The Planner Mindset

"I proactively identify and prioritize my goals and objectives. I allocate time and energy to align with these priorities. I am purposeful and conscious in my choices, focus areas, and allocation of time."


The Planner Mindset

The Planner MindsetBetsy Myers encourages individuals to answer the question: "Are you living an inbox life or an outbox life?"

An inbox life is reactive and spontaneous. It lacks structure and involves replying to all items that get sent your way. An outbox life is proactive and focuses on planning, allocating time and energy to identified priorities and key areas of influence.

The women leaders featured in this report are not only purposeful and proactive in their choices, focus areas, and allocation of time, but also planned in their approaches to move from aspiration to action. They are the living examples of an 'outbox' life.


planner Approaches & Actions for Aspiring Leaders

Make Conscious and Collaborative Choices.

"The biggest challenge that I faced in my career was trying to rise to the Chief Executive Officer role at Four Seasons at the same time as I was trying to maintain a happy marriage raising three children."
- Katie Taylor

Katie Taylor sums up the struggle of making decisions around managing work and life: "It is like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. She is doing exactly what he is doing except backwards in high heels. This is the truth of a female executive's life."

For Taylor, addressing this challenge requires making daily conscious choices. "Women have to be disciplined about our daily conscious choices. We must make decisions about what gets in and what gets out. When we add things to our life, we must decide what to subtract, in order to make room," she says.

Katie TaylorWhen making these decisions, Taylor advises to include your family in the process. "We have to be more conscious about what we agree to take on and get involved in. People say that this way of thinking causes women to back off of work. I would say it absolutely does not. Prioritize that promotion or new job opportunity in a discussion with your partner and family. Don't forget that if you get a new job, everybody in your house gets a new job. Your husband has a new job. Your nanny has a new job. Your children have new jobs. Everybody has a different life because you have changed yours. What are you going to do differently to support the change and help to make it work?"

Taylor advises that perhaps the most important decision that many women will make is who to choose as a partner. Her lesson on what to look for? She explains: "I don't think the most important quality in a husband or a partner is somebody who will share the chores. It is somebody who thinks you are better than you think you can be. You need somebody who is going to pick you up when you fall down and encourage you when you are uncertain. I am really lucky to have that in my life." Many women we met shared this sentiment that the most important quality in a partner is someone who will always say, 'you can do it, go for it.'

When setting your priorities, Anna Maloney, Director of Risk, Governance, Knowledge, and Partnership Affairs, Baker McKenzie, advises focusing on really understanding what matters to your children.

"You need to know what matters to your children. You can't be at every event. If your child is a great runner, prioritize being at the athletics carnival. If they are a great singer, make sure that you prioritize getting to the choir performance. Really understanding your children and knowing what matters to them is critical because that helps you ensure that you don't miss key events. That helps you avoid living with regret."
- Anna Maloney

Also, Maloney has always expressed to her team that her children are a priority. "If I need to be somewhere for my children, I don't make excuses as to why I had to leave a meeting or leave work early. I explain that my child has a medical appointment or an athletic event. I have never hidden from the fact that my children exist and are a very high priority," she says.

Male or female, there are no shortcuts to becoming a senior executive. The hours are long. The travel is exhausting. The stress is high. Make no mistake that the women we met have made significant sacrifices. Some moved to new countries to take on dream roles and their partners did not follow them. Others work such long hours that the only time they have with their children during the week is a bedtime story each night. But, what is important is to make decisions consciously and in partnership with those who matter most to you. Define Your Why (Purpose), What (Goals) and How (Actions). The women we met emphasized the importance of thinking about what you want to achieve and creating a plan that outlines how you will get there. CIMB Group's Hamidah Naziadin says "You need to know what you want to make happen".

Hamidah NaziadinConsider the three-year planning exercise that Naziadin does that helps her tremendously and you may find value in as well. Envision yourself three years from now and what you want to achieve by then – for example building a strong department or traveling to the places on your bucket list. It is vital to envision what you want to achieve, not what others – your mother, father, boss, or friends – expect of you.

Naziadin suggests sitting down for 15 minutes a day for three consecutive days to reflect on your goals and write them down. That way, it is short, crisp, fast and focused. It allows more focus and attention to what your goals and plans are, reflect on the day and allow your plans to evolve. When completing this exercise, she suggests considering such big questions as: What is your core purpose in life? Where do you derive the most meaning? What does success look like for you? Where are you in your life? After completing this initial exercise, she suggests focusing on what you need to accomplish each day, week and month to achieve your goals.

