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Want a perfect schedule? Create a not-to-do list

This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Imagine for a moment how great it would be to have the perfect schedule. How much would you work, and how much would you play? How would you prioritize your time?

I love asking these questions and seeing my clients dream about what their lives could be like. The reality is that it's difficult to live your perfect schedule. Even if you're a leader, an entrepreneur, or a business owner, your time isn't your own.

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But the exercise of contemplating your perfect schedule is an important mental training activity, because it gets you thinking about productivity, time management, and balance.

I have also discovered that when executives think and talk about their perfect schedule, they inevitably find themselves moving closer to those goals. Visualizing a goal helps one move in that direction.

Merely thinking about how you would if you could, will help you change your behaviour and use your time in a more beneficial way. Here are six steps to make your schedule more perfect than it is right now.

1. Dream big

Take a moment to imagine what your dream schedule would be if you could do anything you wanted to do, whenever you wanted to do it – without guilt or any negative consequences. The purpose of this step is to train your mind to let go of your inner censor and critic.

2. Create three 'process goals'

The core principle behind mental toughness is that it's not the end goal, or "product goal" that we need to focus on. It's the process goals – the small, daily tasks that, when accomplished every single day, will result in the eventual achievement of one's end goal. Write down three tasks you will commit to completing every single day that will move you closer to your big goal.

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3. Plot your fun

Write down three things you would like to do weekly for fun. For a lot of highly productive and successful people, it's more difficult to come up with fun activities than it is to identify work activities.

4. Make a work-related not-to-do list

Write down three things you currently do weekly at work that belong on your not-to-do list. These are activities that waste your time and energy – and could be delegated to others, minimized, or eliminated altogether.

5. Make a home-related not-to-do list

Write down three things you currently do weekly at home that should go on your not-to-do list. All of us engage in unnecessary activities at home and then kick ourselves come Monday morning because we wasted our precious time off.

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6. Schedule it

Create a seven-day calendar that starts on Monday, ends on Sunday, and goes from your average wake-up time through your average bedtime every day. Fill in your perfect schedule, including time for process goal completion from Step 2 and time for activities from Step 3.

For one week, commit to following the schedule from Step 6. Stay aware of how many times you're tempted to do a task that's on your not-to-do list. Try to complete your three daily process goals; it's often easiest to do them first thing in the day before other tasks begin to pile up and distractions become too great.

Interestingly, technology has given us ways to keep track of many aspects of our daily responsibilities. E-calendars, e-mail reminders, and smartphone alerts keep us tied to our schedule. But the real question is, are we controlling our schedule or is our schedule controlling us? When was the last time you actually scheduled your week the way you wanted it to go, as opposed to simply recording appointments?

My clients find that by controlling their schedules, they are surprised by how much more quality time they are able to spend with their family and loved ones – and as a result, they can be more successful at work and spend time on activities that feed their spirit and make them happy.

Dr. Jason Selk (@Jason_Selk) is a mental performance coach for professional athletes and Fortune 500 executives. He is the author of Executive Toughness and 10-Minute Toughness. His website is

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