Sunday, January 29, 2012

Focus Pocus

By Mary Byers

Imagine this: a morning of solitude. No interruptions. Time to think, reassess, plan, ponder, pray and prepare.

Despite the busyness of life, I’ve set aside a morning each December for the past decade to look back-and ahead-and to prepare a one-page strategic plan. The practice has transformed my life. I’ve often wondered why. This year, I figured it out. It’s the power of the pause: a luxury we may crave but feel we can’t afford in the chaos of modern life.

My first plan emerged in the midst of at-home mothering. Since then, I’ve applied it both to my family life and my professional life as a professional speaker and author. The benefits for me are clarity and what I call “focus pocus--” the magic that happens when you know who you are, what’s important to you and what you stand for.

It baffles me that four hours of introspection and brainstorming carries me through an entire year. But it does. I suppose it’s because my planning session gives me the chance to reflect on who I am and who I want to be. More importantly, it gives me the chance to check in with myself, have a quiet conversation with God, and lift my eyes to the horizon to see what’s ahead. Here’s how you can adopt this powerful process-and you don’t even have to wait until December to do it!

Make an appointment with yourself. I block out a morning on my calendar well before I’m ready to sit down. I know from experience that if it isn’t on my calendar, it doesn’t get done.

Make it special. I stay in my pajamas for my planning session. (It feels deliciously rebellious and reminds me of Saturday mornings from my childhood when we watched cartoons and didn’t get dressed until after lunch.) I sit by the Christmas tree, light a candle, and play soothing music, but any environment conducive to thinking will work.

Prime the pump by reading. Sometimes I page through my journal. Other times I read a Bible passage or a meditation from a devotion book.

Write it down. I start with a question such as, “What is the one thing that would make the biggest difference for me over the next year if I were to do it?” After asking the question, I pick up my pen and start writing. I refuse to censor my thoughts. I capture every thought. Sometimes, I’m surprised by what shows up on the page. Often, I am not.

Decide. Once all my thoughts are on paper, I look for those that resonate the most with me. Of all the thoughts and ideas I’ve written, I select 3-5 to form the foundation of my plan.

Expand. Once I’ve identified my objectives for the year, I jot down action steps for each. A plan emerges. I type it up and post it on my wall above my computer.

Refer. Check your plan often throughout the year. It will help you make decisions, schedule your time, and learn to say no-one of the biggest benefits for me.

Be flexible. Each year I allow myself to identify one item to drop from the list. And that’s been part of the benefit of creating a plan to begin with. I identify things I think I want to do but as the year progresses, I often realize that I’ve written something on the plan because I think I should. When I realize I’m not truly passionate about the objective, I let it go. The intentionality with which I’ve considered the item makes it easier to release it and frees me to move on to other things.

This past December I celebrated ten years of one-page planning. I’ve moved from transitioning children from kindergarten to high school; from a small freelance writing business to a thriving career as an author; from spiritually hungry to spiritually hungry again (yes, you read that right); and from pre-occupied and overwhelmed to focused and content--all because I was willing to pick up a pen and practice the art of one-page planning.

Now it’s your turn.

Mary Byers is the managing editor of FullFill and author of How to Say No...And Live to Tell About It. She’s also a professional speaker. She lives in Illinois with her husband, two children, three fish, two salamanders and a bird.


  1. I appreciate this suggestion very much and enjoyed hearing how it works for you. I think I will look at this seriously because I can see the benefit of the planning and it would certainly focus the "To Do List" each month. As the leader of children's ministry for a good sized church just a planning day free from other distractions would be beneficial. Thanks Mary!

  2. Mary, I took your workshop at last year's Write-to-Publish conference and loved the idea of "Focus Pocus." So why didn't I do it in December? January is history. February sounds like a great time to make a plan for the rest of the year! Thank you for the reminder.

  3. Mary, thank you for the very "focused" article on strategic planning and the testimony of your life to back it up!
    Susan Nash

  4. Sounds like a great idea. The power of the pause... I am going to try this and see what meaningful plans come out of it!

  5. Mary, you know I love this! Thank you for teaching it to me :) Focus Pocus indeed...

  6. He who fails to plan plans to fail. I fear to plan because I hate to fail. If it's not in black and white it's not as noticible. I plan the day but deliberately stopped having New Year's resoloutions or plans about what I would do in the new year. Your ability is envied.