to-do list

What Exactly are Goals and Why Do We Need Them?

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.

Everyone Needs A NOT-To-Do List … Even You!

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Most of us leave the office with a sense of accomplishment if we manage to complete our daily to-do list that day. Productive and successful people live and breathe to-do lists. It’s their business bible. With limited time and energy, a manageable and realistic list like this is a must.

Why, then, is a NOT-To-Do-List also a good idea? Think about it. All day, every day, we are bombarded with to-dos that are not on our daily list. While we are committed to the tasks on our to-do list, other tasks, which often appear out of nowhere, also demand time and attention. To make it worse, they take our focus off important tasks – the ones that bring us closer to our goals.

Staying away – far away — from those interloper tasks is just as important as completing your to-dos. We recently interviewed 70 successful and productive business people.  Many of them told us that they prevent “other” tasks and assignments from derailing them despite the pressure to succumb. They maintain their focus and concentrate on the tasks that matter.

In many ways a NOT-to-do list is ranks just as high as a to-do list. Knowing what you should not be doing frees you up for the tasks that need your focus and concentration. As fellow time management specialist Harold Taylor says, “If something is not critical to do then it is critical that we do not do it.”

Below are suggested NOT-To-Dos. By not doing them, you will be able to focus your efforts on the tasks that will get you closer to your long term and short term goals.

1. Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers. It is an interruption and you will lose focus on what you are doing. That’s why they made voice mail. If it is important, return the call on your schedule.  A program called PhoneTag will convert your voicemails into text and email them to you along with the original audio of the message.

2. Do not check email in the morning. Tackle an important task instead. Email is a low-level function that requires less brain power than other high level tasks such as prioritizing, planning and writing.

3. Do not check email all day long. Check email only at specific times.  Email is like candy. Your brain craves the novelty of finding out who just sent you the last email and what it says. Don’t play that game. Schedule a block of time (45 minutes or so) two or three times a day and enter these times in your calendar with a start and finish time. Consider looking at email mid-morning, after lunch (probably too sleepy to do much of anything else) and again around 4pm, giving you one last opportunity to reply before heading out the door. Oh, yes. Don’t forget to disable the sound and pop up alerts.

3. Do not add to your priorities without considering the implications. Were you just handed a new project? If so, how important is it and when is it due? Communicate with your boss the impact a new project has on your existing ones. Tip: write all active projects down into a notebook (paper or electronic). At a glance, you’ll see all of your projects and due dates.

4. Do not take calls while you are in a meeting unless you are the president of the United States or an ER doctor. If you must answer, be sure and inform attendees before the start of the meeting that you are expecting an important call. Otherwise your colleagues may not have nice things to say about your manners.

5. Do not allow others to clutter your inbox.  Avoid sending emails with receipts attached to them. Ask to be removed from your company’s non-essential distribution lists. And, while you are at it, unsubscribe to on-line magazines and newsletters that do not have a high payoff. One last email tip: avoid sending email with receipt requests. Some people use an auto responder thanking a person for their email and letting them know when they will return the call. Leave a phone number in case it is an emergency. Just remember to call them back when you say you will.

6. Do not connect with your smart phone 24/7. Turn it off when you are not working. Everyone needs time to recharge without being tethered to technology. Get a dog if you need companionship.

7. Do not allow social media sites to consume your time. Access updates during non-working hours unless social media sites are part of your business strategy. Use a timer to stay focused while surfing social media sites. Or, before you know it, an hour has passed and you have nothing to show for it.

8. Do not send vague emails. Write relevant, descriptive subject lines. Put “Action Needed” or “Action Requested” in the body of the email to highlight your request. The fewer words the better. Read over the email before hitting send to make sure that the email is clear and expresses your thoughts.

9. Do not say “yes” unless yes is really the answer you want to give. It is appropriate to check your calendar or to say that you must check with others first. If this project will make it harder to reach your goals, do not hesitate to say no.

10. Do not attend a meeting without an agenda. Preferably, the agenda will be sent out ahead of time along with committee reports. Focus your time at a meeting on issues and discussions. Before entering the meeting, be sure and know when it will end.

11. Do not spend too much time chit-chatting with people in the office or on the phone. Of course be friendly, but move the conversation along at the same time. Often, informing the person that you are in the midst of a project is sufficient.

12. Do not worry about something that has already happened. Did you make a mistake in a meeting or say something that you now realize was incorrect? It happens to everyone. Make your apologies and move on. Save your thinking for positive thoughts and ideas and do not dwell on something that you cannot change.

13. Do not do something if you can delegate it. Given the demands on our time these days, do not hesitate to ask an administrative assistant, a subordinate or a colleague to handle tasks they are capable of doing. H/she may have more expertise in the area than you have. Even though explaining the task may be time-consuming, it will be worth it in the end.

14. Do not do less beneficial tasks at the expense of important ones. Often we become caught up on a less important task. The task was important when you started it, but part way through you now realize it is no longer a priority. Even if you have put extensive effort into it and are emotionally tied to the outcome, drop it right away. It may be hard but your time needs to be allocated against the projects that count.

15. Do not worry about things you can not affect. If your revenue was down last month, think about ways to make it up. Worrying about the problem won’t fix it.

Now you have 15 NOT-To-Do items and you are sure to come up with others on your own. Be mindful and oh so conscious of the tasks you should not do because they will rob you of the time you need for crucial tasks. What will you put on your NOT-To-Do List? Write to us and let us know.

For more information creating your very own NOT-To-Do List, check out the 3/14/13 Forbes article by Pat Brans and Michael Hyatt’s point-of-view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plan Ahead For Your Summer Vacation

Are you planning on taking time off from the office this summer? We’ve all experienced the mad-rush just before leaving town and the stress associated with it. Read on for ideas that will make the start of your vacation much more relaxing.

1) Take 30 minutes three weeks ahead of time to identify the projects that need to be done — or at least addressed — before you leave.

2) Create a list of to-do’s that need to be accomplished for each project. Include specific actions and due dates. Write each to-do on your daily to-do list whether it is paper or electronic. The more detailed you can be, the better. Once a task is written down, it is far more likely that it will get done.

3) Review meetings and appointments that are scheduled during your vacation. Delegate, cancel or reschedule.

4) Inform co-workers and colleagues regarding possible issues that might arise in your absence.

5) Schedule meetings for the week you return but not the first day back in the office.

6) Put an out-of-office notice on your email and phone.

7) Enjoy your vacation and forget about work while you are gone from the office. You will return refreshed with renewed vigor and energy.

Click here for more tips on how to experience a work-free vacation.

How to Create A Someday/Maybe List

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:

  • Set reminders in your planner to review your someday/maybe list regularly.
  • Compare your someday/maybe list to your current goals and the other items you are working on.
  • Approach your list with an open mind and consider the possibility that now may be the time that it fits into your current goals.

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?