Now that we’re approaching the end of the year, it is the perfect time to talk about goals which are top-of-mind for many of us. A new year and new goals go together. If you are a member of the 12% Club (people who actually stick to their resolutions), there is no need to read further. Congratulations on achieving your 2014 goals.
But for those of us who do not have goals or who did not reach them this past year, this post is for you. Why do so many of us not accomplish goals? There are a lot of reasons. Can you relate to a few of these?
Now that we know why a goal may not succeed, are you wondering if it’s worth bothering to create and pursue them in the upcoming year? The answer is yes and here are some of the reasons why.
Imagine a spectrum. On one end are long-term goals and at the other end are shorter-term goals. Both have merit. Becoming an industry leader in two years is a long-term goal while achieving 10% more in sales in three months is at the opposite end. Small and shorter goals are just as worthy as longer term goals and may be easier to make.
The secret for achieving any goal – long or short – is to list each task. (another word for a to-do.) Some goals consist of two tasks whiles others may have twenty or more. Even daunting goals with many tasks will feel more achievable. Once all of the tasks are listed (either on paper or electronically), we can prioritize them. As each task is completed, check it off. (A great feeling!) You can chip away at a goal this way, one task at a time. Or, think of it as one bite of the elephant at a time. If, at any point you are unsure what to do next, refer back to the goal and the list of tasks to help you prioritize. The decision will be a lot easier.
By tackling a goal one step at a time, you will be able to manage your time so you can reach any type of goal. When you plan your day, decide the three most important tasks that must be done. At least one of these tasks should be related to your goal. Eventually, these small, doable tasks will help you reach the goal you’ve set out to accomplish.
When we work on these tasks neuroscientists call this “goal pursuit” — the process of creating and going after the goal. It is the journey – accomplishing the small tasks — that counts. Without a commitment to the journey, the goal can be lost. How easy it is to become derailed along the way!
Achieving a goal is a satisfying experience and well worth the hard work. Have you decided which goals you are going to pursue in 2015?
The next six weeks will be filled with parties, concerts and events. Some of them are obligatory — you may not want to attend your office party but must show up with a smile on your face. But you may be looking forward to your child’s concert at school and annual soirees with friends. Many people consider this period of time at work to be unproductive. Between late-night parties, holiday lunches and gift-swapping in the office, most are not focusing as intently on the business. In fact, many business people consider this period of time to be pretty unproductive.
Unless you do not plan on showing up between Thanksgiving and New Years, there is still work that needs attending to although, admittedly, your work load may be lighter. Your firm’s 2015 business plans have been completed and are ready for action starting in January. With fewer of your colleagues in the office, there are fewer meetings, fewer reports due and fewer tasks that require your immediate attention. Clients may be on vacation or spending less time in the office so they may be less demanding.
You have a choice. You can “float” through this period and pay minimal attention to work or decide that you’ll use this down time productively. There are a host of opportunities available. It is just a matter of deciding if you want to take this course of action. Why not? Think of the projects that you have put off because you have not had the time. This is your chance to get to them. Some of these projects can help you reach your goals. By starting them now, you will likely have fewer interruptions and a greater chance to complete them than during the year when more urgent tasks and to-dos come up and derail you.
What are examples of projects that you may want to tackle now? How about researching an area that may prove profitable for your company? How about exploring new ideas? You have a list but you never have time to explore them. Or perhaps you want to learn a skill that will improve your performance at work such as the task feature in Microsoft Outlook or how to use Evernote. It is frustrating not to know these features but, without the time to explore the tasks function or how to navigate Evernote, you have had to make do. Here is the opportunity you have been waiting for all year. Taking a class at a school or an on-line video tutorial from a company such as Lynda.com requires time, energy and focus … and now you have it!
I would be remiss if I did not mention that this is a perfect time to get organized. If your office is piled high with paper, why not go through the stacks and decide if you can live without some of them. Most likely the answer is a resounding ‘yes’! Our clients often print out duplicates of documents because they can not find it on their desk (even though they know it’s there somewhere). Their first response is to reprint it. Ask yourself if you need it or would be able to get it again. Probably not although there are still a few documents that we need to hold onto. Often there are legal papers such as contracts. If another person in the company issued the document, then it’s likely that person will have the original copy. If you need to keep a document, decide where its home should be — on your desk (if you are actively working on it), in a filing cabinet, on your computer as an electronic file?
