This week, I want to focus on helping you think in a new way about achieving your longer-term goals. We all get so caught up in our daily lives that sometimes it can seem impossible to make any meaningful progress toward longer term goals. These longer term goals are usually important, but not urgent which makes them easy to deprioritize when you are facing a weeks’ worth of meetings, problems, and deadlines.
What you need to learn how to do is to be able to separate the urgency of the day-job from the importance of the longer-term goal. You need a way to keep your eye on the ball while keeping your head above water each day. There is a combination of very tactical activities that can help you achieve that, and that is what I want to cover today.
Know what your goal is
First, let’s assume you are already clear about what your important goal is. This is something you want to accomplish that is outside of your day job. For our purposes today, we will use an example from my job.
We had a process of forecasting revenue that was monthly and prepared by our finance department. The process was: about halfway through the month, the finance department would prepare a spreadsheet that forecasts revenue for the current quarter and the next quarter. They would send it to me and I would review and correct it. Typically, about 25% of the forecast was wrong and I would have to compare line-by-line to find problems, make notes and updates, and then send it back to finance. Then, finance would have to make the updates based on my notes and put together the final presentation for our leadership team.
This process was stressful and frustrating for several reasons. First, I am closer to the business than finance and have a better understanding of the forecast than they do. This is why there were so many corrections. Second, the time between when the 1st draft was sent to me and when the forecast had to be presented was usually about 2 days which meant there was always a crunch time to turn around my corrections to finance. And third, looking at the forecast once per month was not frequent enough to allow us to make adjustments when we needed to in order to make our numbers.
So, my goal was to improve this process. I wanted to reduce the stress of the process and be able to be more proactive about taking action in order to meet our quarterly targets.
But, because of my day job, it seemed like something that would be hard to accomplish.
So, we’ve got our goal.
Identify the levers that influence the goal
The first tool is to think about what things influence the goal. Think about levers that you can pull that if they change, they will impact the bigger goal. These are called lead measures.
For example, if you want to lose 20 pounds, the levers you can pull are eating fewer calories and exercising more. If you know each day that you ate fewer calories and exercised more, then you can be certain you will achieve your goal of losing weight. If you take your focus off the end goal and put it on the levers – or the lead measures – you can achieve your goal even within the constraints of daily life.
For my goal, in order to be able to be more proactive about achieving a quarterly target, I knew we needed to get to the point where we knew where we stood each week.
For me, the lever became a weekly scorecard that told us if we were on track for the quarterly target.
That seems simple enough, but the reality is that I’m already working 10 hours a day and not getting everything done. Adding a weekly report to my schedule was an overwhelming thought. It would be very easy to have ignored it and just let the current process continue.
Make 1% Progress
Tool number 2 is to think in terms of 1% progress toward your goal. What is 1 small step you can take this week to make progress toward your goal? If you can take 1 step in the right direction this week, you’ve made progress toward your goal.
A lot of times, we set a goal and feel like we’ve got to make huge progress toward it or else we aren’t successful. Then, because our day job doesn’t stop, we can’t get to our goal and then we feel like a failure. Too often, we have unrealistic expectations about changing our daily life in order to accomplish this new goal. Your daily life isn’t going away. In order to accomplish an important goal, you need to come up with a plan that will allow you to make progress in spite of your daily life.
So, think in terms of 1%. What is something you can do this week that will progress you toward your goal? It should be something related to your lead measure. You already know that the lead measure is a lever that will influence the outcome of your goal. So, if you are going to make incremental progress, it definitely needs to be something related to that lever.
For our weight loss example, it might be to eat 1 vegetable each day. It may seem like an insignificant step toward losing 20 pounds, but it is directly linked to weight loss and moves you toward your goal.
For my goal of getting to a proactive forecast, using a weekly scorecard, it meant setting up a set of reports that would feed into the scorecard. So, my original 1% goal or that 1st week was literally to just think about what the scorecard would look like. I had to have a clear picture of the scorecard in order to identify the reports I would need.
Week #1: draw a picture of the scorecard.
Week #2: identify what reports I need in order to fill in the scorecard.
Week #3: pick 1 report and create it.
Week #4: pick a second report and create it.
You get the picture.
Time Block for your 1%
Tool #3 is something we’ve covered in a previous episode – time blocking. If we acknowledge up front that you are going to have to achieve these goals in spite of your daily life, then you need to start to build in time to your daily life for these 1% activities.
Parkinson’s Law says that work expands to fill the time available. And its true. Your daily life is going to take up all of your time. So, you need to block off time on your calendar to ensure you can take your 1% step in the right direction.
Time blocking is the practice of scheduling a meeting on your calendar with yourself to accomplish an important task.
If you know what your goal is and you know the levers you can pull to get you there and you know what your next step is to get you 1% closer to your goal – then the only thing left is to find the time to do it.
So, block time on your calendar each week to take your 1%.
And, then, the hardest part of all – honor the time. Without a doubt, you will have something urgent from your day job that will want to take that slot on your calendar. But, if the goal was important enough to set in the first place, it is important enough to honor the slot you reserved to focus on it. Put the slot on your calendar for 6 months. If you achieve the goal sooner – great. You can always unblock your calendar once you’ve achieved the goal.
So, let me end by telling you that it took a little over 6 months to achieve my goal. I could have easily accomplished it in much less time if it wasn’t for my pesky day job! But, that just wasn’t going to change. So, although it took 6 months to get there – I got there! Our new weekly scorecard is now part of my day job, but there is recognition across the organization that it is a far better process than the old process. And, it is a lot less stressful for me.
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