Want to know how to kick off 2008 productively? Ask Peter Drucker

Happy New Year - I hope your holiday season was enjoyable and relaxing!

Let’s kick off 2008 with two personal effectiveness techniques from Peter Drucker , the founding father of modern management. These techniques appear in a fantastic 1997 interview with Drucker by Inc. Magazine , which I highly recommend reading and saving for future reference.

1: The Year In Review

Drucker made a habit of spending two weeks every year reviewing his work, a habit he picked up from his Editor-in-Chief when he was working for a newspaper in Europe:

The editor-in-chief, then around 50, took infinite pains to train and discipline his young crew. He discussed with each of us every week the work we had done. Twice a year, right after New Year’s and then again before summer vacations began in June, we would spend a Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday discussing our work over the preceding six months. The editor would always start out with the things we had done well. Then he would proceed to the things we had tried to do well. Next he reviewed the things where we had not tried hard enough. And finally, he would subject us to a scathing critique of the things we had done badly or had failed to do. The last two hours of that session would then serve as a projection of our work for the next six months: What were the things on which we should concentrate? What were the things we should improve? What were the things each of us needed to learn? And a week later each of us was expected to submit to the editor-in-chief our new program of work and learning for the next six months. I tremendously enjoyed the sessions, but I forgot them as soon as I left the paper.

Almost 10 years later, after I had come to the United States, I remembered them. It was in the early 1940s, after I had become a senior professor, started my own consulting practice, and begun to publish major books. Since then I have set aside two weeks every summer in which to review my work during the preceding year, beginning with the things I did well but could or should have done better, down to the things I did poorly and the things I should have done but did not do. I decide what my priorities should be in my consulting work, in my writing, and in my teaching. I have never once truly lived up to the plan I make each August, but it has forced me to live up to Verdi’s injunction to strive for perfection, even though “it has always eluded me" and still does.

Action: set aside at least 2 hours today to do a “year in review". What did you do exceptionally well? What did you try to do well, but end up doing in a mediocre way? What did you do poorly? What did you fail to do at all? Don’t put this off until tomorrow - the time you spend doing this exercise will pay massive dividends in the days and weeks to come.

2: Topic of the Year

Drucker was an exceptionally self-educated man who became an expert in everything from management to Japanese art (which he actively collected, studied, and later taught at a university level). His study secret: immerse yourself in one topic at a time.

I began to force myself to study afternoons and evenings: international relations and international law; the history of social and legal institutions; finance; and so on. Gradually, I developed a system. I still adhere to it. Every three or four years I pick a new subject. It may be Japanese art; it may be economics. Three years of study are by no means enough to master a subject, but they are enough to understand it. So for more than 60 years I have kept on studying one subject at a time. That not only has given me a substantial fund of knowledge. It has also forced me to be open to new disciplines and new approaches and new methods - for every one of the subjects I have studied makes different assumptions and employs a different methodology.

I’ve personally had a great deal of success with this approach, and recommend it highly. The Personal MBA started as a way to actively immerse myself in studying business, and after three years, my results have far exceeded my initial expectations. As a direct result of the Personal MBA, I believe I have as much (or more) useful knowledge of business than the best MBA grads, which was my initial goal. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about related subjects like investing and psychology, and I’ve met hundreds of fascinating people from all over the world. But it all began with a single intent: to focus on learning all I could about business for several years.

You can also apply this approach to non-academic personal development. For example, I decided that 2007 was going to be my year to focus on health and fitness. I read books on exercise and nutrition, successfully changed my dietary patterns (pesco-vegetarian for one year now), and started to exercise regularly. As a direct result, I’ve substantially increased my muscle mass, several chronic health conditions have cleared up, and I’m back to my optimal weight after losing almost 15 lbs. Best of all - the changes are healthy and sustainable. My results are a direct consequence of making 2007 my year of health and fitness - it’s doubtful they’d have happened otherwise.

Action: what will this year be the “year of" for you? Pick up at least three great books on the subject, identify a few habits you want to install, and make a plan to learn (and implement) everything you can during the year ahead.

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