Once the paper clutter is reined in, it’s time to focus on the electronic clutter which may be more serious than the paper clutter. If files are scattered about without any rhyme or reason, take time now to figure out where each document belongs. Once the new year begins, this project will unlikely take precedence over urgent ones.
While you are organizing your office, there may be other things that you can do to improve its functionality. What tools might make it easier to stay organized — a whiteboard for mapping, wall files that can keep your folders handy, a second monitor? You might take a look around the office for ideas or browse the The Container Store or an office supply store. You could even ask your colleagues what organizing tools they like the best.
Have I convinced you yet to take advantage of this holiday time to do something different and still stay productive? Without having to spend all of your time on urgent, important projects, you can focus on other areas in your work and professional life that are also meaningful.
Many of us do not have clear, thought-out goals. That always comes as a surprise to us. When we ask people at our speaking seminars if they have written goals, maybe half of the group raises their hand. If we ask if they have unwritten goals, a few timid hands go up. These people are usually shy about volunteering this information because they themselves are wondering if their goals are less valuable because they are not written.
Why don’t we all have goals, written or not written? Most people think of goals as large and aspirational and beyond their reach. Here’s an example of a lofty goal — the type that people often think of when they say they have goals: “I will grow my company to become an industry leader in three years.” This goal is long-term, hard to reach, and substantive. Many people find this type of goal beyond their frame of reference. It may be. These types of goals are often created by teams of executives who spend days, even weeks, formulating them. We are often put off by this type of elaborate goal setting process and may decide that goals aren’t for me.
Instead of eliminating all goals, we are suggesting another way to view them. We are all capable of establishing and reaching goals. Admittedly, goals on the top end such as becoming an industry leader, overlap with aspirations – they’re far-reaching business goals. But, at the bottom end of the goal spectrum, they often overlap with to-do’s (they may feel like to-do’s but are not). When you walk into the office wanting to achieve three goals for the day, there are often several steps – to-do’s — needed to accomplish each goal. Even if they do not feel “important” enough, big enough or worthwhile enough, many of the things we do during the day fall under the goals category. Smaller, short-term goals can be just as worthy and important as larger, more esteemed goals and can get you where you want to go. Did you accomplish three goals before leaving the office today? Then you were productive. That’s a reason to celebrate.
When we discuss goals, we include aspirational goals with the ordinary goals we choose every day to get our work done. Goals are intensely personal and there are no rules or restrictions. People have their own goals and their own ways of reaching them whether they are short-term or long-term. Both types have merit and count.
Why do we need goals? They give us purpose and focus and help us plan. We function better knowing that we have met important goals we personally set. Small or large … it does not matter.
Goals help prioritize tasks. We are often asked by overwhelmed clients which tasks should be done first. It can be very confusing looking at a long list and wondering in what order they should be handled. This is when having goals is really helpful. Referring back to your goals will help you determine what tasks on your to-do list should be done first.
Goals give us an end point which can be used for measuring progress. It allows us to break up a larger process into smaller, doable chunks that we know we are capable of handling. If our goal is to move from being a general accountant to an accountant specializing in forensics, there are a number of steps necessary to accomplish the goal, such as speaking to forensic accountants about their experiences (one step) and taking classes (another step). Once those two steps are complete, then we can move to the next action (as David Allen in Getting Things Done refers to it).
Goals require that we be specific vs. day dreaming or resorting to ‘someday maybe’. Just wanting a promotion at work or improving our skill sets will not happen without action. Goals turn a vision into a reality. By clarifying a goal, we understand exactly what it will take to reach it. We create criteria that will help move us farther along in our careers and achieve what we consider important. Many of us use S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timely) when we first establish a goal. However, it is important to monitor the goal at all times, not just at the beginning. (Watch for tips in a future blog on how to stay focused throughout the life of the goal,)
Achieving a goal is a satisfying experience. It takes effort, organization and focus to accomplish it. Relish the feeling that you did it. It will boost your self-confidence and prepare you for the next one. No matter what the challenge, even if it is harder, you know you are capable and up for it.
Is it really possible to achieve a balance between work and life? Are we capable of fitting it all in? The term Work-Life Balance became popular in the 1980’s when corporations did not offer much in the way of flexible options. Picture a seesaw with work loading down one side and everything else, a.k.a. life, on the other side.
