Hey folks-who-notice -details (Hi Mum!), I know I normally publish on Tuesday mornings and this is late Wednesday afternoon. I got a little behind this week, what with the Bank Holiday and all. I hope today’s post, which is all about some of my favourite days of the year, is worth the wait.

As you may know, Aaron and I really got to know each other through the hard grind and thrilling glories of running a charity together. One by-product of being colleagues before we were friends, yet alone family, is that long before we were ever attracted to each other, we were a team. At work, we developed some tools for creating a shared vision, making joint decisions, ensuring shared expectations, dividing labour, pulling in the same direction and communicating well. When we became more than colleagues it was a no-brainer to pull some of those tools over into our relationship and, later, marriage.

Today I’d like to share the broad brush strokes of one of the tools that we’ve been using for at least eight years now: the Vision Day. We have used to address everything from what the charity’s mission statement should be to where our relationship was going. “Vision Day” is probably a bit of a misnomer because we don’t just use it to talk about vision, but it is a chance to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Having a Vision Day is not rocket science, but it works for us. I hope you can pull some helpful ideas from it to use with your team – whomever that may be.

Vision Day chez Shahs wyldeandfree.com

Vision Day requires big paper and plenty of time

The first and most important step to having a Vision Day is to set aside time for it. We really like to set aside a whole day regularly – at work we scheduled about three Vision Days a year, and once they were timetabled, we guarded them fiercely. Ideally, we like to do the same in our marriage, but in reality we often schedule them as and when one of us is feeling the need for it. An urgent Vision Day will sometimes get cut to “Vision Evening” or even “Vision Couple-of-Hours” – it’s not ideal but it works if it has to. The important thing is that once that time is in the diary, nothing is allowed to eat into it. Phones go off, emails are shut down, and we give that time our total focus.

The second thing we do is decide where to go. Vision Days are a treat, so we plan accordingly – we usually go somewhere beautiful where we’ll have access to coffee and cake, where we can use playful coloured pens, and where we can walk in stunning scenery. Making it fun turns it into a time of connection, keeps us engaged and means we come home feeling energised and inspired for the future. We’ve done Vision Days in old church buildings, in public parks, in hotel rooms and in our own living room, but usually a cosy, spacious cafe that is near some beautiful wilderness is perfect. When we do stay home, we lock the door and open the wine.

Vision Day is Treat Day wyldeandfree.com

Vision Day is Treat Day!

Once we’ve booked our time and our space, we pack enormous sheets of paper, coloured pens, our journals and our Bibles and head off.

Our third step, at the beginning of the day, is a check in. We usually know what we want to talk about, but we still always start by taking it in turns to throw out anything and everything that we’re hoping to cover. We will each say what it is we want to resolve and what our expectations for the day are. While one person talks, the other takes bullet-point notes, then we swap. Our bullet points might range from the ambitious and philosophical, like “I’d like to come up with a shared philosophy on money for our family” to the specific or even mundane, like “I found a cool app for budgeting, which I want us to use.”

We’ll then use our bullet points list to make an agenda for the day – in other words we agree what topics we’re going to try and cover. We try to be realistic here, because its counterproductive to feel rushed on a Vision Day. If we’ve only got a couple of hours, it’s usually because there is one priority issue that we need to nail, whereas if we’ve got the whole day set aside, we’ll often check in with each other on loads of areas from the broad sweep of our life together.

Setting the Agenda for Vision Day wyldeandfree.com

An “agenda” from one of our Vision Days showing the different topics we wanted to cover

Our fourth step is to make a plan for the Vision Day. We’re not very plan-y people, so we go very rough and ready, firstly just agreeing what order we’ll cover the topics in and secondly jotting down the points we need to cover within that topic.

The topic order runs roughly from most important to least important, to make sure we cover the key priorities. This isn’t a point of contention because if we disagree on the priorities, and we haven’t got enough time to cover both, we’ll schedule another Vision Day. It isn’t easy to carve out time, but it’s easier than not communicating about something that one of us considers important.

The points we need to cover within a topic are pulled from the check-in notes, and here the order runs roughly from ‘abstract and philosophical’ to ‘specific.’ In other words, we start with values. Why? Mainly, because it’s easier and more fun to make specific decisions from an explicit foundation of shared values, but also because that’s what Vision Day is all about – resolving and getting on the same page with the ‘bigger picture’ conceptual stuff. Admin can be done another day.

Our fifth step is to get started! As we run through our rough-and-ready plan, we use a range of strategies for addressing the different points, drawing on tools and exercises we’ve learned over the years. A few of the tools that we regularly use are

  • Mind Mapping
  • Venn Diagrams
  • Quick fire brainstorm of all dreams, ideas and crazy hopes we are carrying, no matter how big, crazy or off-the-wall.
  • Pros and Cons table that accounts for both ‘gut instinct’ and ‘I think…” responses
  • Reviewing ‘key insights’ – these may have come through journaling, reading, prayer, reflection or talking to others
  • Drawing on the Bible and other sources for wisdom and direction on the topic
  • Walking – either alone to clear our heads, or together to talk out ideas.
  • Writing or drawing thoughts and feelings in response to a ‘key question’ on the topic. For example…

– “If you could run any sessions and money were no limit, what you do?”

– “What would you like our life to look like over the next three years?”

– “What words would describe how you want us to approach money?”

– “What are your top priorities for our use of time in the evenings and weekends?”

Although we use all sorts of different tools, our basic method for almost every topic we tackle on Vision Day is this:

  • individually reflect (this may have been done in advance of Vision Day)
  • share our reflections
  • discuss points of similarity and difference and make sure we really understand the points of difference
  • repeat as many times as necessary, because sometimes having had the discussion we feel the need to reflect again
  • agree on something we can both get behind and work towards
  • agree how we are going to deal with any remaining points of disagreement

Why you snapping pics, girl? Don’t we have chocolate-fuelled work to be doing?

Vision Day is always fun, because we set it up that way. We play to our strengths – we’re visual and we’re outdoorsy, so we walk, we find views, and we draw diagrams on huge sheets of paper while sipping wine. In that environment, finding out we’ve got the same ideas about something we haven’t talked about yet is surprising and exciting and finding out we’ve got different views is fascinating and insightful. It’s funny how a perspective that might feel threatening when thrown out in the rush of the day, feels intriguing when shared on a Vision Day. When I’ve got time and space to explore ideas, and the focus and attention of my team-mate, I see different ideas as a chance to get to know each other better, and a way to draw on our different strengths and insights to build something that is better than the sum of our parts.

So we run through our topics, agreeing on a shared approach, making decisions, deciding what action needs to be taken, and deciding how we’ll deal with any unresolved disagreements, until we start to run out of time.

Before we close, we make a little space for our sixth step: a quick fire review. We look back at our initial agenda. Have we covered all the topics? Do we need to schedule another Vision Day? If so, we do it. For the topics we have covered, we review what we think we’ve decided. We didn’t used to do this but we’ve learned from past misunderstandings that it’s always worth explicitly saying “Have we decided? I think we have, and I think that the decision is this.” If the decision needs action, we’ll also make it explicit what we’ve committed to doing, and who is doing it.

If we were at work, we would also evaluate the process, but when we’re not, we don’t because, well, mostly, we think evaluations are boring.

There you have it – one of our favourite tools for getting clarity, unity and purpose in everyday life: the Vision Day!

All images by Rachel Hughes Shah