"By doing this, you have clarity on what you want to work towards. Your career and life is a journey of small steps. You can start planning now and can carve out small steps each day to slowly reach your goals."
- Hamidah Naziadin

We encourage you to try this exercise. It is crucial to know what you want to achieve. It is also vital that your day-to-day actions on your calendar reflect your priorities. Look back at your calendar for the past several months. Only then will you see if your actions align with your priorities. Knowing what success means to you is fundamental to creating a fulfilling work and personal life. In fact, gaining clarity on this is one of the most important things you can do. Then follow with action (and accountability for action!).

In addition, these executives emphasized the importance of identifying and articulating your ambitions to others. Unilever's Leena Nair has lofty goals for what she wants to achieve for herself and for the company. She is not afraid to say them out loud. "One of my principles is to dream big," she says. She talked about becoming the Global Head of HR for Unilever eight years before she assumed the position. She told her teams that she would be the best CHRO the world had ever seen and that she would reinvent and set the standard for the position for any company.

When Hindustan Unilever was losing 50,000 man days a year to employee relations troubles in India, as head of HR then, she voiced her goal to reduce days lost to zero. Two years later, the target was achieved. Now, she wants to ensure five million women get empowered through Unilever's value chain. "Put your dreams out there. Be vocal about the way you think. One of the things that holds women back is their perceived lack of ambition.

They fear standing up there and expressing themselves. Ambition inspires people. You want to be an inspiring leader. You can't inspire others by saying, 'I will do a little better than I did yesterday.' What inspires people is to say you will set the benchmark, change the world, or be the best. It takes guts. It takes courage. It takes confidence. Face the fear and say your big dream out loud," she says.

To advance your career, it is vital to set goals and have conversations about what you hope to achieve. Don't just think 'I should get a promotion or take this opportunity.' Actively pursue those conversations and be an active driver of your own destiny. As you progress up the ranks, aim to inspire others. Lay out your vision for your team, group, or organization, in a way that is appropriate for your career stage. Err on the side of articulating a bold vision, as this is more likely to inspire others.

Focus On The Intersection Of What Matters + What You Can Control.

chartThe women we met emphasize that their lives include a lot of 'noise' – full email inboxes, office politics, requests that distract from goals, and more. 'Ignore the noise,' was a common refrain that we heard. How do high-powered executives maintain their energy? Kristen Robinson, SVP Digital Experience, Fidelity, offers a helpful mental model about how to sift through incoming distractions. "I focus on the intersection of what matters and what I can control. If it matters and I can control it, I will be relentless. If it does matter but I do not control it, I let it go - not necessarily forever, but for now," she explains.

Ritva Sotamaa, Chief Legal Officer, Unilever, agrees. "Make sure you focus on the things you can actually influence. I have the ability to let go of the negative issues that do not really matter in the end. I remain optimistic and focus on productivity, rather than getting immersed in unimportant details," she says. As you drive towards your goals for your business, career, and yourself, stay focused on what you are trying to achieve. Of course, remain open to ideas that are presented to you, but recognize that you will be faced with a lot of noise. Go confidently towards what matters and what you can control.

Prioritize and Plan for Time for Yourself.

As a general rule, women tend to put themselves last. By the time they are done with being a good employee, partner, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and daughter-in-law, their needs end up at the bottom of the priority list. The women we met are meticulous about ensuring they carve out some time for themselves.

Jennifer Trock, a Partner in Baker McKenzie's Washington DC office, learned this lesson the hard way. When she was a mid-level associate at a prior law firm, an intense work engagement propelled her to re-think her approach to balancing work and life. Several years ago, she was working on a project, which was one of the most interesting and groundbreaking of her career at the time. The project was so exciting and demanding that she fully (and quite willingly) immersed herself in work for eight months straight, including overnights in the office. "For that time period, I made no time for myself, relationships, or anything outside of work," explains Trock. When the project ended, she was surprised to see how her personal life had changed in such a short period of time.

"I tried to pick up my personal life where I had left it that summer and I found that there were relationships that were lost. Things had changed so much because I had not struck any kind of balance. While the project was professionally rewarding, I was struck by the personal cost."
- Jennifer Trock

Jennifer TrockTrock learned from the experience the importance of carving out time for herself. She recognizes that it may not always be possible to take a two-week vacation or even a day off. So, she suggests finding short windows of time to re-charge. "It is critical that you find some time for yourself. Take whatever you can get, whenever you can get it. Find a few minutes every day when you do not need to be focusing on work and do something just for you. Practice self-care." she advises.

High-powered executives recognize that they need time to re-charge. Each one has a unique way of doing so. For some it is fitness, for others it is cooking, painting, poetry, or meditation. The important thing is to know what you need to do to boost your energy and carve out time to do that. They mention that it is particularly important to do this in times of high-stress at work. You do not need to take an all or nothing approach. Scheduling in a few hours a day or a week of 'me time' makes a significant difference in your productivity, energy, outlook, and relationships.