“How do you start off on a typical day?” asked my 13-year-old son as he sat across from me in my office, pencil in hand, anxious to finish filling out his school worksheet so he could go home.
We were finishing up his “job shadow” day. All the seventh-graders got the day off from school to shadow someone of their choice, and he chose me.
I turned it around on him: “You watched me all day, what did you see?”
He thought for a minute and said, “Well, first you started off by getting focused…” And that’s when I knew the whole experience had been worth it.
Up until then I wasn’t sure. Do you know what most teenagers’ frame of reference is for office jobs? Binge-watching “The Office” reruns on Netflix. I’m not joking — ask a couple and you’ll see what I mean.
But if I could choose only one lesson to sink in, it was the one he’d just verbalized.
Communicators often lament being pulled in so many directions, frantically putting out one fire after another, no time to think and be purposeful and make a real difference.
After years of falling victim to that mentality, I started experimenting with different approaches to starting each day. And eventually hit the jackpot.
When I get to my office every morning, I don’t turn on my computer. I don’t chat with other people in the office. I DON’T check my email. I don’t return calls.
I sit down with a notebook and a pen and I write down what’s in my head. The stuff I feel frantic about. The little one-off things I keep forgetting to do. The big, important things I WANT to do.
This all spills onto the page while I journal for a little while. Pretty soon the thoughts bouncing around my head are all on paper, and I can mentally relax and write what’s been going well and what I want to accomplish. Big picture stuff. Then I choose the activities I can do today that will have the biggest impact on achieving those long-term goals.
Once I’ve broken free of the tyranny of the urgent, I open up my calendar on my laptop and block out time for those most meaningful projects. Only then do I fill in the gaps with those one-off tasks, then brief windows for emails and calls.
I told my son that I don’t care if he remembers the difference between public relations and advertising. Or how to get journalists to open your emails. Or any of the other stuff we talked about during our day together.
But I encouraged him to remember to avoid the temptation to dive into all the digital distractions that surround him every day, and to stay unplugged until he’s discerned what really matters.
Michael Smart teaches PR professionals how to dramatically increase their positive media placements. He’s engaged regularly by organizations like General Motors, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Georgia Tech to help their media relations teams reach new levels of success. Get more media pitching knowledge from Michael Smart here.