Many people have come to the conclusion that work-life balance is a myth, especially living in our all-consuming tech world. Email, smart phones and tablets blur the lines between work and all else. The office and our clients can reach us anytime, anywhere. We find ourselves “on” 24/7. There is always a lot to do and too few hours in the day to get our to-dos done.
Cali Yost, author and CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group, has given work-life balance a new name, work-life fit. Balance implies that work and life are at opposite ends which we know is not true. Work-life fit is a proactive approach, giving people more flexibility than they realize. Work can be a variety of win-wins for workers and employers.
In her book Work + Life Yost points out that the key is to find the fit that’s right for you which will allow you to be in control. You get to spend time with the people who are most meaningful in your life and to decide how much time and energy you put into activities.
Below are 12 work-life fit tips that will help you focus on the activities that are most meaningful to you:
Does indecision keep you from getting your projects started … or finished? Did you know that besides derailing you from achieving your goals and advancing in your work, procrastinating reflects on your professional image as well?
Everyone procrastinates on occasion but some people do it regularly. Even when they are aware they are procrastinating, they still put off important projects. If procrastination keeps you from completing projects, it is chronic and should not be ignored. Otherwise, it could easily affect your career, your home life and your self-esteem.
If you are committed to overcoming your procrastination habit once and for all, we assure you that it can be done. Why not give the tips below a try? They will help you stop the games you play with yourself to avoid a project you do not want to do.
BEFORE STARTING THE PROJECT:
Evaluate the importance of the project. Is it still a priority? If not, take it off your to-do list or consider moving it to your Someday/Maybe list.
Figure out the reasons you are procrastinating. Knowing “why” will help you come up with the tools to fight it. For example, if you do not understand a particular area of the project and how to go about completing it, consult colleagues who are experts in this area or research the area in question on your own.
Find uninterrupted time. Enter a date in your calendar to work on a specific step of the project. Be sure and keep the appointment. Your dates are just as important as meetings with others. Your time is valuable.
Decide on the location where you will do the project. Sometimes working in a coffee shop with headphones on is better than the office where there are many external interruptions and distractions.
Prepare ahead of time. Decide what is needed that will make the task as easy as possible. A larger work surface? Clear space on your desk. Last year’s documents? Find those important papers ahead of time and have them ready. These are the types of obstacles that could prevent you from moving ahead.
Create a positive mindset. It makes all the difference in the world how you approach the project. If you think of it as impossible and too hard to do, then it will be. On the other hand, if you tell yourself that you can do this and are ready for the challenge, it will not be as difficult. Think of the feeling of accomplishment when the project is completed.
BEGIN THE PROJECT:
Divide the project into individual tasks or steps. Make each step doable. A project may have five steps or fifteen. Write each step down on paper or electronically.
Estimate the time it will take to complete each step of the project. Then double it. That may seem to be far too much time but most steps take longer than estimated. If you finish the step sooner than expected, continue. Or, leave the next step for another time.(Don’t forget to enter the next step on your planner so you will know exactly when you will be getting to it.)
Make the first step easy. Ease into the project slowly. You may want to make this step short and simple although, once you have completed it, you will have gained momentum and the commitment to continue.
Set the mood. What external stimuli will entice you to get started? For example, lighting, music, and snacks can make the task more enjoyable.
Ask a trusted friend or colleague to help you get started. Even if the person is just there while you work, sometimes that is all it takes.
Seek help from colleagues or friends if you run into obstacles. If you do not know how to tackle a specific step, consult with someone who does. All you need to do is ask. People are happy to help.
Eliminate interruptions and distractions so you can focus on the project. Turn off the sound and pop-ups signaling new email. Let your phone go to voicemail. Close your door or put up a sign saying you are working on an important project. Keep a pencil and pad where you are working to jot down thoughts not related to the project. That way you will not forget them and can go back to them later when you are finished working.
Be mindful of the progress you are making. Track your accomplishments and be aware of the progress you are making. Think in the present.
WHAT IF THE PROJECT IS DUE IMMEDIATELY?
