruent with a Christian world-view, and at various key points, in his examples he shows you how it affects his methods and goals. That is a striking contrast to the kind of vague secular buddhism in the otherwise-excellent David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD), the Mormon worldview of Stephen Covey, or various ‘Be Your Best’ type resources. It means I let my guard down with Michael Hyatt in the same way that I do with Matt Perman’s What’s best next? These are brothers who help me.
Second, like Perman (and Allen) he is ruthlessly simple and practical. The goal is not to get us to get more done from a longer do-list, but to get the right things done, with a sense of control. This what Peter Drucker told us we needed to do, decades ago, and we keep on rediscovering it.
Third, unlike the others, he has produced a series of long-form tools to help us do this. He has written various books and courses (that is his business after all), but I recommend a book called Living Forward. Others rave about his online course, Best Year Ever, but that’s outside my spending power. The book, though, I can afford, and you will need something like it to help identify your long term goals, personal, relational, professional, and so on. Can you abuse it selfishly? Yup, but it can also be a gospel focussed resource.
But his most recent product is a Planner, and this is what has prompted this review. This is the third generation of physical tools I have invested in: the first was an old-school Filofax, which was useful for me, but didn’t really have a system to help me achieve things. I needed help. The second was a much fuller and bulkier type of ring binder, from TMI (Time Manager International) I used this for several years, quite happily, but stopped – I think because much of what it provided was quite fine detail, and I then had a new tool in a smartphone, syncing across devices and with all that functionality we now take for granted. I no longer needed to take my contacts with me wherever I went. I was also working in a team context, where other people needed to see (and occasionally change) my diary. There was also a sense that in the TMI I was carrying everything. GTD made me simplify. And with Evernote on my phone I can carry everything anywhere anyway. I don’t need a portable filing cabinet.
But GTD also encourages you to get the tools (or toys) you need to do the job, and the reason I signed up for Hyatt’s planner was because I realised I still needed a tool above the level of a diary, to help me plan better. And where GTD and Perman told me that’s what I should look for, Hyatt is the one who’s made it happen. And not just produced the planner, but a series of instructional videos, and a dedicated Facebook group, in which he is an active contributor.
The first impression, from the moment you see the box, is that this is a high-end product.
Physically, this is larger than a Moleskine or Leuchtturmm1917 (which is what I currently use for preaching notes), and I guess that decision was made because of the design of the pages. It doesn’t feel too big, but I wouldn’t object if it went on a bit of a diet. Two marker ribbons, blue and orange, an internal wallet, and an elasticated band to hold it firmly closed, complete the familiar look. There’s no place for a pen, but various suggestions have included tucking it inside the ribbon, or buying Moleskine’s clever clip-on pen, orLeuchtturmm’s clever pen-holder. The pages are thick and creamy (better paper could be thinner and just as opaque, though), and it handles ink and pencil well. Numerous users are recommending Frixion pens and highlighters, which are erasable, and the paper stands up to that hard rubbing very well.
Inside the Planner itself, once you get beyond the Introduction, there are eleven sections, and in my view they provide the near-perfect solution.
The near-perfect solution.
1.A summary page for your ten annual goals (any more, says Hyatt, and you’ll lose control and motivation). This summary page makes it easy to skim, and he suggests you review this daily.
2. A more detailed page for each of those goals, to give the reasons, motivations, kind of goal, next big steps, and rewards. Remember, he is already recommending you use some planning system for longer-term goals, and this just distills them. This is part of a regular annual review (see Perman or Allen, for example)
These two goal sections are the first engine which help you decide what you intend to focus on.
UPDATE: The latest edition has introduced some major changes to these sections, all to
the good. The most important is to distinguish Achievement Goals from Habit Goals, with the different supports they need. Habit goals receive a daily ‘streak tracker’, Achievement goals get targets and deadlines. Hyatt has also printed out his SMARTER goals system on the page – which is helpful, although you’ll have to watch the (free) tutorial videos to find out how it works. But you’d watch them anyway.
3. A Rolling quarterly overview, to give a picture of the main building blocks of your time-flow. It is not meant to be a detailed diary, but a proactive plan, with space for notes.
UPDATE: The previous edition gave a double page spread for each month of the quarter.
The new edition has trimmed that back considerably, with each of the four upcoming quarters on a single page, running the months in parallel columns and the dates down the side. Initial user reaction has not been favourable, but my biggest problem with the old planner was that it did not give me an overview of the year: I now have that, so I happily accept the slimmer month-view. For me, it’s a win.
4. A double page spread for your ideal week. No week is ever ideal, of course, but this helps you map out what your different days look like (Hyatt encourages us to ‘theme’ days), and to put in adequate time for rest, exercise and so on. It starts at 5am, and finishes at 9pm, and although I have meetings that go on after 9, I rarely start one after that, so this structure works. Colour, highlighters and so on all work here, and remember that this is not set in stone — next quarter you can redesign your week for a different season, like the kids being back at school.
5. A double page spread for your daily rituals. Again, Hyatt is keen to encourage simple decent habits that start your morning, end your day, and a second set to bracket your working day. A reasonable time allocation means that you know (ideally, again) when exercise, Quiet times etc, fit in.
