Recently, I listened to a great podcast between Tim Ferriss and Jim Collins. Tim runs one of the top-ranked podcasts in the country, and Jim Collins is the author of many best-selling books, including Good to Great. Among so many fantastic takeaways in the podcast, one thing, in particular, caught my attention. Both Tim and Jim spoke several times about how much time they spent preparing for the podcast. What sounded on the surface like a casual, unplanned conversation, was, in reality, a meticulously organized discussion. As I reflected on this, it made sense to me that these innovative thinkers were also detailed planners and prioritize preparation.

Thorough preparation is an undervalued discipline.

The reason is twofold. First, we think that preparation is just for leaders. What a terrible misconception! Becoming a thoroughly prepared person betters anyone willing to put in the effort. Second, we limit the scope of preparation to our work life. Intuitively, we know that preparation is needed at work, but we underestimate the impact preparation could have in the rest of our lives. 

Here are more expansive applications of preparation:

  • Prepare for the day before the day starts Beginning the day with in-depth thought about what lies ahead makes a huge difference in the productivity of the day. When we begin to visualize each known event, we get way ahead of potential issues. When we start with thinking through our top priority for the day and how that fits into our priorities for the week, and even our goals for the year, the odds of better performance rise exponentially. Initially, this will feel like overkill, but quickly, this level of preparation will become indispensable. Set aside 30 minutes at the beginning of your day to prepare.
  • Prepare for the meeting, even if you are not the leader– Meetings suffer tedium and ineffectiveness for lack of planning. So many meetings proceed with little or no thought. Having an agenda is only the beginning. What a difference it would make if each participant in every meeting gave careful forethought to their contribution every time they participated in a meeting. Set aside 10 – 20 minutes to prepare for each meeting. Prioritize preparation.
  • Plan for the relationship – I spend a lot of time meeting with people throughout each day. The quality of those times is in direct correlation to the time I spend in preparation. This goes for casual gatherings with friends as well as professional interactions. Sometimes this involves a few moments to center my head on the person I am spending time with rather than rushing in with my mind swirling a hundred different directions. Aren’t people worth this kind of preparation? Set aside 2 – 10 minutes to think about the time you will spend with the people in your day.
  • Prepare for your life– We spend far too little time thinking where our lives are headed. Consequently, year after year passes with no discernable positive change. Setting aside meaningful chunks of time to mull and plan and set the trajectory of our lives is fundamental to real growth. Life just happens, but growth is intentional. Set aside a half day, twice a year, to evaluate where you are headed.

This level of preparation may seem daunting. It may feel stifling. In reality, preparation is freeing. It frees us to get ahead of the rush. Preparation frees us to be at our best. It even frees us to be spontaneous, rather than always living reactively. The time spent in preparation will return enormous benefits both in effectiveness and enjoyment.  Be brave. Give it a try and prioritize preparation!