If you have delayed the project until the 11th hour, you may have to condense the suggested steps above and move right into action. Here’s one approach:
Move directly to the “Begin the Project” section. Imagine you are leaving town tomorrow. We have all experienced that hyper-active mode before leaving for a business trip or vacation. You had no idea you could accomplish so much that quickly. And why is that? Because you concentrated on the tasks that needed to get done. That probably meant limiting conversations with colleagues and not allowing distractions and interruptions to throw you off target.
CELEBRATE WHEN THE PROJECT IS COMPLETED
Once a project is off your to-do list, it is not always easy to move immediately into another high-level task. Switch from your high-functioning thinking to low-level tasks such as returning phone calls or doing email. Consider taking a walk and giving your brain a well-needed rest.
Enjoy the feeling of relief and satisfaction knowing that the weight hanging over you is gone and that you did it! Feel good about your accomplishment. Remind yourself that you overcame procrastination and that you can do it again. Maybe, just maybe, the next project won’t be nearly as hard as you anticipate and will go faster than you expected. The secret: just start.
We hope these tips inspire you to begin a project you have avoided yet must be done. Once you actually begin, you’ll be amazed at your energy and motivation. The effort will be well worth it, and we are here to help.
This past week our firm spoke at a program sponsored by the Buckhead Coalition to train Buckhead’s future
leaders. It was an exciting week for this select group of young professionals as they
learned about volunteerism, ethics, leadership and civic engagement over the five days.
Our topic: why and how to create meaningful and actionable goals. While not everyone has goals, we
suggested to these young professionals that they are worth the bother because they help ensure that you’ll get
where you want to go. Without a roadmap, you can end up anywhere. ( We all know how that feels.) Most
people agree that with goals you are able to achieve so much more.
If you are still wondering why you need goals, here are seven more good reasons:
Most business executives, professionals and community leaders have written goals that they look at and
review on a regular basis. They consider it their ticket to productivity. Many of them have innovative
techniques to keep track of their goals.
When will you write your goals and where do you plan on posting them?
Here are 5 ways to use your planner to help you become more efficient and effective. By following these suggestions, you will get more done and become closer to your goals.
1) Use your planner every day and check it often. Leave it on your desk in front of you. Some of our clients use paper planners and often apologize that they are not “tech saavy”. We assure them that it does not matter whether it is paper or an electronic, as long as you use it. (Tip: if you use an electronic version, you may want to print out the planner daily.)
2) Capture all projects and tasks. Write everything down on paper or electronically. It takes a lot of mental energy to juggle projects, tasks, and upcoming activities in your brain. You will be able to concentrate on upcoming projects without this extra mental weight. At some point, your memory will fail.
3) Review your week ahead of time – decide what is important based on your goals. Enter the tasks that must be done to support them. (Tip: make it visually easy to identify the most important tasks on your to-do list by highlighting them.)
4) Use one planner for both personal and work. (Tip: color code the activities. It’s easy on a paper planner. On an electronic calendar categorize the activities, making personal appointments one color and business appointments a different color. My business appointments are in red.)
5) Make your action steps concrete. Include appointments and commitments to others. Start with a verb. For example, call Fred re: Short client agreement. Don’t you agree that this works far better than putting Fred on the planner?
What are you going to do with your planner to help you become more efficient?
If you are like the rest of us, there are projects that don’t fit into our current priorities. You want to do them but can not get to them right away. One of our clients recently told us that she would like to write a newsletter but other goals are more pressing at the moment. Still, she does not want to forget about the idea.
If not all of the projects you want to accomplish in 2012 fit into your goals, here’s good news. They do not need to be abandoned. Instead, create a someday/maybe list where you can review and reassess their viability often.
Below are some suggestions for how and where to save your someday/maybe projects for a later time:
1) Write them down. List them on paper or electronic folder.
2) Label the folder “someday/maybe” or any name, for that matter, that speaks to you.
3) Check the folder every week to two weeks to make sure you still want to do the projects.
Consider storing the list in One Note, Evernote, Outlook’s notes section or in a file folder in your inbox. If it’s a paper folder, place the file folder in a location where you will see it often.
Once the information is stored electronically or in a paper file:
For more on this subject, check out David Allen’s website http://gtd.marvelz.com/blog/2007/08/14/somedaymaybe-unlikelynever-3-tips-to-fix-and-avoid-this/
Do you have a someday/maybe list and, if so, what’s on it?