As a pastor, I have tweaked this slightly, because Sunday is a different kind of working day to the rest of them, and needs a different set of rituals to get going. Emails play little if any part of Sunday morning, for instance, and I have no time to read or to exercise. On the other hand, reviewing my sermon is a must.
I found this an enormously helpful exercise, because it means I can be intentional about little things, and not to try to remember them. It also means that I have decided on my ideals when I am at my best, and that helps me to achieve, say, ‘inbox-zero’ when I’m tired.
6. There’s a single page for a “weekly big three”, which is a one-off, single-use page as you transfer data between planners each quarter. I’ll come back to that.
7. And then we hit the daily pages, a double page spread for each day, undated, for the
whole quarter. Each day enables you to identify the main three things you need to do, a place for all the other tasks that come up, a schedule for the day, and space for notes. There’s some other stuff around the edges which is useful, like the theme for the day, some tick-boxes for the rituals and so forth. This is where the Planner is that bit more helpful than even TMI – it doesn’t just give you space for task lists, but encourages you to focus on the main three. Little prompts do this throughout. There are also motivational quotes at the top – mostly they work, occasionally they strike this Brit as a bit cheesy. But that’s just taste, and no-one makes you read themThen we hit the next three engines, and they are mighty powerful.
8. Every seven days there is a guided, double-page weekly review. If you’re familiar with Allen or Perman, this is where it all happens. You deliberately look back on all your events, communications and paperwork, get everything up-to-date, tie up loose ends, review your goals, and carefully plan how the next week will be spent. Hyatt also encourages to learn lessons from the way things went, and adjust our behaviours accordingly. Critically, we identify the next Big Three for the following week. When you reach the end of one planner and start a new one, that’s the bit your transfer over. Those Weekly Threes are the identifiable action steps on the way to your annual goals.
9. And then a double page spread for your weekend (or however you take your time off). These aren’t blank: Hyatt encourages us to think through Rest, Reflection, Relationships, Refreshment, Recreation and how you are going to guard your time off. I found this very odd at first, but I’ve learnt now to start doing it for the following week, and plan my day off more thoughtfully. It’s worked so far!
I have never encountered a planner of any sort that includes the weekly review, let alone planning your rest time. It even suggests you take a nap or two. Bliss.
UPDATE The new edition splits the Weekly Review and planning your Weekend -the former is placed on Sunday, and the latter on Friday. That makes sense for most people, although as a pastor I’m still going to go through with a Tippex mouse and a pen, to replace all the days to fit my working rhythm.
Those two ribbons come in useful here — one marks the day you are in, the other marks your weekly review and next big three.
The Planner cycles through the weeks until you reach the fourth and final engine:
10. The Quarterly Review. Like GTD and Perman, Hyatt insists we diarise this, and take a decent half-day to review how the time has gone, against the goals set. Doing this properly takes time, but it’s seriously worth the investment. Uniquely, this Planner puts the tool to do that actually inside the diary section
11. And finally there are some notes pages (arguably too few) and an index for you to create. I have found the index to be really valuable, and means these planners are kept rather than thrown away.
All in all, a neat and pretty package.
But, but, but
The first question is how this works in a largely digital working setting. For instance, do you run your diary in the Planner, or in Outlook/iCal? I think the answer is both: it is slightly redundant, but I’m finding it easier to be proactive with my diary using a a pen, and then putting it in the system. There really is something simpler and more memorable about a physical object with handwriting, where there is relevant space for notes of meetings etc. And taking notes when you’re talking to someone looks like you’re engaged when you write in a book, and a bit distracted on a phone. I’ve use a small Moleskine at church for that reason. Anything important can be snapped and searched for in Evernote.
For big projects, nothing beats software like ToDoist or Asana – but again, I find that writing my tasks in my planner makes me ‘own’ the responsibility more.
The second question is the shape of the week. It is designed for someone working Monday to Friday, wth a weekend, and now doing the weekend planning on a Friday and and weekly review on Sat/Sun (I think Hyatt does it Sunday night). Now most people can have that pattern, but it is quite striking on the Facebook site how many users do not, and that includes many pastors. The hiccup is that each day, while blank on the date, does give the day of the week. I prefer to do my weekly review on Thursday, late afternoon, and it is the one point where I physically fight against the planner’s design.
UPDATE I had hoped the team was considering redesigning the pages so that the day is left off, which would be my preferred ideal. That hasn’t happened. So I’m still going to rewrite the days physically, so it works with my week’s rhythms, rather than most people’s. But I’m going to have to work to get used to the split between weekly review and weekend planning, which for me sit very closely in my planning cycle.
Various people have suggested adding monthly sub-goals, or six week goals, but I think that would be overkill — there is space for that in each goal’s page, and they just get transferred across. You can mark with an asterisk the ones you really need to ‘sprint’
I’ve tucked a Tile in the back pocket, so I can track the planner if it gets lost.
Michael Hyatt will admit that the company struggled to deliver the Planner the very first quarter, but my experience from the UK has been that they team has responded well and they are now on top of the process. I received my January planner early in December, so the hiccups seem to have been solved.
I am, I admit, an eager fan of this. I have never before come across a single package which so clearly and simply has the ability to make me productive and clear headed at the same time, without overwhelming me with the need to maintain it.
This link gives you a 15% discount – I think it’s the best productivity tool I’ve seen in a very long while.